Sleep shortfalls can lead to a range of health problems, from being more likely to catch a cold or gain weight to increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.
For optimum health and function, the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. But more than 60% of women regularly fall short of that goal.
This may be due to insomnia or another underlying condition that may require medical attention. But most women with a sleep debt run it up by burning the candle at both ends — consistently failing to get to bed on time or stay there long enough.
Don't worry about repaying the old sleep debt. Just make sure you start getting enough sleep from this point forward — starting tonight. Getting enough sleep is just as important as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
Tips for getting the rest you need:
- Create a sleep sanctuary. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Keep it on the cool side. Banish the television, computer, smartphone or tablet, and other diversions from that space.
- Nap only if necessary. Taking a nap at the peak of sleepiness in the afternoon can help to supplement hours missed at night. But naps can also interfere with your ability to sleep at night and throw your sleep schedule into disarray. If you need to nap, limit it to 20 to 30 minutes.
- Avoid caffeine after noon, and go light on alcohol. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours. Alcohol can act as a sedative, but it also disturbs sleep.
- Get regular exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime. Exercise acts as a short-term stimulant.
- Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least, on weekdays. If need be, use weekends to make up for lost sleep.
For more things women can do to lead longer and healthier lives, buy A Guide to Women's Health: Fifty and Forward, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.