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Sleep, Mothers, Infrequent Bedfellows

By Carlotta Mast, Special to the Rocky
October 23, 2007

It was total fatigue meltdown. Vivienne Palmer's sleep deprivation became so critical after the birth of her second child that the Boulder mom says she couldn't function.
"I felt like my personality was changing for the worse," says Palmer, whose children are now 28 months and 11 months.

Palmer's story is common. According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2007 Sleep in America poll, women in all reproductive stages and lifestyle segments aren't getting enough shut-eye - and mothers in particular have the most trouble getting the sleep they need.

In fact, 58 percent of stay-at- home moms and 56 percent of moms who work full time say they wake up feeling tired a few days a week, the NSF poll shows.

Like many women, Palmer often puts off going to bed to catch up on work around the house or to snag some relaxation time for herself.

"Part of the problem is that I have so many things to do after I get the kids to bed," she says.

The NSF poll found that 73 percent of full-time working moms and 71 percent of stay-at-home moms do housework and 88 percent of part-time working moms watch television in the hour before going to bed - and both these activities can eat into sleep time.

Hormone changes that occur during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause also can interrupt a woman's sleep by triggering insomnia.

"Often, correcting a hormone imbalance will solve the sleep problem," says Tara Skye Goldin, a Boulder-based naturopathic physician.

Regardless of the cause, insomnia and other sleep issues should be dealt with sooner rather than later, says Bill Moorcroft, a Princeton University-trained psychologist and founder of Northern Colorado Sleep Consultants LLC.

"If a woman starts to sleep poorly after pregnancy or during menopause, that is the time to seek treatment to prevent the problem from taking on a life of its own."

If left uncorrected, insomnia can compromise a woman's overall health and her ability to function physically, emotionally and cognitively during the day.

"Lack of sleep breaks the body down because it doesn't have time to rest and repair itself," Goldin says. "What I end up seeing is women getting more upper-respiratory infections. Whatever illnesses their kids bring home, they get them."

Sweet slumber

Having trouble falling or staying asleep? Sleep consultant Bill Moorcroft offers these tips:

  • Use the bed only for sleep (and sex). Keep the bedroom off-limits to reading, watching TV and even talking.
  • Don't lie awake in bed. If you can't sleep, leave the room and engage in an activity that can be stopped when you're tired.
  • Don't snooze on the couch. Reserve all sleep for the bedroom.
  • Wake up at the same time every day. Sleeping in can throw off the body's circadian rhythm.
  • Live healthy. Regular exercise, a well-balanced diet and stress management can help promote good sleep, too.
  • Yoga. Do some gentle stretching and deep breathing to relax before bed, according to naturopath Tara Skye Goldin. She also suggests eating foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey or milk.