It’s 11:00 PM. You’ve had a long, long, day. After cleaning the dinner dishes, making tomorrow’s lunch, having a bit of couch time with the hubby, and making your last round of pick-up, you finally fall into bed. Only to wake up a few hours later, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Why? Why can’t we just fall asleep, and stay asleep? Breezy Mama turned to Sleep Expert and author of the book, Master Your Sleep, Dr. Tracey Marks, for answers.
What advice do you have to help moms get a good night’s sleep?
There are many things that can make it difficult for a mom to get adequate sleep. These obstacles range from job stress, home stress, kids who are not sleeping or having too many responsibilities to name a few. Unique to parents is the added responsibilities of keeping your child’s life organized as well as your own. Many moms have the equivalent of a second job when they get home from work. It is also pretty common for working moms to bring home work left over from the office. After she has taken care of the kids (homework, baths, etc.), she returns to work at home. The evening work prevents her from being able to properly wind down before bed. What’s more, many people will shave off hours of sleep to give them more time to do more things.
Unfortunately, poor sleep makes you inefficient and therefore requires more time to do the things you may ordinarily do in less time if you were well rested. That is, many women think they are helping themselves if they stay up for one more hour to get more work done. But chances are, the next day you will work slower requiring the need to bring more work home.
What is a mom to do? Establish a regular bedtime and stick to it. Then one hour before bed, put an end to all work including indulging in social media. Our brains need time to power down before bed otherwise you mind moving at high speed making it hard for you to go or stay asleep.
For parents, it is important to enforce this wind down period household-wide. Children (especially teenagers) are wired to stay up later. If the entire household is moving at high speed at 10pm, your children are going to have an even harder time slowing down for bed. And as most parents know, a sleep deprived child means poor sleep for you.
One last thing to do, during the wind down hour, keep lights in the house dim as light affects our body clock. When it is bedtime, turn the electronics off. We need darkness to sleep soundly. If you have bright street lights outside of your window or multiple devices in the room with LED displays, consider using a sleep mask to make the room black. You should notice a difference just from having a completely black room that’s cool.
How do our bodies know that night means time to sleep?
Our bodies are programmed to sleep at night and be awake during the day. This is regulated by our body clock that is driven by light and temperature. If we had no electricity, we would naturally fall asleep a few hours after sunset and wake soon after sunrise.
Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted in the brain when it is dark. It tells our body that is time to be asleep. Light shuts off the secretion of melatonin and we wake shortly after. It is because of the light that it is difficult to sleep for a long period during day hours.
Why does the waking occur at night? Why can a woman take a long nap during the day, but can’t sleep at night?
There is an energy build up in the form of ATP that occurs during the day that creates the drive (desire) for sleep. This is sometimes referred to as the sleep drive.
The ATP accumulates during the day while we are active, then promotes sleepiness in the evening after we have been awake for several hours. Think of a cup filling up and tipping over. If someone takes a long nap during the day (more than 30 minutes or so) they decrease the amount of buildup and therefore decrease the drive to fall asleep (thus partially emptying the cup). This is why a nap earlier in the afternoon doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep at your usual time as much as a 7pm nap.
A long nap, or nap too late in the day will decrease the energy build up making it harder to fall or stay asleep later.
Here is an article that references this phenomenon:
When not able to sleep, what can a woman do to help herself if it’s in the middle of the night?
The worst thing she can do is stay in the bed for hours getting frustrated that she can not sleep. If you can not fall back asleep after 30 minutes, you should get up and do something relaxing, preferably in another room. Keep in mind that bright light wakes your brain up (by shutting off melatonin), so avoid bright light. One suggestion is to go to another room and listen to relaxing music in the dark. You can also read. Watching television may help, but some of the large, flat screen televisions can put off some bright light that may wake you up instead of help you fall back asleep.
What natural product can one take when they fall asleep, but are only able to sleep for two to three hours, awake and then can’t get back to sleep? What would work within 30 minutes or so?
It’s not a good idea to take something for sleep if you’ve awakened early and only want to sleep a few more hours. Even natural remedies are designed to help you get a full night’s rest.
What other natural sleep aids do you recommend?
Melatonin, Valerian Root and Tryptophan are all good. However they may or may not work. Like all agents for sleep their results are variable. What
works for one person, may not work for another.
Kava Kava is also good, but sometimes can interact with other medications and can cause liver inflammation. Chamomile tea is another agent that can
be relaxing and help people sleep. It contains coumarin, a naturally occurring blood thinning agent. So it should be used with caution if you
are taking other blood thinners like aspirin, Coumadin or high doses of Vitamin E.
As for working in 30 minutes, how fast something works depends on the rate of absorption of the drug and half-life. It’s easier to know that information with prescription drugs because they are regulated and manufacturers must post this information.
Natural products should be thought of as naturally occurring drugs. They are not FDA regulated so their can be other additives in them that effect
how well they work or how fast they work. So the moral of the story with natural products is: they can be good, but you don’t always know what
One reader asks, “Why do sleep aids (I’ve only taken natural) give you such funky dreams and is there a way to avoid that?”
Most dreams are “funky.” It’s the nature of how our mind processes information while we sleep. Because the funkiness doesn’t make sense, we
usually don’t remember most of our dreams. Sleep medications can affect our level of consciousness during sleep (and how much we are aware of what
we are dreaming about) such that our normally weird dreams become more vivid and we wake up remembering them more.
Another reader says, “I’ve been told you have to take “sleep helpers” regularly (every night), to get your sleep pattern (something about melatonin levels) adjusted. Is that true? I only want to take something when I can’t sleep, not every night “just in case”.”
Most sleeping medication is not designed to be taken long term or regularly. Often times they will stop working if you take them nightly for weeks to months. You get your best sleep if you get on a regular sleep schedule going to bed around the same time each night and waking around the same time each morning. This has to do with our circadian rhythm (our natural body clock) that is influenced by melatonin, light and temperature.
I generally recommend people who are taking medications to sleep to take the medication if they have gone more than two nights without sleeping
well. This way they are only taking it two to three nights a week at most. But if someone has gone weeks to months with poor sleep, they may
need to take the medication nightly for a week or two to get their body on a schedule while they simultaneously work on their sleep hygiene – those
habits and routines that promote good sleep.
I know many moms who are long since out of the “baby” phase and now have “big” kids, but can no longer sleep. Could this possibly be attributed to hormones? Or what factors might be a cause for what seems like a common problem?
If a woman is close to menopause (late 40’s to early 50’s), this could be a reason for changes in sleep. Decreased estrogen affects our body temperature and affects sleep. If she is not close to menopause, the trouble sleeping could be due to lifestyle interference issues. That is, she may have developed some habits that were adaptive at the time (like daytime napping or working during the night), but now that she has the time to sleep, she continues theses habits that are hurting her sleep.
For example, if mom is used to being awake at 2am, and she would normally get on Facebook to pass the time, she now may have trouble sleeping
through the night because her body is used to being awake at 2am. In this case, mom may need the help of sleep aid to reset her body clock and get
back on a regular sleep schedule.
Breezy Tip: Breezy Mama was sent a sample of Snooz’n–an all-natural, calorie-free and drug-free liquid sleep aid developed to stimulate the onset of sleep naturally, without harmful and uncomfortable side effects. My mom (who has been having trouble getting a good night’s rest) tried it out and said that it worked really well. Her one complaint? Funky dreams. To which, Matt Kessler of Snooz’n attributes to being in a deep REM sleep, which is a good thing. Interested in trying it out? Click here to order.
About Tracey Marks, MD, author of Master Your Sleep: Tracey Marks, MD, is an Atlanta psychiatrist and psychotherapist, specializing in the interplay between mind and body, and how it shapes our quality of life.
Dr. Marks has worked with numerous professional men and women who struggle to find balance between life and work. Underneath burnout, depression and stress, she often finds sleep problems at the root of her patients’ problems. She wrote Master Your Sleep: Proven Methods Simplified (February 2011, Bascom Hill Publishing Group) to help them understand – and conquer– their sleep patterns. She provides a thorough exploration of potential treatments, from herbal and prescription medications to a variety of therapies, explaining the potential risks and benefits related to all
Dr. Marks obtained her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her medical degree from the University of Florida. She completed her residency training at The New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell Medical Center. In her last year of training, she served as Chief Resident, a position reserved for outstanding resident doctors possessing superb clinical skills and great leadership potential.
Since 2001, Dr. Marks has been working as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in private practice in Atlanta. Dr. Marks has sub-specialty training in Forensic Psychiatry. She is board certified in both General Adult Psychiatry and Forensic Psychiatry and is a frequent forensic contributor on TruTV’s “InSession.”
Dr. Marks is also the founder of the Beyond Burnout Blog (www.BeyondBurnoutBlog.com), where she features videos and articles that help people deal with stress, anxiety, sleep problems, and other life-balance issues.
To order Dr. Marks book, Master Your Sleep for $9.99 from Amazon, click here.
Have you subscribed to Breezy Mama yet? It’s free! Plus, be entered to win a $280 Summer Infant BabyTouch™ Digital Video Monitor! Enter your email address here: