Women and Sleep: The Stages of Life

From The Lung Disease Center of Pennsylvania’s Breathe Magazine

Sleep and sleep disruption or sleep disorders have become a significant issue for both men and women. The data surrounding sleep dysfunction has, for the most part, been obtained though studies in men. The reasoning being that changes in the hormonal shifts of women presented more problems with study design and the interpretation of results.

Women, from menarche to menopause, report more problems with insufficient sleep and insomnia than men. Women report more difficulty in initiating sleep, difficulty staying asleep, and more frequent early morning awakenings. Women appear to need increased amounts of sleep to function at their best during the day compared to men. These gender differences in sleep complaints suggest that women have a higher susceptibility to sleep symptoms. Hormonal and physiologic changes, which begin in puberty and continue through the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, influence a woman’s circadian rhythms, sleep architecture, and sleep quality. Moreover, these changes can contribute to a wide range of sleep disorders. Women’s sleep architecture and quality can be affected by many different factors, such as weight gain, especially during pregnancy. Women are also exposed to many different life pressures due to their gender. Childcare responsibilities, work-life balance, and the caregiver role for the elderly, as well as general stress, can impact a woman’s sleep quality and daytime functioning.

This article will review the problems women have with sleep based on the stages of their lives. Addressed in this article will be three main stages of a woman’s life and the difficulties these times may present for healthy sleep. The stages to be considered are: 1) sleep in women of reproductive age, and this will include sleep during the menstrual cycle and perimenopause; 2) sleep during pregnancy and the postpartum period; and 3) sleep during the perimenopausal and menopausal stage.

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