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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Menopause Advice:

Women usually hit the menopause stage between their 40s and 50s, and while menopause usually affects women on an individual level, we're going to give you advice to help with symptoms.

  1. Hormonal changes can cause bones to weaken and lead to osteoporosis. Add an adequate amount of calcium & vitamin D to your diet through dairy products and leafy greens. Also, talk to your doctor about adding a daily vitamin to help.
  2. It’s common to gain weight during this time period. Keeping active and adding an exercise regimen can not only help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but also help symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and night sweats.
  3. Certain foods and drinks can trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. Find your triggers by keeping a symptom diary so you can stay away from the foods that may cause issues. Common foods include caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors:

  • Overweight and obesity has been linked to a higher risk of developing many cancers including ovarian.
  • Having your first full-term pregnancy after the age of 35, or never having a pregnancy at all can lead to a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or other cancers can increase your risk factor.
  • Poor diet has been linked to cancer risk factors overall.
  • Ignoring or not scheduling regular women’s health exams.
  • Talk to your doctor about your risks and work to minimize them!

Pregnancy Tip:

  • Don’t overeat. Keep a food diary to keep track. You only need about 300 to 500 extra calories a day. Talk with your doctor about the perfect balance.