Women and Sleep Problems

By Ashley Little

When you think about the ways in which men and women differ, sleep is probably not on the list. But as it turns out, men and women have very different sleep needs, patterns, and issues. In fact, recent research has shown that women are more likely to be affected by sleep problems than men.

Some of the sleep issues that women experience more than men include insomnia, nighttime pain, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Women generally tend to report more insomnia than men, although, when measured in studies, they actually seem to sleep better than men, suggesting a higher incidence of sleep state misperception.That said, women are also shown to be affected more severely by sleep disorders and their symptoms. While sleepy or tired, women have more trouble with their concentration and memory.

The main factors at play causing these differences include shifts in hormones and the prevalence of mood disorders in women. We’ll go over how women are affected by sleep problems at different phases in life including menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. 

To learn more about how men and women sleep differently, check out our resource below.


Sleep and Menstruation

Many women have sleep problems right before their period begins (PMS insomnia) and the few first days of their menses. One report suggests that 67% of women lose sleep during their menstrual cycle each month. The female period, and particularly the time just before it, is associated with a sharp drop in the hormone progesterone, which is a known hypogenic substance or soporific.

These hormonal changes can lead to trouble falling asleep, decreased REM sleep, increased awakening in the night, sleeping hot, and vivid dreams or nightmares. Nighttime pain from menstrual cramps, as well as complaints such as migraine, tension headaches, rheumatism, arthritis, heartburn, etc. (all of which affect women to a greater degree than men) can also lead to disrupted sleep.

Learn more about how the menstruation cycle affects a woman’s sleep in our resources below.


Sleep and Pregnancy

As many as 78% of women report more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times. This may result from the changing hormone levels during pregnancy and other common pregnancy-related complaints such as anxiety, hormonal changes, nausea, physical discomfort, leg cramps, acid reflux, snoring, shortness of breath, and extra bathroom trips during the night, which can all contribute to sleep disturbances. This combination of effects is sometimes referred to as pregnancy-related sleep disorder.

Pregnant women are also at substantially increased risk of full-blown sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. Once the baby is born, of course, most of these problems will be resolved, but then looking after a new baby brings its own sleep deprivation issues.

Even still, this is just scratching the surface. Learn more about the sleep problems women face while pregnant and some solutions to remedy the issues in our resource below.


Postpartum Sleep

As most people know, newborn infants do not come out of the womb knowing how to sleep throughout the entire night. 

New mothers suffer from a great deal of sleep deprivation after their baby is born. The consequences of lost sleep are far extending. Sleep deprivation affects your mood and energy levels and can even make new mothers more susceptible to postpartum depression. Recent studies have found that it takes women around 4-6years (yes, you read that correctly) to recover from the sleep they lose with a new baby.

It’s more important than ever for new mothers to be well-rested, but it’s also the most challenging time to find sleep. Check out our resources below to learn about ways you can find time to sleep with a new baby and other postpartum sleep challenges mothers face. 


Sleep and Menopause

The hormone-related period of menopause in middle-aged women can lead to depression-like symptoms as well as sleep problems. Post-menopausal women report about twice the rate of insomnia compared to premenstrual women, and about three times the rate of sleep apnea. Even starting in their 30s and 40s, women will begin to experience sleep difficulties as a result of perimenopause.

Between hormone changes, adrenaline levels, hot flashes, and even lifestyle changes as women age, it’s difficult to find a good night’s rest. Learn more about how menopause affects women’s sleep schedules, why, and what you can do about in our resource below.


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