Arguably, nothing is more vital to your health as a woman than sleep. And not just any sleep - good sleep that helps you feel fully rested. That's because the consequences of too little sleep include memory problems, depression, a weakening of your immune system, increasing your chance of becoming sick, increase in perception of pain and increased weight gain.

As women age with physical and hormonal changes, it affects the quality of sleep. Older women get less sleep and are more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. This can be attributed to arthritis, breathing disorders, hot flashes, stress, depression, fear or other strong emotions. Two major factors that affect women's sleep at any age are depression and nocturnal eating.

So how much is enough?
Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night, depending on age, lifestyle and gender. It's thought that, on average, women require a little more sleep per night than men. In addition, 35% of women have trouble falling asleep. In addition, women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual. Women experience drastic changes in sleep habits during menopause, including decreased, lighter sleep and more awakenings due to hot flashes and night sweats.

Depression: Insomnia is a common symptom of depression at any age. You may tend to fall asleep quickly but awaken in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep. Getting professional help and treatment for the depression can often solve the insomnia problem.

Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: Some women wake up in the middle of the night and feel they are unable to go back to sleep until they eat. Unless there is a medical cause (such as an ulcer), this type of problem is usually associated with dieting during the day.

So what can you do to improve your sleep health?

General tips:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Don't eat or drink large amounts before bedtime.
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Sleep primarily at night. Naps can steal hours from nighttime sleep.
  • Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow.
  • Start a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • If you don't fall asleep in 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you're tired.
  • Use sleeping pills only as a last resort.

Tips for women during menopause according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Control temperature in bedroom. Cooler is better. Use a light and comfy bed linen.
  • Eliminate caffeine, sugar or alcohol from diet and increase vitamin E intake.
  • Having a light snack before bedtime will help - we emphasize light.
  • Avoid hot baths or showers within 1-2 hours of bedtime.
  • Medications and over-the-counter supplements may help. Talk to your doctor to discuss what medications to stay away from and what will work best.

What if the sleep issues are due to a deeper problem?

For many women, a good night's sleep isn't possible due to sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when someone, who is asleep, stops breathing for 10 seconds or longer and is often followed by sudden wakeful moments of gasping for air. Loud and intermittent snoring also is a common sign of problems with sleep and breathing. It's commonly thought that sleep apnea affects only overweight men, but even healthy women can experience sleep apnea.

The Sleep Health Center at North Kansas City Hospital helps diagnose and treat many sleep disorders. Patients spend their normal sleep period (night or day) in a room that looks and feels like a bedroom with a full-sized bed, private bathroom and a television. Once asleep, the patient's brain wave activity is monitored, along with eye activity, heart rate, airflow, chest and abdomen movement and oxygen levels. Afterwards, the Center reviews the results and findings are shared with the patient's physician for possible treatment. Sometimes, treatment can be started immediately to begin helping the patient get better sleep.

The Sleep Health Center is open day and night, seven days a week. A physician referral is required. For questions, call (816) 346-7450. A one-on-one session and tour can be scheduled at no charge to help ensure your comfort prior to a sleep study.

In addition, the sleep support group meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the PrairieView Room of Health Services Pavilion. Watch the current events section on our homepage for the topic of the month.

Take a short quiz to determine your likelihood of a sleep disorder.

Tips for better sleep from the Sleep Health Center.

Read more information about the Board Certified Sleep Physician Dr. Joseph Henry.