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Why Can't Women Sleep? Part IV: Why Do We Wake Up During the Night?

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Women who have trouble sleeping will often report that they wake up during the night and can't go back to sleep.

This experience, to quote an old Kris Kristofferson song, "makes a body feel alone."

A PR exec named Judy Schramm responded to my request for experts on the topic to say that she's an expert on the subject of mid-night waking...

Hi Sharon, Boy, if you find the answer, I really need it.

I have been waking up at 2am or 3am and staying up for 2 hours problem for years!

I thought I was the only one.

The good news, for those of us who greet the dawn at 1 am, is that we are far from alone. But that's small comfort when we're tossing and turning in the dark -- again.

Why does this happen? we may wonder. And whether we're sleeping alone, or not wanting to wake the sleeper next to us, there's really no one around who can offer answer.

Enter the experts.

Some MDs I've heard from ascribe women's ongoing wake-up to our being at a low-point in our sleep cycle or possessing bladders in need of emptying.

I don't know about you. But "answers" like these leave me searching for better answers. Not sleeping because I'm not sleeping strikes me as a no-win diagnosis. And I'm not the gallon o' Gatorade before bed type.

Acupuncturists, however, see the women-and-night-sitch differently.

Bianca Beldini, an acupuncturist in NYC, explains women's late-night, early-morning awakenings as a result of imbalanced Yin and Yang energy. (I know, that sounds kinda of Woo-woo. But please, bear with me for another line or two.)

The "do-do-run-run-run!" outward energies of the day are Yang. The "let-it-Zzz" of sleep are Yin, in this model.

In a perfect sleep set-up, our outer buzzy mode would transition into a calm, restful mode, in a living version of the Yin-Yang symbol's light into dark (and back again).

But when our daily Yang invades our nightly Yin, the imbalance forms an unwanted wake-up call at a specific time of night.

Here's Bianca:

The internal organ systems [...]relate to a specific "time" of the 24 hour clock and the Liver is most active during 1-3am. It is stated in classic Oriental medical texts that when you are healthy, the Qi and Blood return to the Liver at night because it no longer has to nourish the muscles to act as your armor and defense system. However, if the energy is stuck (lack of free flow) it will become turbulent, thus causing awakening of the body during this particular time of night leading to insomnia.

Acupuncuturist Becca Seitz seconds this idea.

I love that you mention the specific times of the morning when women tend to wake. According to Chinese Medical theory, each organ has a 2 hour segment of the day where it is functioning the strongest (12 organs, each with 2 hours = 24 hours of the day) The Liver's time of the day is from 1am to 3am. If a woman is experiencing an imbalance of Liver Qi, symptoms will tend to be exacerbated during this time.

Common symptoms of Liver upset are: sleep disturbances, eye problems, stress, fatigue, diarrhea, emotional irritability, PMS symptoms, menstrual cramping and so many more!"

That last exclamation point could feel like a needle in the soul to those of us with sleep disruptions. But having identified the problem, our resident acu's offer a solution:

Says Bianca Beldini:

Some strategies that I have used in my clinical practice that work for insomnia:

Soaking your feet and ankles in hot water right before bedtime. In reflexology and Vitaflex charts, the reproductive system resides around the inner ankle bones. By soaking the feet in water, it "relaxes" these areas thus causing a calming effect on the nervous system. As mentioned earlier, the reproductive system relates to a woman's uterine blood which is controlled by the energetics of the Liver. If the Liver is calm, the reproductive system runs smoothly and a woman is feeling balanced.

A variation on this tip was suggested by stress management author Debbie Mandel:

From Chinese herbal medicine -- to help you unwind before sleep: Put feet in a pot of hot water (you can tolerate) for one minute and then alternate in pot of cold water for 30 seconds. 3X this releases toxins from your feet -- the body's foundation. The heat circulates the blood and the cold water reduces the swelling. The cold pulls out toxins in the contractive phase and the heat brings blood and nutrients in the expansive phase.

Can bathing our feet before bed stop the mid-night wake-ups?

I'd love to know. But so far, I haven't found out. As someone who doesn't think about not-sleeping until she bolts awake at 4 am, I haven't been able to schedule a foot bath into my pre-bed routine. And, interestingly, I'm not alone.

None of the Boulder Media Women testers of non-pharma sleep tips has opted to do it, either. I'll keep you posted as volunteers arise.

If you're willing to test out the tip and Comment back below, I'd love to hear what you find.

PS: I received a rather, er, zesty comment from a gentleman wanting to know why the #&*@ I am focusing on women and sleep in this series as opposed to Humans and Sleep.

The short answer is that I was inspired by the number of women I know who report sleep problems. And it seems I'm not alone in my observation.

A representative from Duke sent me a link to a study by Edward Suarez, an associate professor studying the issue of women and sleep specifically.

Why?

"The study suggests that poor sleep - measured by the total amount of sleep, the degree of awakening during the night, and most importantly, how long it takes to get to sleep -- may have more serious health consequences for women than for men."

"Suarez says that while women are twice as likely as men to report problems with sleep, most sleep studies in the past have focused on men, a phenomenon that has been slowly changing in recent years."

Positive change on the women and sleep front. Sounds dreamy to me!

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