Sleep Is an Important Part of Health; Why is it an Important Women’s Health Issue?
For optimum health and function, the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. But more than 60% of women regularly fall short of that goal. Sleep deprivation can lead to a range of health problems, from being more likely to catch a cold or gain weight to increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.
This may be due to insomnia or another underlying condition that may require medical attention, however most women build up a sleep debt by burning the candle at both ends and consistently failing to get to bed on time or stay there long enough.

Getting enough sleep is just as important as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
Women are more likely than men to have insomnia and greater problems initiating and sustaining sleep — particularly after menopause.

woman waking up with stiff neckSleep sleep (or lack of it) affects health and well-being. Not getting enough rest impairs our ability to think, makes us more accident prone, and dampens our moods on a day-to-day basis. In the long run, too much of a sleep debt can contribute to problems like weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, and more.
How well women sleep also comes impacts other aspects of their health, like pregnancy, the postpartum period, perimenopause, menopause, and aging, according to Katherine Sharkey, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, psychiatry and human behaviour at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Women, for example, are more likely to have insomnia and greater problems initiating and sustaining sleep — especially after menopause.

Dr. Sharkey, who researches sex-based differences in sleep and circadian rhythm, looks at how they affect mood and particularly women’s health issues. She says new research in the field has the potential to improve women’s health outcomes.

In a recent interview, Dr Sharkey stated, in relation to the question about differences in men and women’s sleep:
“Young children of both sexes are similar in their sleep. Both boys and girls need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Around puberty, research shows that boys and girls diverge, with menstruating girls showing a higher tendency to develop insomnia than boys. The exact reasons for this are unknown, but it may be caused by slight variations in circadian rhythm between boys and girls. Girls also face more fragmented sleep, possibly related to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle.”

Several studies suggest the presence of different sex hormones in men and women yield different effects on sleep, according to a review published in February 2016 in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Adult women continue to report more insomnia and remain more prone to sleep disorders in general.
Additionally, a review published in 2016 the journal BioMed Research International has also revealed that undiagnosed sleep apnea is a major problem, with as many as 90 percent of women unaware they have the condition, possibly because they have different symptoms than men do. While men present with snoring, women tend to report excessive fatigue, a strong need to sleep during the day, and mood or concentration lapses.
Doctors (male as well as female) may often misdiagnose these symptoms as being caused by depression or anxiety and prescribe medications that cause weight gain, worsening the problem when the extra pounds further compromise breathing.

Sleep and Pregnancy
pregnant woman caressing bellyAccording to Dr. Sharkey, there’s a definite increase in all kinds of sleep disorders during pregnancy. Many women report problems finding comfortable sleeping positions. Breathing may be difficult because the foetus restricts their lungs, or women will have back pain or require frequent bathroom trips.
Plus, restless legs syndrome becomes more common in pregnancy, probably because of iron deficiencies in pregnancy and there can be psychological issues, too. Some studies have shown that intrusive thinking and worrying can increase during pregnancy.

Post-pregnancy, most women do improve – but not everyone does. Studies are being conducted to determine whether extreme sleep deprivation plays a role in postpartum depression.
There’s also research investigating whether a hormonal variant or subphenotype (the link between genetics and environment) predisposes certain women to mood disorders that begin in pregnancy and worsen with sleeplessness.
Interestingly, there’s some positive news when it comes to the relationship between nursing and sleep. A study published in The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing found that women who breastfed their children (by nursing or through stored breast milk) slept on average 40 to 45 minutes longer than parents of bottle-fed children. Other studies confirm that bottle-feeding parents not only get substantially less sleep, but they take much longer to reestablish pre-parenting sleep levels, too. The current speculation is that prolactin, the pituitary gland hormone that produces milk, plays a role in stabilizing sleep.

While individual variability in sleep is enormous. Dr Sharkey has found in various studies that most women sleep about six hours a night and only four to six hours right after the birth. They grab naps whenever possible but it’s not adequate to replace missing sleep/. Some patients have even insisted, two decades later, that they haven’t slept well since they had infants.

Sleep and Peri-Menopause
woman with hot flashes using hand fan Women report many sleep problems from perimenopause right through menopause itself. Hot flashes are associated with disturbed sleep, although Fiona Baker, PhD, senior program director of the Human Sleep Research Program at the Center for Health Sciences at SRI International California, has shown that the effect is bidirectional; i.e. hot flashes wake women up, and women who are awakened get hot flashes. Whichever comes first, it is a fact that the alterations in hormone levels implicated in hot flashes can affect the brain and impact mood.
In addition, research carried out at the University of Pittsburgh indicates that personal issues, like an unhappy marriage, can threaten sleep in women at midlife.

Sleep Post-Menopause
Sleep tends to improve somewhat after women transition from perimenopause to menopause. The hormones settle into a state of greater constancy, but more data is required. Meanwhile, the sleep disorder “gender gap” narrows as both sexes become increasingly susceptible to conditions like Alzheimer’s and untreated pain. Older people with sleep issues are often given drugs for their medical problems, which then create sleep issues. And it’s typical for older women to find that sleeping pills prescribed earlier in life no longer work properly.

Simple Tips for Better Sleep
For optimum health and function, the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. But more than 60% of women regularly fall short of that goal. Sleep deprivation can lead to a range of health problems, from being more likely to catch a cold or gain weight to increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.
This may be due to insomnia or another underlying condition that may require medical attention, however most women build up a sleep debt by burning the candle at both ends and consistently failing to get to bed on time or stay there long enough.

Getting enough sleep is just as important as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Tips for getting the rest you need:
1. Create a sleep sanctuary. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Keep it on the cool side. Banish the television, computer, smartphone or tablet, and other diversions from that space.
2. Nap only if necessary. Taking a nap at the peak of sleepiness in the afternoon can help to supplement hours missed at night. But naps can also interfere with your ability to sleep at night and throw your sleep schedule into disarray. If you need to nap, limit it to 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Avoid caffeine after noon, and go light on alcohol. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 12 hours. Alcohol can act as a sedative, but it also disturbs sleep.
4. Get regular exercise, but not within three hours of bedtime. Exercise acts as a short-term stimulant.
5. Avoid backsliding into a new debt cycle. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — at the very least, on weekdays. If need be, use weekends to make up for lost sleep.

Sources: everydayhealth.com, Harvard Medical School