Sleep & Women

Sleep plays a vital role in promoting a woman’s health and well being. Getting the sleep that you need is likely to enhance your overall quality of life. Yet as a woman you face many potential barriers that can disrupt and disturb your sleep. Overcoming these challenges can help you enjoy the daily benefits of feeling alert and well rested.

Experts suggest that most men and women need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Yet there are many differences in how men and women sleep. In general women tend to sleep more than men, going to bed and falling asleep earlier. A woman’s sleep also tends to be lighter and more easily disturbed. Women are more likely to feel unrefreshed even after a full night of sleep.

Women also tend to describe sleep problems using different terms than men. Women may be less likely to say that they feel sleepy during the day. Instead women often describe feeling tired, unrested or fatigued. These expressions reflect feelings of physical or mental exhaustion. Women also may report an overall lack of energy or vitality.

There are many complex factors that may affect how a woman sleeps. Some of these factors change over time. For example, excessive daytime sleepiness is more common when women are in their 20s and 30s. In contrast older women appear to adapt better to periods of sleep loss. This difference has been attributed to the many commitments that compete for a young woman’s time. In particular working moms must balance the demands of their career, family, friends and personal health needs. Yet a recent study provides encouragement for mothers. It showed that having children does not increase a woman’s risk of daytime sleepiness or fatigue.

Common factors that affect a woman’s sleep include:

Other factors that can affect a woman’s sleep include:

Sleep Disorders

Millions of women suffer from an ongoing sleep disorder. These problems often remain undiagnosed. These are some of the 81 sleep disorders that are most likely to affect women:

Medical Problems

Many medical problems hinder your ability to sleep well. Treating an underlying medical problem often will lead to improved sleep. These are some of the most common medical problems that affect the sleep of women:

Pregnancy

A woman’s body goes through drastic changes during and after pregnancy. These changes can be physical, hormonal and emotional. All of these changes can affect a woman’s sleep.

Most pregnant women experience daytime fatigue even though they may get more sleep. This is because the quality of their sleep tends to be worse. Physical discomfort and awakenings are common. The third trimester tends to be the time when it is hardest to sleep well.

Studies show that snoring often increases during pregnancy. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) also may develop as the pregnancy progresses. Warning signs for OSA may become more evident. These include gasping, choking sounds and pauses in breathing. OSA is more likely to develop if a woman had a high body mass index (BMI) prior to the pregnancy.

Two other sleep disorders that are more common during pregnancy are restless legs syndrome (RLS) and sleep related leg cramps. RLS affects nearly 25 percent of pregnant women. RLS may be related to low iron. So women who must take iron supplements during pregnancy may have a lower risk of RLS. Leg cramps occur in about 40 percent of pregnant women. They tend to go away after delivery.

Menopause

The hormonal and physical changes that occur during and after menopause can affect a woman’s sleep. Sleep disturbances are more common, and sleep quality can decline. Insomnia related to menopause often occurs.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is much more common in postmenopausal women. This increase may be due in part to menopause-related weight gain. But it also appears to be hormone related. Estrogen seems to help protect women against OSA.

Fibromyalgia often develops due to menopause. Eighty percent of people with fibromyalgia are women. It peaks between the ages of 50 and 70 years. Widespread pain related to fibromyalgia can make it hard to sleep well. Restless legs syndrome (RLS) and sleep related leg cramps are more common as women age. But this increase is not linked directly to menopause.

More Information
Sleep Tips for Women

Sleep & Pregnancy

Sleep & Fibromyalgia

Insomnia Advice: Expert Q&A

Taking Sleep Medications

Reviewed by Rose Franco, MD
Updated August 6, 2007

Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Sleep Medicine