Women and Insomnia

What’s the Connection?

Insomnia is a national problem. It afflicts over 60 million adult Americans and costs billions in healthcare. And many people brush it off as a nuisance, dismissing the severity of what some call an “epidemic.” Despite the fact that the symptoms of insomnia attack millions of adults at large, statistics show that women may suffer from insomnia more than men. Why? What are the causes of gender-related insomnia?

Frustrated Mother.

Hormonal Changes and Insomnia

One of the biggest root causes for insomnia symptoms is hormonal change. In women, hormonal shifts occur at every stage of life, from adolescence through old age. These expected and regular hormone fluctuations include monthly pre-menstrual shifts, hormonal changes accompanying pregnancy, and peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopausal hormone changes and imbalances.

Over time bigger problems can arise from gender-related insomnia. Regularly anticipated, transient symptoms might actually alter sleep behaviors, inspire poor sleep hygiene, and otherwise rewire your sleep psychology.

Insomnia Related to PMS

PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome, includes over 200 symptoms—including the most common bloating, irritability, breast tenderness, stress, AND insomnia. Many women regularly report sleep disturbances in the few days prior to the start of menstruation.

Pregnancy and Insomnia

Pregnancy inspires many changes in a woman’s body, some of which directly impact sleep.

  • Nausea, often called “morning sickness” doesn’t always occur in the morning
  • Hormone changes
  • Anxiety
  • Weight-gain
  • Changes in diet and exercise
  • General discomfort
  • Leg pain, and even restless leg syndrome, a common sleep disorder
  • Acid reflux
  • Frequent urination
  • Every one of those changes can contribute to additional sleep disturbances. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 78% of women when asked in a sleep poll reported markedly worse insomnia symptoms when pregnant than at any other time in their lives. Consider this in light of the fact that many women, by the time they become pregnant, have experienced and may even be accustomed to, some transient insomnia associated with their monthly menstrual cycle.

    Menopausal Insomnia

    Peri-menopause to post-menopause in many women could last up to 10 years, but more normally lasts 5. This period in a woman’s life can be marked by increasingly disruptive menopausal symptoms many of which upend your Circadian Rhythm.

    Anxiety and Depression in Women

    Adding to the challenges in identifying insomnia in women is the equally distressing fact that anxiety and depression are also more common in women. Problem is that these conditions are so innately intertwined with insomnia and sleep disturbances as to be almost impossible to disentangle. Is insomnia a primary problem? Or are symptoms of insomnia symptoms for depression, anxiety or something else?

    Is Women’s Insomnia Easily Dismissed?

    Because transient insomnia symptoms are so prevalent at all stages of a woman’s life, from early adulthood -- menstrual cycle-induced insomnia, and even pregnancy – to old age, the chances to disregard and otherwise ignore insomnia symptoms only grows worse with age. Sleep disturbances are often explained away as a “natural” part of the female condition. This dismissal stirs the question in healthcare: Do we overlook chronic and severe insomnia in women, along with depression and anxiety, the same way we overlook heart disease among women and other critical health problems?

    Treatment and Relief for Gender-Related Insomnia

    Controlling sleep disturbances brought on by hormonal changes, either menstrual cycle or during menopause, begins with good sleep hygiene and caretaking other lifestyle behaviors.

    • Sleep hygiene: eliminate caffeine and stimulants near bedtime; don’t watch television while you’re trying to go to sleep; establish a regular sleep routine; improve your sleep environment.
    • Lifestyle behaviors: balanced diet, exercise, support.

    Pharmacological treatments vary depending on your beliefs, your medical history and the input from physicians. Some women find relief from hormonal imbalances—which can then inspire insomnia—with estrogen replacement therapy; others prefer natural treatments. Talk to your doctor about hormone-related insomnia so you can design a solution for you.

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