Women experience sleep difficulties more frequently than men, according to the National Sleep Foundation (n.d.). Part of the reason for the difference in sleep disorder frequency may be because women actually sleep differently than men. While women tend to sleep more than men, they also tend to sleep more lightly and are more likely to be disturbed during sleep. As a result, women often experience less restful sleep than men.
Causes of Sleep Disorders in Women
A complex interaction between sleep and hormones causes at least some sleep disorders in women. While women have many of the same risk factors for sleep disorders as men, events that affect hormonal levels put them at increased risk for disrupted sleep.
For example, sleep disorders in women may develop during pregnancy. Sleep and menopause symptoms are also related, with many women experiencing sleep problems due to hot flashes and night sweats. Other factors affecting women and sleep disorders include:
- Sleeping environment
Pregnancy, Sleep and Hormones
During pregnancy, sleep levels and patterns need to change dramatically to accommodate the physical and hormonal changes taking place in a woman’s body. During the first trimester of pregnancy, sleep needs increase significantly. Women may experience daytime sleepiness and an increased need for naps during the day.
By the second trimester, a woman’s sleep generally returns to normal. Daytime drowsiness is far less of a problem in the second trimester.
Women in the third trimester of pregnancy sleep less than they normally would. While hormones play a role in decreased sleep, so can anticipation and anxiety about the coming birth and physical discomfort caused by the growing baby.
Sleep problems in women during pregnancy vary. Possible pregnancy sleep disorders include snoring, sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. Most sleep disorder medications shouldn’t be used while pregnant, but lifestyle changes can help resolve sleep problems during pregnancy.
Stress, Women and Sleep
Regardless of gender, stress is one of the leading causes of sleep disorders. Women who are balancing multiple roles (such as parent, caregiver and professional), may be stressed, which can lead to sleep problems. Hectic schedules, shift work, and a lack of time for exercise or relaxation can also contribute to sleep difficulties.
Whether triggered by physical or emotional conditions, stress can cause anxiety, which in turn may lead to sleeplessness, problems staying asleep, nightmares and other problems. When sleep disorders occur without physical cause, stress may be to blame.
Sleep and Menopause
Sleep and hormones are affected by menopause, and many menopausal women experience sleep disturbances. Sleep quality may decline in older women, while physical symptoms associated with menopause, such as night sweats and hot flashes, can seriously disrupt sleep.
Along with physical factors, mental and emotional stress may also disrupt menopausal women’s sleep. Disrupted sleep and hormones that are in a state of transition can cause mood swings and, at times, depression.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2006). Insomnia. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.sleepeducation.com/Disorder.aspx?id=6.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2007). Sleep and women. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.sleepeducation.com/Topic.aspx?id=67.
Hertz, G., and Cataletto, M.E. (2005). Sleep disorders in women. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/sleep_disorders_in_women/article_em.htm.
Jelovsek, F. (2009). Menopause and melatonin. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.wdxcyber.com/nmood18.htm.
National Sleep Foundation. (2009). Women and sleep. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/women-and-sleep.