It seems that the deck is stacked against women when it comes to getting the sleep they need to protect their health. Through each life stage, there always seems to be something that is keeping them up at night. Given the short and long term consequences of sleep deprivation, helping women understand how their lives are impacted their sleep is more important than ever. In one of their Sleep in America polls, the National Sleep Foundation looked at how women are sleeping and how the different stages of life pose different sleep challenges.
One of the times in a woman’s life that can have the greatest impact on sleep is motherhood. Starting in pregnancy, women often struggle to get the sleep they need on a regular basis. During pregnancy there are several factors that can make it hard to sleep. Hormonal changes, increasing pressure on the bladder, and general physical discomfort all contribute to sleepless nights. In the NSF poll, 84% of pregnant women report having some problems getting to sleep and staying asleep at least a few nights a week.
Unfortunately, as many a mother will tell you, pregnancy is just practice for after the baby comes. Almost 75% of new mothers wake up unrefreshed in the morning and two-thirds spend time almost every night awake. This kind of long term sleep deprivation can impact all aspects of their lives. Women who experienced problems with sleep similar to those reported by new mothers were more likely to drive drowsy, miss work, be overweight, and take sleeping pills on a regular basis.
Interestingly, although pregnant and post-partum women report the most problems with sleep, they spend more time in bed than women at other stages in life. This shows that quality of sleep can be just as important as quality of sleep. Between early motherhood and menopause, women in general have much fewer problems getting the sleep they need than during those stages. However, while biology may not be keeping them from sleeping, it seems external factors can play a big part in how women are sleeping at this stage. From age 35 to 55, almost half of women experience problems with sleep several times a week.
There seem to be two overarching reasons that women in this stage of life struggle with sleep. They are simply too busy and too stressed out to get the sleep they need. When asked what activities they miss out on most because they run out of time sleep was at the top of the list. Women in this stage of life are often caring for children, working full time, running a household, and sometimes caring for aging parents. Add the pressures of long work days, piles of laundry, a back-up of bills, and no time to exercise and it is easy to see why the outside world can make sleep seem like a luxury.
This life stage brings back some biologically based challenges. From night sweats to hot flashes to mood swings, the hormonal changes that accompany menopause can have a big impact on sleep. Almost 20% of women in this life stage experience menopausal symptoms often enough to disrupt their sleep several times a week. The use of hormone replacement therapy presents additional sleep challenges and women who use it are significantly more likely to use sleep aids several times a week than their peers who are not.
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