Archive for the ‘Women's sleep’ category

Does a Hot Bath Help Sleep?

May 24, 2012

Many people ask me “Does a warm bath help sleep, or is that just a myth?” The research shows . . .

Yes, it seems to help somewhat. Medical research has investigated the impact of both baths and foot baths on sleep. One study in older people with sleep disturbance found that a 40 minute footbath at 41C decreased wakefulness in the second nonREM sleep period. Women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer have also found increased sleep quality with a warm footbath. Another study done in elderly insomniacs found that a full-body bath (immersed to the mid-chest) for 30 minutes at 40-41C did increase deep sleep, and caused people to experience a good night sleep. .

How does a warm bath improve sleep? Human body temperature is not constant, but varies with a consistent circadian rhythm.  There is a slight dip in body temperature at approximately 1pm, and then a more significant drop in the evening hours.  We get that sleepy feeling as our body temperature drops. The bath effectively raises our body temperature, and the subsequent drop helps sleep. The bath should be about 60-90 minutes before bedtime.

Of all the means you can use to improve your sleep, this one seems one of the most simple, with the least possible negative side effects. This is a good therapy to try first before using other, more invasive medicine.


Mommy’s Sleep Holiday

February 1, 2012

Pretty regularly, women who are desperate for sleep come to me. These women say things like “I’m losing it,” “I’m going to go insane if I don’t get some sleep” or “I can’t take this anymore.”

Most of them are mothers whose sleep is being regularly disrupted by their children. You may think of mothers with infants or toddlers, but this isn’t always the case. Just last week it was a mom of 3 tweens who was being interrupted in the night, and felt completely frazzled because of it.

If this is describes you, or someone close to you – Take It Seriously! When people are so sleep deprived that they are “desperate for sleep” they need help, and soon. Professional sleep help may be needed, however, sometimes a few nights for a ‘Sleep Holiday’ can do wonders.

What do I mean by ‘Sleep Holiday?’ Arrange a few (2-3) nights when the mom can sleep completely uninterrupted. This can make a huge difference helping her feel more emotionally calm, rested, and better able to problem solve and stick to a plan to help her children sleep more independently. (Note – although it’s typically mothers who I see in this situation, it could easily be fathers, or anytone in the position of caregiving in the night).

For those 2-3 nights, arrange for the mother and children to sleep in different places – assign mom the guest room on another floor, better yet, have the children go to grandmas, or mom to go sleep at a hotel or a quiet friends house. The mother should go to bed at her earliest usual time, and sleep until she is done, without an alarm. Do all the things we’ve talked about to make the bedroom an ideal place to sleep, and turn off all phones and alarms.

For mothers who are breastfeeding, it may not be possible to have such long breaks from night-time caregiving, but is just as important. Figure out a strategy that will work for your family to get mom some long periods of uninterrupted sleep. Possibly mom can do the first feeding of the night, then dad can give a bottle later in the night. Even just using this strategy on weekends will result in a better rested mom.

Again, if you or your loved one is feeling ‘desperate for sleep’ take it seriously, and make a plan for them to have a ‘Sleep Holiday’ with less interruptions immediately, starting tonight.

Sleep Health for Powerful Women – Class May 15

April 19, 2011

Women have unique sleep challenges – keeping a balanced life between work and family, hormonal changes, aging and stress.

If you are one of the many women struggling to sleep well and enjoy all the benefits of healthy sleep, this class is for you.

In this interactive class you will learn:
– how changing hormones impact women’s sleep
– the most common sleep problems, and how to identify the red flags
– how poor sleep interferes with optimal performance in all arenas – mental, physical, emotional, and decision-making
– how to use sleep skills to improve your own sleep, insulate your sleep from the stresses of daily life, and how to address sleeping too much

Most importantly, each woman will develop her own custom sleep plan over the course of the class, a plan she will benefit from immediately.

Here are the details:
Instructor: Dr. Catherine Darley, naturopathic sleep specialist
Date: Sunday, May 15th, noon to 3pm
Location: 1904 3rd Ave, Seattle WA, 98101, 3rd floor
(next to Bed, Bath & Beyond in downtown Seattle)
Cost: $45

Register Today!

Women’s Sleep Health

November 30, 2010

It’s when reproductive years begin that women begin having more sleep problems. Here are some common sleep disturbances by hormonal status.

During the premenstrual week, women report having more difficulty falling asleep, sleeping through the night and waking in the morning. It’s common in the office for women to say “The week before my period I need more sleep.”

During pregnancy sleep changes each trimester. During the first trimester women typically need more sleep, and find themselves sleepier during the day. Sleep improves during the second trimester, generally speaking. Symptoms of reflux, leg cramps, frequent urination, and simply being uncomfortable lying down disturb sleep in the third trimester.

During menopause, women’s sleep can be disturbed by hot flashes and night sweats. Also, as part of the aging process, sleep is lighter with more awakenings. It is also important to know that sleep disordered breathing (such as snoring and apnea) becomes more common in women after menopause.

What can I do to improve my sleep?
If you are experiencing sleep problems common to women, here are some tips to help yourself sleep well all month:
– If you need to, allow yourself extra sleep time during the week before your period, so you can feel more energetic and less sleepy.
– If you are having night sweats and getting too hot at night, take steps to keep cool. (Remember, people tend to sleep better when they are cool). So turn the thermostat down, layer blankets so you can easily adjust them, and wear fabrics that wick heat and moisture away from your body. Be creative with your bedpartner in finding a solution to keep both of you at a comfortable temperature. Several patients have recommended specialty products, including those from Wild Bleu and Opposheets.
– If you are having hormonal problems, see a naturopathic physician who can develop a treatment plan for you to better moderate your hormone levels.
– If your sleep continues to be disturbed, you may have another sleep disorder, or need specialized treatment from a sleep center.

A Mother’s Sleep Dilemma

May 8, 2010

Unfortunately, being a sleep expert doesn’t make one immune to sleep difficulties. Having been a life-long good sleeper, all my sleep difficulties began with motherhood.

Many mothers in my naturopathic sleep medicine practice tell me that they stay up late so they can have some time to take care of tasks, talk to their partner and relax. Then they get up early with their child, which leaves them burning the candle on both ends. Nationally, 62% of parents report that they get less sleep than they need. As we’ve talked about in other posts, insufficient sleep can negatively affect mood, physical health and ability to function in many ways.

This is something I’ve struggled with myself. So this week, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, I’ve tried a new routine in order to give myself the gift of being well-rested. Shortly after my young daughter goes to sleep, I also go to sleep. The payoff has been waking up 1-2 hours earlier, and having some time all to myself. At that time of day I’m mentally sharp and full of energy, a great trade-off for those evening hours when I was so tired.  The focused time is a wonderful way to start the day, whether it be spent on organizing the day, catching up email, yoga or meditation.

Though it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day for mothers, getting enough sleep makes the hours we do have so much better. Would this strategy work for you?

More information about Naturopathic Sleep Medicine can be found at

Sleep in the Elderly

May 5, 2010

You may hear people tell how their sleep has worsened as they age. They describe lower quality night time sleep, and more need to nap during the day. Recently I had the privilege of working with a person age 101 on sleep health. This was a good experience, which brought elder sleep issues to the front of my mind. This week, an important study about sleep in the elderly was published in the medical journal Sleep.

Sleep Characteristics of the Elderly
Over 15,000 interviews were conducted in China with people 65 years old and older, including almost 2,800 people age 100 or more. China has an estimated 40.5 million people who are 75 years old and older. The US has more than 18 million people in this age group.

Looking at this population, 65% of the people reported their sleep is “good or very good.” Total sleep time was 7.5 hours, which included naps. Men were more likely to sleep well than women.

An interesting finding was that the oldest (age 100+) were 70% more likely to sleep well than those ages 65 to 79. They were also 3 times more likely to sleep 10 or more hours each night, and less likely to get only 5 hours of sleep.

Access to healthcare and economic status also made a difference – people were 84% more likely to sleep well if they had adequate healthcare. The people with poor health overall were less likely to sleep well, as were those with a chronic disease, anxiety, or difficulty doing the tasks of daily living. Those with good economic stability were more likely to sleep well.

How Can We Use this Information?
Although this study gives us valuable information about sleep in the elderly, it does not give information on cause. We are still left wondering “How long did these elderly people sleep in their middle age?” “Did their sleep habits earlier in life allow them to live into their hundreds?”

What was clear is that those with the best overall health were more likely to sleep well. So taking good care of yourself, addressing health concerns, and getting help from a medical professional when needed will help your sleep in the long run.

This Chinese study is ongoing, so we’ll be able to learn more about this in another couple years – stay tuned!

Hotflashes Disrupting Your Sleep?

January 15, 2010

As women get older and go through the menopausal transition they might experience hotflashes during the day, and nightsweats during sleep.  It is not unusual for me to hear from women that they wake up burning hot, and dripping with sweat.  They report being so damp they even need to change their clothes and the sheets. 

These sleep interuptions can lead to overall insufficient sleep, which contributes to excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability and mood problems.  Here are a few tips to reduce the nightsweats:

–  Consider bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.  You can find a naturopathic physician who specializes in this at

–  Hesperidin is a bioflavinoid from citrus which stablizes the capillary walls and reduces hotflashes and nightsweats.  My patients have had good success with this.  Be sure to find out from a licensed physician if this is right for you and the correct dosage.

–  One company has been highly recommended to me that makes nightclothes that wick away the sweat, so you can feel comfortably dry.  Check it out at

–  Another company OppoSheets makes sheet sets with half flannel, and half cotton.  This is perfect for those couples where one person tends to be hot and the other cold.

(The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine and Dr. Darley have no affiliation with the above mentioned corporations).

Baby’s Sleep Routine Helps Momma’s Mood

January 13, 2010

Baby’s are born sleeping all hours of the day, and being awake in the night. This just doesn’t fit well with adult sleep-wake patterns, and is one of the reasons that new parenthood can be so challenging.

A new research study just published this year helped establish a predictable nightly bedtime routine for babies (7-18 months old) and toddlers (18-36 months old). The children soon fell asleep more quickly, and had fewer night awakenings.  Then they looked at the mother’s mood after the baby had been on the routine for just 3 weeks.  Mothers had significant reduction in tension, anger, fatigue and confusion. The mothers of babies were also significantly less depressed.

All these positive effects came from having a nightly bedtime routine.  In the next few weeks we’ll talk more about how to establish a healthy sleep routine for your baby.  And for those in Seattle, I’ll be giving a presentation on this topic on January 26th.  More details at

PMS and Sleep

November 30, 2009

Women of all ages experience sleep changes in response to hormone fluctuations. Today let’s look at the sleep of women during their monthly menstrual cycle.

In 1998, the Sleep in America poll by the National Sleep Foundation was all about women’s sleep. Almost 50% of women reported that symptoms such as bloating, headaches, cramps, and breast tenderness interfere with their sleep 2-3 days each month.

Other women report being more sleepy just before their period. This is when progesterone levels are dropping rapidly. One woman shared with me that she needs to sleep an extra hour for the four nights before and during her period. This has been so consistent that she now puts the extra sleep time into her calendar so she can continue to function well on those days. She notices that when she does schedule extra sleep for that week she is less moody, irritable and emotional, has more energy, and can think more clearly.

If you struggle with PMS symptoms, see if getting more sleep helps you maintain a good quality of life during that time. Write to let me know what effect it has for you.