Attention Women: Can’t Sleep? Try these 3 Mind-Body Therapies
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? If you said yes, you’re not alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labels insufficient sleep an epidemic. About 50 percent of Americans grapple with occasional insomnia, while percent struggle with chronic insomnia. Sleeplessness can take a toll on your health -- it’s been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Dealing with a mood disorder (depression, stress or anxiety), working a night shift job or being sedentary can cause some tossing and turning. A few uncontrollable risk factors may also be involved such as genes, according to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry. And gender can be a factor — the National Sleep Foundation reports that women are twice as likely as men to have insomnia.
Why is Insomnia Such a Problem for Women?
First off, women are twice as likely to have depression, stress and anxiety as men. They’re also have a higher risk for developing fibromyalgia -- a condition notorious for causing sleep issues. Interestingly, women are more genetically prone to insomnia than men, according to the Virginia Commonwealth University’s longitudinal twin study of insomnia symptoms in adults.
Hormones, Menopause and Insomnia
Hormones are one culprit in this gender split. Estrogen and progesterone promote sleep. When their levels fluctuate, as they do in puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause, it can lead to restless nights. For example, adrenaline can trigger hot flashes that wake you from a sound sleep. While puberty and pregnancy are temporary conditions — once your normal hormonal levels return — so will sleep patterns, menopause is permanent. Hormone changes from menopause are a common factor of insomnia in women. If you’re having a tough time getting rest while going through perimenopause, how will you get some shut-eye once you’re postmenopausal?
“Insomnia is usually a multi-faceted problem,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Getting to the root causes will help you get control of it.”
Mind-Body Sleep Solutions
If you’re not getting enough sleep, work with your doctor to figure out the underlying causes and create a sleep action plan. He or she may prescribe medication. There are also drug-free approaches and natural remedies for sleeping issues that can help. And mind-body therapies have been shown effective. Here’s the skinny on three mind-body sleep solutions:
Meditation: A small study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests mindfulness meditation helps improve sleep quality by curbing brain fog, autonomic arousal responses such as alertness, heart palpitations and hyperventilation -- which interfere with sleep -- and the stress related to them both. Need a little help meditating? Try this guided mediation »
Breathing Techniques: Certain deep breathing techniques can induce sleep by activating the relaxation response, a term coined by Herbert Benson, MD, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine and defined as “a deep psychological shift in the body, opposite of the stress response.” An example of these techniques is diaphragmatic breathing. This breathing technique is often taught to patients with pulmonary diseases to help them breath more efficiently. However, it’s also known for eliciting a relaxation response. Here’s a step-by-step guide to diaphragmatic breathing »
Tai Chi: This gentle martial art and mind body therapy is often dubbed as “meditation in motion”. Subjects enrolled in a study conducted by University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine (UCLA) reported improved sleep quality after practicing tai chi for 25 weeks. Another UCLA study found tai chi eased insomnia by reducing stress. And a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating fibromyalgia. If pain is keeping you up, tai chi has also been credited with relieving chronic pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and tension headaches. If tai chi seems appealing, get clearance from your doctor and enroll in classes to learn proper technique.
“Before visiting your doctor, go through your daily routine and write down possible insomnia contributors,” says Kaminetsky. “This can include prescription and over-the-counter medications you take, number of caffeinated beverages you drink each day, your exercise routine, your bedtime and the quality of your sleep environment.”
If you’re a woman suffering from insomnia, or if you're just not getting enough sleep, work with your MDVIP-affiliated doctor. They can create a personalized wellness program that can can help you sleep better. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? MDVIP has a nationwide network of physicians. Find one near you and begin your partnership in health »
This content was last reviewed February 2021.