Understanding Women & Sleep

There are obvious differences between male and female physiology, but, when it comes to the hours of sleep needed to maintain good physical health and mental wellbeing, both men and women benefit from 7-9 hours of sleep every night. However, there are certain instances where a female's sleep needs may differ from the needs of her male counterpart. Understanding these differences can help navigate a sleep disorder or medical condition.    

The national sleep foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep every night for healthy adults

Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?

The national sleep foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep every night for healthy adults. Although, a pregnant woman or woman who is suffering premenstrual tension may feel they need more sleep than usual. Hormone production, circadian rhythm, menstrual cycle, and sleep schedule can impact the quality of a good night's sleep.   

Common Sleep Problems That Women Experience

Insomnia  

Premenstrual syndrome is a drop in estrogen and progesterone and can cause sleep issues for some women. An increase in body temperature during ovulation can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Insomnia can also be caused by obstructive sleep apnea, medication, or other underlying medical condition. 

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that 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 but, 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

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.  

Nocturnal Sleep Related-Disorder

A sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is a 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.   

Pain & RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome)

Women are more likely to experience restless legs than men. 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. Restless leg syndrome causes sleep problems that can exacerbate the symptoms or cause additional health problems. Improve your sleep quality with a healthy diet, exercise, and vitamins.    

Importance of Sleep for Pregnancy

Sleep is vital to all human beings but for a pregnant woman, good sleep quality keeps the mother's immune system healthy and regulates mood, appetite, and blood sugar. Sleep disorders in pregnancy can lead to high blood pressure or preeclampsia (preterm delivery and health problems for the mother). 

Why Pregnant Women Struggle With Sleep? 

  • Higher levels of hCG hormone cause more frequent urination 
  • Inability to find a comfortable sleep position 
  • Swollen feet, ankles, and hands
  • Heartburn 
  • The baby moving
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Anxiety  
  • Nausea  

What is the Best Sleeping Position for Pregnant Women?

The best sleep position for pregnant women is on their left side. Hugging a body pillow and a pillow between the knees can provide more comfort, ease heartburn symptoms, improve blood flow, and keep good spine alignment to ease back pain. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy could be a viable drug-free treatment for pregnant women who are experiencing sleep disorders

Is Lack of Sleep a Risk Factor for Preterm Birth and Birth Complications?

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. Cognitive-behavioral therapy could be a viable drug-free treatment for pregnant women who are experiencing sleep disorders

What are Basic Tips for Pregnant Women to Get a More Comfortable Night's Sleep? 

  1. Use additional pillows, especially a body pillow and pillow between the knees
  2. Sleep on your left side or with back slightly elevated and knees bent
  3. Take a pregnancy exercise class and stay as active as possible 
  4. Do pregnancy yoga or some meditation before bed
  5. Don’t drink anything 2 hours before bed to prevent middle of the night urination
  6. A warm bath or shower before bed can be relaxing and help you fall asleep faster
  7. Ensure you have a comfortable, pressure-relieving mattress 

Does Menopause Affect Sleep?  

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.  

How Much Sleep do Women Need?

Healthy women and men need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Women who are experiencing PMS, are pregnant, or managing a health condition may feel they need more sleep. Medication and stress levels can play a role in sleep disorders in women, if you’re unable to get good sleep quality every night, ask your doctor for a checkup to rule out any medical conditions.  

Conclusion  

Sleep hygiene is important for women and sleep. Staying asleep all night allows the body to restore and replenish. Sleep medicine could be used at your doctor's discretion but meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exercise are great natural remedies to sleep problems. Women may need more sleep than men in certain instances but generally, 7-9 hours is sufficient for most healthy adults.