Not getting enough sleep? This blog is all about ways to improve your shut eye and your sex life using evidence-based tools to mitigate sleep disturbance. To recap our last blog:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that we should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, depending on age
- Most Americans aren’t getting enough sleep each night (42% of adults in the U.S. get less than seven hours of sleep per night!)
- Sleep disturbance is especially common among cancer survivors (30-50% report some sort of sleep disturbance)
- Sleep can affect your sex life
- More scientific inquiry is needed around sleep disturbance and sexual function in women
Being an eternal optimist, I want to disclose that there is good news in all of this. While it is true that sleep is a determinant of health, it is a modifiable determinant of health. This means that sleep disturbance can be detrimental to our health, BUT we have the power to modify our sleep practices for the better. Woohoo!
Evidence-based ways to improve your sleep
From mobile-apps and herbal remedies to special light-blocking glasses, there are many products on the market that promise to help improve your sleep function. For women who prefer to rely on evidence-based interventions, WomanLab has taken the guesswork out of the equation with the following advice for bettering your sleep. You may have heard some of them before, but repetition is key. These things really work!
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers a list of evidence-based strategies for improving your sleep habits that you can try at home including the following quick tips—and don’t worry, I’ve provided some actionable advice to go along with them!
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. It can be tempting to sleep in on the weekends, but your quality of sleep is best if you consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning. Even on vacation!
- Get to bed on time. Allow yourself the time (ideally 7 hours) every night to sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine and stick to it. Personally, I like to take a warm shower, drink some tea (decaf of course!) and read a few chapters of a happy book before I tuck in for the night.
- Use your bed for sleep and sex only. That means no mindless scrolling on your cell phone, no watching t.v. or responding to e-mails from bed.
- Limit your exposure to bright light in the evenings. Turn off your bright lights and instead light a few candles, or use a low-wattage lamp by your bedside.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Yes, I know this sounds painful. But winding down the day without scrolling can have an enormous impact on sleep.
- Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy and if you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Evidence suggests that “forcing” sleep doesn’t help. If sleep is not coming easily, pause and try again when you feel tired.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. You’ve heard this one before.
- Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. Make breakfast and lunch the largest meals of your day. Eat your dinner a few hours before bedtime to allow your body proper time to digest.
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the later afternoon or evening. Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime. You don’t want a trip to the restroom to disturb your slumber.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is just one of many great scientific groups that provide evidence-based tips and tricks for better sleep hygiene. The American Sleep Association offers their own set of quick tips for sleep hygiene that you can check out here.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Web-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) shows level one evidence for efficacy for treating insomnia and can be a great option for some. The term “level one evidence” is a fancy scientific way of saying that CBT for treating insomnia has withstood the test of rigorous scientific experimentation (e.g. McCurry 2016, Ritterband 2017, Seyffert 2016). There are several available internet-based CBT tools such as Sleepio that you can self-administer in the comfort of your own home. If you have given other sleep hygiene strategies the good old college try, bring up your interest in CBT with your doctor at your next visit. Remember, sleep disorders are common in women with cancer and among all Americans for that matter. If you are experiencing disordered sleep, it is completely normal to bring up your concerns with your doctor and ask her to help you prioritize and strategize your sleep. Although lost sleep feels like it is a normal part of life, getting the proper amount can make a world of difference to your quality of life.
Note: Names of specific products or places to buy products should not be considered as endorsement. We provide examples to help make this information easier to understand.
- McCurry SM, Guthrie KA, Morin CM, et al. Telephone-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia in Perimenopausal and Postmenopausal Women With Vasomotor SymptomsA MsFLASH Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(7):913–920. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1795
- Ritterband LM, Thorndike FP, Ingersoll KS, et al. Effect of a Web-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia Intervention With 1-Year Follow-upA Randomized Clinical Trial . JAMA Psychiatry. 2017;74(1):68–75. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.3249
- Seyffert M, Lagisetty P, Landgraf J, Chopra V, Pfeiffer PN, Conte ML, et al. (2016) Internet-Delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Insomnia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0149139. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149139