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Are there sleep disorders that only affect women?

Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? Or perhaps you wake up just as tired in the morning as when you went to bed, even though you had the requisite “eight hours of shut-eye.” There is a whole field of study of the disorder called insomnia. It deals with sleep disorders, and some  do train their focus directly on the experiences that women may be having that come directly from the biology or psychology that differentiates between men and women.

An analysis published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2006 reported that about 40% more women than men suffered from insomnia and that the trend of female predisposition was consistent and progressive across age, with more significance in the elderly. A more recent study reported in 2020 that the difference was even more significant, with 58% of women reporting greater problems in sleeping.

We will pick out in this article a few of the recognized conditions that may be causing sleep deficiencies in women. Hopefully, we can also illustrate what can be done to lessen the effects, if not to fully cure the problems.

Hormones

This is probably the single more prevalent cause of sleep disorders specifically for women. It is primarily because there are so many changes in a woman’s hormone levels throughout her life that simply are not mirrored as a man ages. In brief, a woman will typically experience daily, monthly, seasonal and age-related hormonal fluctuations from the start of puberty all the way through to old age. Each change can act as a trigger for sleep disorders.

Starting at puberty, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in a pre-teen girls body rocket up and bring on her age of fertility. It usually begins around the age of eleven or twelve (although in recent years, puberty has been reported as starting earlier and earlier, with some girls getting their first period as early as seven.)

After this, a woman’s body can be on a roller-coaster of hormonal changes for the next thirty or forty years. Along with each of these fluctuations, there can be a direct effect on sleep patterns. Women may be more likely to have sleep problems because they experience hormonal changes during certain times and events that are unique to their daily lives. According to the Office of Women’s Health, these include:

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Women with PMS commonly report trouble sleeping. Nearly 7 in 10 women with PMDD say they have problems going to sleep and staying asleep in the days leading up to their period.
  • Pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, when women may wake up more often than usual because of discomfort, leg cramps, or needing to use the bathroom.
  • Perimenopause, when hot flashes and night sweats often can disturb sleep. Also, about half of women report problems sleeping after menopause.

On top of these, studies have highlighted the persistence of sleep disorders once women have passed into menopause. There is no guarantee that common perimenopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats will simply disappear within a given period of time. In many, many cases, women will suffer from these, with the associated sleep difficulties, for the rest of their lives.

Finding a remedy for the hormonal fluctuations that could be causing your sleep deficiencies is complex. Interfering with the natural bodily rhythms that cause these hormonal changes can have unforeseen and unwanted consequences. 

However, one of the more sensible solutions for older women already in menopause is to use simple hormonal boosters, such as Profem 10% progesterone cream and Androfem testosterone cream. These can help you overcome some of the more prevalent effects of hormone changes in menopause, without running any risk of disturbing your underlying health.

Circadian rhythms

Women and men have evolved differently over hundreds of thousands of years to develop circadian rhythms that were appropriate to the lifestyle of earlier life, in which men were hunters and women were child carers. As reported in the biological journal PNAS, “The circadian rhythms of melatonin and body temperature are set to an earlier hour in women than in men, even when the women and men maintain nearly identical and consistent bedtimes and wake times. Moreover, women tend to wake up earlier than men and exhibit a greater preference for morning activities than men.… The shorter average intrinsic circadian period observed in women may have implications for understanding sex differences in habitual sleep duration and insomnia prevalence.”

Biological problems

Several disorders that are more prevalent in women, such as Restless Leg Syndrome, and Urinary Tract infections, directly impact sleep patterns. As well, some side-effects of drugs affect women more or differently than men, and can interrupt sleep more often for them.

Post-birth problems

Possibly the single most frequent cause of insomnia is the level of lifestyle change immediately after the birth of a baby. The changes in hormone levels after giving birth can disrupt sleep. One study found that 60% of mothers still experienced insomnia two months immediately postpartum. More than 40% still had some sleep problems two years after giving birth for some time. The swings in hormone levels during and after pregnancy may cause the condition known as postpartum depression, which can also cause trouble sleeping.

How Can Women Get Better Sleep?

These are some steps a woman can take to improve her nightly rest.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are sleeping less than the recommended seven to eight hours, or if the sleep is frequently interrupted especially if you notice daytime sleepiness or are dozing. Insomnia can be treated effectively under the guidance of your health carer in the same way as physical ailments or mental health disorders.

Maintain a stable and consistent sleep schedule. Try to get to bed at roughly the same time, even on holidays or weekends.

You can develop some “good habits,” and try to avoid behaviors that generally interrupt your mindset before trying to sleep. Some examples of what to avoid include restricting the intake of alcohol and caffeine in the hours immediately before bedtime. Try to avoid use of cell phones for an hour or so before bedtime. 

For more positive sleep patterns, try some well-proven relaxation techniques, such as steady breathing, as part of your standard routine when getting ready to sleep. Of course, possibly the most important aspects are having a comfortable and quiet room at the right temperature and trying to sleep on a supportive mattress with quality bedding and pillows.

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