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Tips for women to alleviate insomnia

January 9, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Do you find it increasingly difficult to fall asleep, or stay asleep? You're definitely not alone. Research finds more women are suffering from insomnia and many are now taking sleeping pills to help them get some rest. But pills can be short-term fix that can backfire.

Maria is a high-powered business executive by day, and at night, she's wide awake. For more than a year she's suffered from insomnia.

"It's very difficult to empty my mind of the stresses of the day," says Maria.

To get some shut-eye, Maria alternates taking prescription sleep aids, anti-anxiety pills and muscle relaxants.

"On a bad night when I feel a lot of anxiety I definitely cannot sleep without the help of drugs," says Maria.

A study from the National Sleep Foundation found nearly three in 10 women say they take sleeping aids at least a few nights a week.

"It's very clear that, you know, women have more problems with it," says Dr. Nancy Collop, Emory University.

Collop runs Emory University's sleep center, where three out of four insomnia patients are female. She's seeing more overscheduled soccer moms, stressed-out working women and women undergoing hormonal changes taking pills to help them rest.

"If they're using them intermittently, you know, a few nights here and there it's probably not so bad," says Collop. "But we find that most people probably don't really want to have to depend on taking a sleeping pill every night to sleep."

Developing a dependency on sleeping pills is what landed one insomniac who only wanted to be identified as "Ann," in the KLEAN Treatment Center.

"The issue became I couldn't sleep without them," says "Ann."

"When a woman says to me, 'I don't really have a problem,' I ask her one question: Can you sleep without it? And if they say they can't sleep without it, then there is a problem," says Joe Parrot, director of intake at KLEAN Treatment Center.

One potential problem: side effects from long-term use of sleep aids are not well-studied. But experts agree the best way to resolve the problem is to figure out the real reason you can't sleep.

Maria found it was work stress.

Experts offer this advice for female insomniacs popping pills:

"The trend of using sleep aids to treat insomnia is not getting at the real problem whether it's an underlying anxiety problem or an underlying depression problem, that needs to be looked at," said Dr. Alan Jason Coe, medical director of psychiatric services, KLEAN Treatment Center.

Experts say everyone may have trouble sleeping now and then, if your insomnia persists for more than three weeks in a row, you may want to talk to your doctor.

But first try these simple sleep tips like:

  • sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room
  • go to bed and get up at the same time each day
  • if you can't fall asleep get up and read don't stay in bed