A woman’s secret weapon - sleep

On 9 August 1956 more than 20 000 women from all walks of life united and marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the unjust pass laws that were enforced upon women in South Africa.

This year on National Women's day, we have the opportunity to celebrate women's achievement and acknowledge the important role they have played and continue to play in South Africa.

And let’s face it. Being a woman today is not easy. Women are expected to perform in all the “boxes” society gives them.

- You are a mother (in many cases you are dad as well)

- You are a wife.

- You are a working woman

- You are the leader in your society

- You are the family’s main caregiver.

To celebrate women's day, we decided to focus on women's sleep health and highlight the importance that sleep plays in women's health.

Just like breathing, sleep is a basic human need. It is an active process, designed to assist in your mental and physical health. It forms the basis of enjoying a full, productive day. Getting a healthy dose of good quality and quantity of sleep, helps boost your immune system; your mood and your mind and it also helps in preventing other health problems like heart disease, sugar problems and weight problems[1]

Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, but unfortunately, most women between 30 and 60 years sleep only 6 hours and 42 minutes[2].

Although the amount of sleep is very important, the quality of sleep also plays a big role in your overall health. Biochemical conditions which are unique to women like the menstrual cycle, menopause and even pregnancy can affect how well women sleep. Hormonal changes like estrogen and progesterone can also have an impact on the quality of sleep.

There are also sleep illnesses that can impact negatively on good quality sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is a big problem worldwide. It is the second-largest sleep illness in the world after insomnia. Sleep Apnea, especially obstructive is a serious disorder that can impact negatively on the quality of sleep. It is categorised by snoring, interrupted breathing during sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. A lot of people suffer from undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea and we see more and more women that suffer from this condition. Sleep apnea can also be responsible for increased blood pressure risks of cardiovascular disease Alzheimer's disease and even strokes. Get more information about sleep aponea here

How do you know if you have an undiagnosed sleep disorder? You can talk to your doctor about it if you often have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or if you do not wake up refreshed the following morning.

Luckily there are steps that you can take to improve your quality and quantity of sleep.

1. Protect your right to sleep Treat sleep time as a bank account. Like any income, you can budget for your sleep time. Budget for at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Calculate what time you have to get up in the morning to be on time for your daily responsibilities. Then count 7 – 8 hours back. This is the time that you should go to bed. It is important to go to bed at the same time each night and to wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends. Remember that if you allow yourself sufficient time to sleep, your body will wake up automatically when it is done sleeping.

2. Reserve your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy with your partner. Using your bedroom for anything else than sleeping and intimacy may cause difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at a later stage in life.

3. Set up your bedroom for sleep Your bedroom must also be not too hot or too cold. The perfect temperature is between 18 and 22 degrees centigrade. Your bedroom must also be quiet and dark. Also make sure that your bedroom is free of divergences like computers, tablets, televisions and active smartphones.

4. Try to avoid naps during the day. Taking a nap in the day take away your pressure to sleep at night. And you may find it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. Napping is only allowed when it becomes a safety issue to perform your daily tasks. Limit the naps to between 20 and 30 minutes if you must nap.

5. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to 12 hours. It acts as a central nervous system stimulant which means that you hardly ever spend enough time in important sleep phases that will allow good quality sleep. It can also prevent you from falling asleep and staying asleep at night.

6. Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Alcohol is seen as a sedative or a central nervous system depressant. Although it may help you to fall asleep quickly it will prevent you from having a good quality of sleep because it robs you from important sleep phases.

7. Have regular good quality exercises, but not within three hours of bedtime because exercise acts as a short-term stimulant. What good quality exercise do is it builds up your sleep drive during the day, thereby helping you ta fall asleep easier and limit prolonged nighttime awakenings.

The last piece of advice which is very important is never to try to sleep. If you cannot fall asleep, get out of bed and go to a different room. Read a magazine or do something similar. Go to bed after about 20 minutes, and try again. Repeat this as often as necessary. Also, please consult with your doctor to refer yours to a sleep specialist. Also, rest assured that sleep is like breathing - it will happen sooner rather than later. You can experience good quality and quantity of sleep.

If you need any help or have any questions, please consult with your doctor.

[1] Gottlieb et al: Association of Sleep Time with Diabetes Mellitus and Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Archives of Internal Sleep Medicine. 165:863 – 868 ABC News, 30 March 2004: The Risks of Short Sleeping [2]

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