Women are more likely to suffer sleep problems like insomnia and to experience excessive sleepiness. In one large study of adult women, roughly 20 percent reported having excessive sleepiness, fatigue, or both, and younger women were especially likely to have sleep troubles. A 2002 National Sleep Foundation poll found that women were more likely than men to experience insomnia at least a few nights per week (63 versus 54 percent), and an earlier poll found that women ages 30-60 slept an average of six hours and 41 minutes on weeknights, even though almost all adults need 7-9 hours of nightly sleep.
For one, various parts of the reproductive cycle present challenges to healthy sleep. Some women find it harder to sleep during certain phases of their menstrual cycle; pregnancy brings hormonal and temperature changes, as well as discomfort that makes sleep difficult; and the dropping estrogen levels associated with menopause can lead to hot flashes that disrupt sleep as well.
Not to mention that for many women, family and work responsibilities can make a full night’s sleep difficult. Feeding an infant or responding to young children at night, or working in the evenings to accommodate a busy daytime family schedule—many women find themselves stretched between work and home life, and healthy sleep often takes a back seat.
If this sounds familiar, don’t let sleepiness become the norm. Women who experience excessive sleepiness should bring this to their doctor’s attention at their regular well visit, or make a special appointment with their doctor to discuss it. There are many changes in behavior and sleep environment that can help, such as addressing sleep temperature, managing light, avoiding caffeine in the afternoons, eating lightly and avoiding alcohol before bed, and learning ways to cope with anxiety and stress that can lead to insomnia. Women face unique sleep challenges, whether biological or lifestyle related, and it’s important to ask for help in addressing this. Especially with busy lives, work, and family responsibilities, good sleep is vital to keeping us happy, healthy, and productive.