Although men and women tend to need a similar amount of sleep each night (7-9 hours), there are some factors specifically related to women that dictate what a “healthy” number of hours looks like for them. Women are expected to see notable changes in their sleep schedule when there are hormonal changes in their body. That being said, these sleep disturbances are more likely to take place around the time of menstruation, menopause and pregnancy.
Sleep & Menstruation
When a woman is menstruating, there are a number of factors that can affect her sleep habits. Women with PMS are twice as likely to experience difficulties falling and staying asleep in the time before and during her period due to the rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone in their system. During ovulation, the overall body temperature rises, which may contribute to their difficulties in falling and staying asleep. In addition to that, many women experience painful cramps and/or tender breasts which may make it uncomfortable to sleep in certain positions. Furthermore, many women experience anxiety and other mood swings, making their daily lives more difficult and leaving them feeling stressed and exhausted. It is important for women to listen to their bodies and give themselves the rest and care they need during this time in their cycles.
Sleep & Menopause
Menopausal women are more likely to suffer poor sleep due to hot flashes, depression, anxiety, and the physical changes that occur at this time. Around 85% of women experience hot flashes that start in the face and spread throughout the body, causing a disturbance in sleep quality. Insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea, and other mood disorders are prevalent at this time due to the ovaries not producing estrogen and progesterone. These hormones help to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, body temperature regulation, and libido. Hormone replacement therapy could regain balance and restore sleep quality.
Sleep & Pregnancy
Sleep is vital to all humans, including those that are still developing in the womb. Both the developing baby and mother depend upon the mother’s sleep for a healthy immune system and appetite, mood regulation, and healthy blood sugar levels. Not only that, but a healthy sleep schedule is proven to reduce that chance of a preterm birth. However, any mother knows that keeping a regular sleep schedule and dealing with the side effects of pregnancy can be a very difficult thing. Pregnant women are often dealing with a variety of side effects including but not limited to: higher levels of hCG hormone which can cause frequent urination, the inability to find a comfortable sleeping situation, swollen feet, ankles, and hands, heartburn, disruptions from their baby moving, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, and nausea.
In addition to these uncomfortable side effects, there are several sleep disorders that are common in women. Insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, nocturnal sleep related disorder, and restless leg syndrome are among the most common.
Insomnia, a condition characterized by difficulties in falling and staying asleep.
Sleep apnea is another sleep disorder, but this one is potentially dangerous. This disorder causes breathing to intermittently stop and start as you sleep. While more men suffer from sleep apnea than women, there is a risk of post-menopausal sleep apnea in women, particularly after the age of 65. However, as it is widely believed to be a male disease, research suggests that women could be misdiagnosed. If sleep apnea is undiagnosed, a woman could experience severe cardiovascular disease. The typical symptoms of snoring and daytime sleepiness may not be felt by women but are displayed in mental blackouts or symptoms that are more subtle. Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive drowsiness in the daytime. The symptoms of narcolepsy are the same in men and women but like sleep apnea, women are more likely to experience a delayed diagnosis. Women report fewer lifestyle changes due to narcolepsy than men but will self-medicate with caffeine more than men.
A sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is nocturnal eating syndrome (NES) where a person eats while sleepwalking. An episode will cause the sufferer to consume a large quantity of food that they would normally not eat during the day. Women and men are both at risk of developing SRED but it is more common in women. Symptoms of the nocturnal eating syndrome are weight gain, eating more food after dinner than during the meal, and no appetite upon waking. SRED can lead to depression and isolation but is a manageable condition through counseling, stress management, dietary changes, and medication in some instances.
Another disorder that causes sleep disruption is restless leg syndrome (RLS). Those with RLS experience a crawling sensation in the legs when trying to sleep coupled with periodic limb jerks. Women with iron deficiency and low levels of B vitamins are more at risk of experiencing RLS
Research states that a woman who is diagnosed with a sleep disorder during pregnancy could be at risk of preterm delivery. In the U.S. the preterm birth rate is 10%, women with insomnia and sleep apnea were twice as likely to give birth before 34 weeks gestation.
By knowing the symptoms of these sleep disorders, women will be able to identify them in themselves so they are able to seek treatment. There are many treatments for these disorders including a change in diet or exercise, medication, or cognitive behavioral therapy. If you are experiencing difficulties in maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, or you frequently feel tired or exhausted, it is best to make an appointment with your physician to rule out any medical conditions.