January 9th, 2009
01:10 PM ET

Sleepless Women

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

For the past few years, I haven't really had good night's sleep. I've tried sleep masks, ear plugs, even evicting our Jack Russell terrier from the bed. I've taken mild sedatives, or a shot of Patron in the evening to make me sleepy but none of these seem to work. I can go to sleep at 1:45 a.m. and wake up at 2 a.m. wide awake. Sometimes I toss and turn; other times I get out of bed, walk around, read a book or fiddle with the Internet, until I get tired and then I go back to sleep. Doctors will tell you I have a classic case of insomnia. It could be because of my age, or maybe my weight. Some sleep experts say I might have an active brain, that doesn't need a lot of sleep. The problem is, my body does.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, many women in their late 30s or 40s are experiencing the beginning of menopause, better known as perimenopause. And during this time, sleep can be affected by many things, such as hormonal and lifestyle changes. During perimenopause and after menopause a woman's ovaries gradually decrease production of estrogen and progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone. The shifting of these hormones many times contributes to the inability to fall asleep. Add hot flashes, slower metabolism and stress and it's no wonder older women can't get enough shuteye.

Sleep experts warn that getting into a pattern of no sleep or interrupted sleep is not good. Recent studies have found that a lack of sleep can lead to poor judgment, fatigue-related accidents and weight gain.

So what to do? Here's what the experts suggest:
Try to be consistent with your wake-up times and when you go to bed. Build a tight sleep structure you can live with every day.  Make your room dark and quiet.  Too much light can disrupt the secretion of melatonin, which can upset a sleeping individual's body clock. Keep it cool. The ideal temperature for comfortable sleep is around 63 F. Also, skip the alcohol and food a couple of hours before you go to bed. Alcohol may help you fall asleep quicker, but once it metabolizes in the body, it can wake you up in the middle of the night.  And if you exercise, do it in the morning. Most people become alert after an intense workout and may have a harder time falling asleep, so try to exercise at least three hours before you hit the sack.

If things don't improve, see your doctor. Poor sleep habits can lead to other medical issues, so it's best to get it taken care of before it becomes a bigger problem.

Do you have a tough time sleeping? What's it like and what do you do to make it through the night? We'd like to hear about it.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.