These days, our lives are so busy that it’s hard to find time to complete all of the items on our to-do lists. With jobs, husbands, children and social commitments all vying for our time, it’s hard to see sleep as one of the most important to-dos. But the lack of sleep doesn’t merely make the days more difficult, it also contributes to car accidents, health conditions, and even drug and substance abuse. It’s time we move sleeping up on our lists of priorities and improve our moods, professional success and health.
Let’s start with the facts:
- 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder and wakefulness.
- Women are more likely to have insomnia than men—63 percent of women compared to 54 percent of
- 26 percent of women have trouble sleeping at least once a week; only 16 percent of men have this
- Women suffer more daytime sleepiness—20 versus 13 percent.
It makes sense that women suffer from tiredness more than men because, on average, they are getting less sleep per night. But why is it that women have more trouble sleeping than men? Studies by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) show that biology and sociology have a lot to do with it.
NSF research indicates that biological factors unique to women are the biggest causes of sleeplessness. “During menstruation, a significant number of women have difficulty sleeping due to tender breasts (36 percent), headaches (28 percent) and cramps (28 percent). During pregnancy, nearly 80 percent of women have sleep problems. During menopause, 40 percent have interrupted sleep, most frequently due to hot flashes.” The NSF says that unlike men, the levels of hormones a woman has changes throughout the month—whether she is menstruating, pregnant or menopausal— affecting her ability to sleep.
The hormonal changes associated with menopause can also Grohmake Zs hard to catch. Dr. Sarah Zallek, sleep neurologist and medical director of the Illinois Neurological Institute Sleep Center at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, said the hot flashes and stress associated with this major change in a woman’s body are what make it hard to sleep and can last for years.
Sleep apnea is a common sleeping disorder among menopausal women, characterized by snoring, interrupted breathing during sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. The National Sleep Foundation says, “An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, including one in four women over 65. While apnea is more common in men, it increases in women after age 50.”
Pregnancy is another biological condition unique to women which has a huge impact on sleep. Zallek said the first “is a sleepy trimester” in which women are physically tired and fatigued. The second trimester is a little better, but the third is really bad. Zallek noted this is because women are physically uncomfortable and must endure joint pains and “having a growing baby at their front.”
Restless Legs Syndrome—which affects 10 percent of the population, both men and women—is much worse during pregnancy and is easily treated, according to Zallek. A person with RLS has the irresistible urge to move his/her legs. It usually worsens when at rest in the evening and gets better with movement.While these biological issues largely affect sleep, the most common problem, insomnia, can be caused by both biological and societal stressors, according to Lisa Coates, a registered polysomnographic technologist at the Proctor Sleep Center.
While it is the most common sleep disorder, more women suffer from insomnia than men. Coates said it can be acute—caused by stress—or chronic—caused by other biological and cultural stressors. Insomnia common to women can be attributed to the many cultural or societal pressures unique to their gender.
The clinicians we spoke with at sleep clinics in the Peoria area stressed that sleeplessness isn’t just an annoyance; it has consequences besides daytime sleepiness. Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and memory loss are all examples of physical and mental conditions caused by not getting enough sleep. They all agree that adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night to be in good physical and mental condition, and offered these ways to improve the quality and quantity of sleep time:
Do-It-Yourself Insomnia Prevention and Treatment
1. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evening; all three disrupt sleep patterns.
2. Exercise regularly, but finish your workout at least three hours before your bedtime. Aerobic exercise
helps you fall asleep faster and makes your sleep more productive.
3. Avoid taking naps during the day and sleep only at night. Naps of more than 15 minutes often disrupt
the sleep cycle.
4. Make sure your bedroom is comfortable and conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark and quiet.
5. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This trains your body to
sleep at night.
6. Don’t sleep anywhere but in your bed, and use your bed only for sleeping and intimacy. This trains
your body to associate sleep with your bed and makes it easier to fall and stay asleep.
7. Develop a bedtime routine and follow it every night. This will help you wind down and get sleepy each
time you do these things. Taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to music and turning the
lights down are all good bedtime activities.
8. Don’t lie awake in bed. If you can’t fall asleep right away, get up and do a relaxing activity for 20 to
30 minutes, or until you feel tired.
9. Don’t look at the clock when you’re in bed. This causes stress almost immediately, often making it
hard to sleep. TPW