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The Unique Sleep Struggles Faced by Women

Understanding the Unique Factors

By shanmuga priyaPublished about a month ago 3 min read

Inconvenience falling or staying asleep is normal, particularly as you age. What's more, for women, research suggests, the difficulties can be considerably more prominent.

As per a new survey by the National Sleep Foundation, women were fundamentally more likely than men to report difficulties falling and staying asleep.

Such difficulties can arise during puberty and go on throughout adulthood, said Fiona Baker, director of the Human Sleep Research Program at SRI International, a not-for-profit research institute situated in Menlo Park, Calif.

And they can be caused by a range of factors, including biological, psychological, and social ones, experts say. The good news, however, is that there are things you can do to help.

What's behind women's sleep issues?

Throughout the reproductive years, Dr. Baker said, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can cause mood changes (like anxiety and depression) and physical symptoms (like cramps, bloating, and tender breasts), which all might disturb sleep.

Symptoms during pregnancy, such as nausea, the frequent urge to urinate, anxiety, and general discomfort, depending on the trimester can also trigger sleep disturbances, said Shelby Harris, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychology at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the Bronx. This is particularly true during the first and third trimesters, she said.

Then, at that point there's the sleep disturbance that accompanies caring for an infant, Dr. Harris said — which can continue long after the baby is staying asleep throughout the night. Sometimes, women's "minds are nearly trained to hear the baby," she said, which can lead to a pattern of hypervigilance and responsiveness that can make it harder to sleep.

Hormones again take center stage during the years paving the way to — and beyond — menopause. Up to 80 percent of women begin getting hot flashes in perimenopause (the four or so years paving the way to menopause), Dr. Baker said, and they can last for several years. For around 20% of women, however, these hot flashes are frequent and intense enough to disrupt sleep, she said.

Postmenopausal women are at higher risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles of the airway relax and temporarily impede breathing, which can lead to frequent nighttime awakenings.

"That is the hormones again," Dr. Baker said. Weight gain related to menopause and aging may also play a role in sleep apnea risk, alongside muscle tone changes associated with age and a general redistribution of body weight.

Women are also at increased risk for specific mental health conditions, for example, anxiety and depression, which can intensify sleep issues. As per a Gallup survey released, the level of women who said they presently had or were being treated for depression was over two times higher than men. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services says that women are over two times as diagnosed as men to be determined to have an anxiety problem during their lifetimes.

Instructions to get better sleep

Fortunately, effective solutions are available, Dr. Harris said.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or C.B.T.- I., is generally considered as the best first-line treatment, she said.

It's been shown to further improve sleep and reduce depression symptoms by using a range of cognitive and behavioral techniques, for example, recognizing and reevaluating negative thought patterns, practicing mindfulness, tracking sleep, and changing sleep times, Dr. Harris said.

Hormone replacement therapy, which includes supplementing hormones lost during the menopausal change, is viewed as the best method for treating hot flashes, Dr. Baker said. All things considered, current suggestions are "to take the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time," Dr. Baker noted because the treatment can come with risks.

Finally, it's important to recognize that it's normal for sleep to vary — from night to night or person to person.

Furthermore, waking after you've slept doesn't guarantee that there's an issue. "Everybody wakes around midnight," Dr. Harris added, "only some people recall it more than others."

Assuming you wake on more than one occasion around nighttime and can sleep again in 10 to 15 minutes, that is not dangerous, she said. But, "assuming you experience difficulty in sleeping, staying asleep or awakening too early, or on the other hand assuming that you feel like your sleep is unrefreshing," she suggests seeking help.

The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine maintains a list of C.B.T.- I. trained professionals, Dr. Harris said, and the North American Menopause Society has a database of health care providers who are well versed in perimenopause care. If you're worried about sleep apnea, seek out a sleep medicine specialist, she said.

Most importantly, Dr. Harris said, "Don't suffer in silence."

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About the Creator

shanmuga priya

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