The average woman needs eight hours of sleep each night but gets less than seven. A number of factors impact women’s sleep. Changes in hormone levels, pregnancy, childcare, age, lifestyle, and illness may undermine the amount and quality of sleep a woman gets. Women with children who work outside of the home may give up sleep to make time for everything. Overall, a woman’s sleep is lighter and more easily disturbed than that of a man. Although women tend to go to bed earlier and sleep more than men, they are less likely to feel refreshed, even after a full night’s rest. In recent years, the medical community has focused more on women’s sleep problems and how to resolve them.


Sleep Problems in Women
    The following list, though not comprehensive, describes the most common sleep issues faced by women:

Career:
A full time career can require much more than eight hours per day. Long hours, overtime and weekends may be routine. Commuting in traffic twice a day adds several hours per week to an already busy schedule. Some jobs such as teaching require additional work at home. Sleep might be even less likely if job-related stress is coupled with the demands of family. Both men and women experience sleep issues related to their career. For both, good sleep habits may seem impossible to integrate into the work place.

Child Care:
The first few weeks to months of life will undoubtedly become a period of sleep deprivation, especially if the new mother breast feeds. Infant demands are most intense in the beginning, when the baby must be fed and changed on average of every two to three hours. Babies with colic require even more nurturing. Insomnia related to postpartum “blues” or even postpartum depression may plague women as their bodies return to a non-pregnant state. Although the need for nighttime care gradually lessens throughout the first year, childhood sleep disorders keep some mothers awake past the first year. (See Children and Sleep.) For mothers who work outside of the home, demands on their time may further interfere with sleep.

Menopause: Major changes occur in the bodies of menopausal women, many of which disturb sleep. This process begins in the late thirties or forties, during the peri-menopausal phase, a time when the ovaries decrease production of estrogen and progesterone. A woman reaches menopause one year after her last menstrual period, usually around age fifty. Most sleep problems occur from late peri-menopause to post-menopause. The most common sleep-related symptoms include hot flashes, mood disorders, insomnia, and sleep-disordered breathing. Hot flashes, which are sudden feelings of heat over the body followed by sweating, are easily enough to awaken a woman from sleep several times per night. Hormone replacement therapy may relieve symptoms. Alternative approaches include dietary foods or supplements, and sleep aids,

Menstrual-Related Issues: For many women, the last week or two of the menstrual cycle (the luteal phase) tends to yield more sleep-related problems than the rest of the month. For those with Premenstrual Syndrome or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, sleep disturbances become extreme during the luteal phase and disappear for the rest of the month. Hormonal changes can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep, or it can cause excessive tiredness. Tiredness may also develop during ovulation. Cramps, bloating and headache during a menstrual period may be strong enough to prevent sleep. Treating the underlying hormonal issues is integral to minimizing or resolve sleep problems for many women. This may involve hormone therapy (birth control pills) and dietary restrictions.

Pain and Sleep: Any person experiencing nighttime pain may not sleep well, whether their pain relates to injury or disease. Some middle-aged women experience fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles, as well as nighttime sleep disturbance and chronic fatigue. Fibromyalgia pain makes sleep more difficult, and the lack of sleep exacerbates symptoms. Older age brings about a host of potentially painful conditions. The lack of estrogen after menopause often leads to bone loss and osteoarthritis. Arthritis pain can be severe enough to disrupt or prevent sleep. Managing pain through lifestyle modifications, good sleep habits and possibly medication will not only improve sleep but maximize good health.

Pregnancy: Pregnancy-related sleep problems are common. How sleep is affected changes throughout the pregnancy. During the first trimester, an increased need to urinate at night disrupts sleep. Insomnia or frequent awakenings related to the emotional stress of a new pregnancy compounds sleep that is already compromised. Sleep deprivation then leads to daytime sleepiness. By the second trimester sleep may improve as the growing fetus moves away from the bladder but become worse as the fetus increases in size. By the third trimester the weight and position of the fetus may contribute to heartburn, leg cramps, back aches and increased urination. Many women cannot find a comfortable sleeping position at the end of their pregnancy. In the weeks before delivery, Braxton-Hicks contractions occur at any time of day or night.

Common Sleep Disorders in Women:
  
Psychophysiological Insomnia
Sleep Apneas
Snoring
Restless Legs Syndrome
Shiftwork
Sleep-Related Eating Disorders
Poor Sleep Hygiene

Suggested Downlaods

SleepIssues:
Sleep and Health
Aging and Sleep

SleepCaptions:
Women and Sleep