Do you envy your partner who falls asleep within five minutes and jumps out of bed 7-9 hours later refreshed and energized? Did you know women are more prone to sleep challenges than men? A recent research article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests changes in hormones, underlying medical sleep disorders, mood disturbances, and the role women play in caregiving, may be culprits of a poor night’s sleep.
If you find sleep challenging, realize it’s taking longer to do simple tasks such as reading an email, or feel less pleasure in activities that normally bring you joy, you may be suffering from one of the aforementioned hurdles. Let’s dive in.
How do female hormones affect sleep?
Did you know your period can kickstart sleep issues? This can be due to hormone (estrogen/progesterone) fluctuation as well as physical period symptoms like abdominal cramping, low back pain, and headaches. During perimenopause, when there are greater swings in hormonal changes, poor sleep can also be attributed to frequent hot flashes, night sweats, and nighttime awakenings. However, these symptoms are only one piece of the pie. A shift in our hormone levels can even lead to changes in our breathing during sleep!
Could I have a sleep disorder?
Undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs more frequently during the menopause transition and as we grow older. OSA is a medical sleep disorder that happens when the muscles of the upper airway (tongue and muscles of the back of the throat) narrow and collapse during sleep. This restriction in our airway sends a signal to our brain to wake us up, which then activates our muscles to tighten and the airway opens. We aren’t always conscious of this repetitive process and it can leave us exhausted in the morning. Symptoms of OSA (snoring or gasping while asleep) can be more subtle in women, too. Women who have OSA complain of having a hard time staying asleep, waking up multiple times during the night to urinate, morning headaches, waking up unrefreshed, and irritability. Insomnia is also more common in women than men, especially in midlife. To learn more why this happens and how to treat it holistically, read this post with Dr. Sarah Silverman, a holistic sleep specialist.
How do anxiety and depression keep me from sleeping?
Poor sleep and mood disturbances can go hand-in-hand. Sleep loss affects our ability to handle stress, control anxiety, and manage depression. Furthermore, women have higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to men. Rates of anxiety and depression also can increase during perimenopause and menopause, which can be due to hormonal changes and the physical discomfort associated with changes in hormone levels. Stress from social factors also contributes to our mood and sleep quality. Check out this blog, How to Turn Off Your Brain and go to Sleep, for tips on how to quiet a busy mind.
What role does caregiving have on sleep?
In addition to the mental and physical concerns, the role women have as caregivers such as chauffeur for their kids during the school week (and their non-stop weekend activities of birthday parties and sporting events), accompanying elderly parents to their doctor’s appointments social factors that can take its toll on a woman’s sleep. This can be compounded by everyday tasks like chores and errands. Many steal away time from sleep to tick-off items on their to-do list and then participate in revenge procrastination as a release. Creating time and space to dedicate for yourself is key. Try to dedicate the last hour of your day just for you, and create a wind down routine that supports your sleep.
Speaking to a physician or healthcare professional about your sleep challenges is key. A professional will be able to assess whether there are any underlying medical or sleep disorders that may be affecting your sleep.