Craving a good night's sleep? Don't let these common culprits wreck your rest.
Thief #1: Your low-calorie diet
Solution: "If you've severely restricted your caloric intake, you may be hungry during the night, which can wake you up," explains sleep specialist Anne Remmes, M.D., a neurologist at Columbia University Headache Center in New York City. "Be sure you have protein every three to four hours throughout the day, and particularly about three hours before bedtime," she advises. Protein-packed foods, such as cheese or peanut butter, help keep your blood-sugar level stable and leave you feeling satisfied longer, she adds.
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Thief #2: Your growing family
Solution: "New moms have a predisposition to fragile sleep that's heightened by shifts in estrogen levels in the months after delivery," explains Dr. Remmes. "If you've got a newborn, one way to sneak in a little extra sleep is to take a nap whenever the baby does." Also, try gradually decreasing your child's daytime feedings: Babies who eat more frequently during the day will want to be on the same schedule at night. "If your child is sleeping well, and you're still not getting good rest, it might be caused by the disorganized sleep-wake cycle that often follows pregnancy," she says. Get your bod back on its regular internal clock by reading a book before bed or rising and sleeping at the same times each day.
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Thief #3: Your husband
Solution: If your man thrashes in bed or snores loudly, "it would be wise to send him to a sleep center to be evaluated, because both nighttime thrashing and snoring can suggest a sleep disorder," says Dr. Remmes. (Both are fairly common: Thrashing can be caused by Restless Legs Syndrome - RLS - a neurological disorder that affects as many as 12 million Americans, and snoring is often linked to sleep apnea, which affects an estimated 18 million.) In the meantime, consider investing in a good mattress that doesn't transmit movement (so his tossing and turning won't rock you) and some earplugs or a white-noise machine!
Thief #4: Your night-owl ways
Solution: Carving out "me time" after everyone else goes to bed sounds smart, but it's not a good long-term plan. "Taking alone time late at night and depriving yourself of sleep is only stealing from yourself," insists Dr. Remmes. "If you are chronically sleep-deprived - not getting roughly seven to nine hours most nights - you will not function at your best." If you must stay up late, try designating one night a week as your early-bedtime night, so you can partially make up for your sleep deficit. Also, for women who don't suffer from insomnia, taking a 20- to 30-minute midafternoon nap on the weekends can really revive you.
Thief #5: Your stress levels (through the roof!)
Solution: Difficulty sleeping is one of the most common signs of stress. Ironically, seriously stressed-out women need the restorative power of sleep the most. And lack of sleep can make you even more tense and anxious. But there are some easy ways to beat this vicious circle. "Establish a strict bedtime routine, going to bed at the same time every night and arising at the same time every morning," says Dr. Remmes. Want more tricks? Aerobic exercise in the afternoon clears the body of stress hormones; a warm bath an hour before bed makes your body temperature fall, which induces sleep; and light stretching will help relax your muscles before you get into bed.