Have you ever wondered why your husband was able to roll out of bed after one alarm and on less sleep than you, while you had to repeatedly hit the snooze button despite having gone to bed the night before at 10 p.m.? Science knows the answer.
According to a National Institute of Health study, women do, in fact, need more sleep than men. Why? The short answer is that the chemicals and neurotransmitters work a bit differently in our brain than they do in men’s brains. Women who get roughly the same amount of sleep as their male counterparts, are more likely to be at risk for serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Yikes!
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But don’t fret! There are plenty of tips you can try that will help you sleep better at night. Here are 18 things to try before you hit the hay tonight.
1. Eat this first thing. Wild ups and downs in blood sugar amp up stress-hormone production, resulting in lighter, less-refreshing sleep, say Yale University researchers. The quick fix: Eat a high-fiber breakfast cereal—like Kellogg’s All-Bran Extra Fiber or Bran Buds—each morning to cut blood-sugar fluxes by 30 percent or more.
2. Turn onto your side. This simple position change helps back sleepers avoid snoring and breathing pauses, cutting nighttime awakenings by as much as 50 percent, according to Japanese researchers.
3. Cover your eyes. We sleep best in pitch-black rooms, say Cornell University researchers. But eyelids are permeable to light, so August’s early morning sun can sabotage slumber. Don a sleep mask and you’ll be snoozing through the sunrise in no time.
4. Take melatonin. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge found that taking 1 mg of the sleep-inducing brain chemical melatonin at night helps up to 96 percent of women fall asleep faster. Try Natrol Melatonin, $7 for 180 tablets, Vitacost.com.
5. Go for a stroll after dinner. Canadian studies suggest that 30 minutes of p.m. exercise can help you sleep 42 minutes longer. Evening workouts rev the production of serotonin, a hormone that prevents early morning surges in alertness.
6. Revel in crossing off to-do’s. Writing down your day’s goals—and marking them as done—helps 1 in 5 women sleep more deeply. Yale University researchers say simply being aware of how much you accomplish eases nighttime anxiety.
7. Hold it a little longer. If you wake up repeatedly to urinate—yet little comes out when you reach the bathroom—you may have overly sensitive bladder muscles that are contracting long before your bladder is full. Stretching out the time between bathroom breaks during the day can cut nighttime awakenings in half, says Richard Bercik, M.D., director of urogynecology at the Yale School of Medicine. His advice: When you feel the urge to go, try to wait 20 minutes before heading to the restroom.
8. Take your multi in the morning. Its energizing B vitamins can sabotage sleep for four hours, says Hyla Cass, M.D., author of Supplement Your Prescription. But a morning dose won’t disrupt sleep.
9. Journal your worries. It sounds like a sleep stealer, but women who spend 15 minutes at bedtime writing down worries and troubles drift off 30 percent faster, say UCLA researchers. Venting on paper prevents sleep-disrupting bouts of frustration and anxiety.
10. Dream about vacation. Insomniacs who visualize their next (or last) trip drift off 20 minutes faster than they do when counting sheep. J. Brevard Haynes, M.D., a sleep researcher in Nashville, says that happy images block out the negative thoughts that make it hard to snooze.
11. Try this herb. Valerian induces sound sleep for 82 percent of women. “It boosts your brain’s production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system,” says Dr. Cass, who suggests taking 100 mg 45 minutes before bedtime. Try Solaray Valerian Root Extract 50 mg ($4.50 for 60 capsules, VitaminShoppe.com).
12. Enjoy soy. After age 40, hot flashes can make sleep a distant dream. The fix: 10 oz. of soy milk or 2 oz. of soy nuts daily. Asian studies suggest that soy’s natural plant estrogens slash nighttime warm spells by up to 66 percent.
13. Eat like an 8-year-old. Eating a cookie, toast or other high-carb snack triggers drowsiness within 20 minutes. Experts at Englewood’s Colorado Neurological Institute say carbs stimulate the production of cytokinins, relaxing neurotransmitters.
14. Focus on your feet. You’re 3 times more likely to sleep soundly if you receive 10 minutes of acupressure 4 times a week, say Canadian studies. An at-home option: Freeze 2 bottles of water and roll them under your feet while you watch TV.
15. Hold your breath. When you crawl into bed, inhale deeply through your nose, feeling your abdomen swell. Hold for a count of 5, then release slowly. Repeat 10 times. Cornell University research suggests that this trick lowers heart rate, relaxes muscles and eases anxiety, inducing sleep within minutes.
16. Keep your hands busy. Just 15 minutes of p.m. mending, scrapbooking or other fine-motor activity helps 40 percent of women drift off more quickly, say Harvard University doctors. Why? Handiwork helps you enter a light meditative state, slashing stress-hormone production.
17. Time your java right. Finishing your last cup by 11 a.m. can improve sleep quality in 4 days. Since it can take 12 hours for the liver to break down caffeine, taking your final sip before noon ensures you’re decaffeinated by bedtime.
18. Scent your sheets. Nearly 75 percent of us sleep more soundly when we snooze on just-laundered sheets, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey. To get the same effect (with less effort), mix 25 drops of lavender essential oil with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle and give your pillow a nightly spritz. Both scents boost the production of sleep-inducing alpha brain waves.