Our blog has explored a variety of different topics related to sleep including how important sleep is, how destructive sleep deprivation is, and how disorders like sleep apnea present differently in women.
Now, we’re diving into another important, often overlooked topic: the importance of sleep for women, and why so many are not sleeping enough. Not only are women not getting the sleep they need, but they also have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and depression if they’re having too many sleepless nights.
So...why aren’t women sleeping enough?
From cramps to body temperature, menstrual cycles (or lack thereof) all of these elements can mess with your sleep. Here are a few things that can work against women getting their much-needed sleep:
- Hormonal contraception (birth control pills, IUDs, birth control shot) manipulates estrogen levels, which can tamper with women’s sleep patterns.
- During pregnancy, women’s bodies increase blood flow to their kidneys, which results in 25% more urine production after conception. And as that baby grows, it puts pressure on the bladder. As a result, pregnant women use the toilet almost every 10-15 minutes and it doesn’t stop during the night. Plus, the physical changes to a woman’s body (like restless leg syndrome) throughout pregnancy can make sleep difficult.
- Breastfeeding mothers are producing milk almost constantly with newborns since breastfed babies nurse every 2-3 hours. With moms continually waking to nurse, they have trouble entering REM sleep. While nursing moms produce prolactin, which makes them sleepy, snagging extra sleep can be a real challenge.
- Menopause, including the transition into menopause, can cause hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and sleep apnea because of the changes in estrogen levels.
Women’s bodies respond differently to stress and, while women share some stressors with men, they’re also burdened by different ones that can have physical consequences, including sleep loss:
- mental load, a woman’s “always-on, invisible to-do list” that includes everything from running the household to managing kids, is a major source of stress and burnout for women. The mental load never shuts off, so many women lie awake reviewing and planning, which interferes with sleep.
- Psychiatrists say women have more work stress because of both sexism, the wage gap, and family responsibilities on top of career pressures.
- Married women are more stressed out than single women.
- Women suffer more from anxiety and depression, both of which can disturb sleep (these can also be symptoms of sleep apnea in women).
Environment and Sleep Hygiene
It’s no wonder, between hormones and stress that women’s sleep suffers, but the environment we sleep in and our sleep hygiene also play a large role in sleep quality. Whether your partner is snoring the night away alongside you or you’re napping too frequently, the choices you make impact your sleep:
- Women tend to sacrifice sleep to get things done, but going to bed at the same time every night, in a dark, cool room is crucial for good sleep hygiene.
- Women use social media more than men and can lose hours lost in Instagram and Facebook feeds. Posting photos and commenting on social media before bed amps up your brain, so doing this before bed makes it hard to wind down. Plus, there’s the bright light problem that interferes with melatonin.
- 73% of Canadian adults with sleep apnea are men – if your partner shows signs, he might need CPAP therapy to help you both get better sleep.
Women who suffer sleep loss “have a greater risk for health problems than men.” If sleep loss is persistent and untreated, women may face hypertension, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and depression, but stressing out about losing sleep can make women lose more sleep. That being said, it’s important to take the following healthy sleep tips seriously:
- Wind down before bed with a hot shower or bath.
- Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine from the late afternoon onward.
- Use a white noise machine or listen to nature sounds in the bedroom to drown out other noises.
- Meditate every day and especially before bed to help you cope with stress and turn your mind off.
- Keep dim lights in the bedroom and technology (TV, tablets, smart phones) out.
- Create a bedtime routine that’s consistent.
Sleep is vital for everyone’s health, especially women’s. If you struggle with sleep and also have restless leg syndrome, fatigue, anxiety, morning headaches, nightmares, or high blood pressure, you might have sleep apnea (the symptoms can be markedly different for women than men). Take our sleep quiz to learn more.