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Optimizing Sleep, Optimizing Health

We are experiencing a national epidemic of sleep deprived women.

There are 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills given out each year – up from 47 million in 2008 – and most of them are for women.

Sleeping pills help you fall asleep easier, but at a high cost: they’re addictive and have been shown to cause memory loss. Sleep quality isn’t much better on sleeping pills and may even be worse!

Recent data shows that the top sleeping pills may have gotten FDA approved with up to a 50% placebo effect, which means there’s not much difference between taking a sleeping and only thinking you’re taking a sleeping pill.

They also only add 20 minutes of extra sleep! Three studies now show that even occasional use of sleeping pills are linked to higher rates of mortality and cancer compared to controls.

Even if you’re not taking sleeping pills, poor sleep has serious effects on your health. Just one night of less than seven hours of shut-eye is linked to high cortisol, which sets off inflammation. When women only get a few hours of restless sleep a night, they can expect brain fog, lousy memory, and hormone imbalance.

This is your first prescription: Keep a journal by your bed. Before you go to sleep, write down the time. When you wake up in the morning, record the time, and the number of times you awakened. A sleep log is the cheapest and easiest way to evaluate your sleep issues.

More Stress = Less Sleep.

The most common cause for poor sleep I see in my practice is high cortisol, the main stress hormone. Cortisol is a hormone that you can manage, and it’s the top hormone that hijacks sleep. Problems with cortisol also cause blood sugar problems, which can trigger awakenings, especially between 1am and 4am. If your cortisol is too high at night, it’s difficult to relax enough to fall asleep; you may know this as the false “second winds” experienced late at night. Here’s how to fine-tune your cortisol:

Stressed? There’s an app for that.

GPS for the Soul is a free app for the iPhone that measure stress level. Simply put a finger over the camera lens on an iPhone and it will measure your heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a marker of “adaptive resilience” or your ability to roll with the punches. Next, it will give you cues on how to lower your stress using music, poetry, breathing exercises and images.

Supplement your sleep.

If you’re interested in taking a natural supplement as part of your stress management, Phosphatidyl Serine lowers cortisol.

Stay cool.

Other root causes of insomnia can be low estrogen and/or low progesterone. In perimenopause, which occurs between 35-50, there’s 2 phases: low progesterone is the problem in the first phase, and low estrogen in the second phase. Both can cause night sweats and temperature problems at night. Ladies, keep the bedroom at 64 degrees – there is proof that it helps!

Good night!

Read more posts by Sara Gottfried, M.D., JenningsWire blogger.