It is normal to experience a restless night’s sleep here or there but when the sleepless nights begin to accumulate, getting through the days can become harder and harder. Women are twice as likely as men to experience insomnia at some stage through their lives.
Through the early years of motherhood, a woman may expect to have disrupted sleep as she tends to her baby’s needs through the night. Yet, many women continue to experience challenges with sleep beyond this and as they age, the difference between a man and a woman’s ability to sleep restoratively usually becomes even more pronounced.
If you are a woman suffering from sleep challenges, here are three reasons why that might be and what you can do to address it.
There are far more hormonal fluctuations in a woman’s life than in a man’s. Through menstruation years, women may find that they sleep better or worse at various stages of their cycles as levels of estrogen and progesterone play a key role in sleep quality. The hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and the post-partum period can also wreak havoc on a woman’s ability to sleep restoratively. Then through the peri and post-menopausal years, the drop in estrogen and progesterone levels in their body can leave a woman lying awake for hours through the night.
Stress hormones too can disrupt the sleep cycle. Women are more prone to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which are linked to the presence of stress hormones in the body, not to mention more likely to run around frantically feeling overwhelmed by how much they have to do in a day.
Whether getting to sleep or staying asleep is an issue for you, you may benefit from seeking the support of a qualified health professional who can assess the balance of your hormones to ascertain whether they might be playing a role in your sleep challenges. If you feel that stress, anxiety or depression may be key for you, working with a qualified mental health professional may work wonders. Other ways to reduce stress and anxiety include mindful practices such as breath work, gentle yoga, meditation and tai chi.
2. An earlier circadian rhythm
Research has found that women’s sleep cycles runs at an earlier phase than men’s. This simply means that women tend to get tired earlier in the evening and be ready to wake earlier in the morning than their male counterparts. Yet most women will go to bed quite late in the evening, whether because they are trying to catch up on the day’s tasks or simply out of habit. When you miss or ignore your body’s natural sleep cues, it can be much harder to fall asleep when you do eventually lay your head down on your pillow.
If getting to sleep is a challenge for you, try to get to bed as soon as you feel tired (where possible). It will also be helpful to avoid anything that can disrupt your body’s production of your sleep hormone melatonin through the evening. You may like to stop consuming coffee after 11am (as the half life of caffeine can linger for up to eight hours) and reduce screen time and bright lights for two hours prior to bed as both can confuse your sleep cycle.
3. Overlapping responsibilities
Many women hold the role of primary caregiver in their family. As they get older, caregiving may change from looking after children to caring for elderly parents. For many women, the responsibilities of caregiving overlap with the responsibilities of work making the day a frantic double shift. Not only does this add more to a woman’s to-do list, it also adds more pressure to balance the needs of her family and her work life. This can add to feelings of anxiousness and an inability to switch the mind off at the end of the night.
If you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, regularly torn between your home and work life, it can be helpful to consider where you might be able to seek support and help. Is there anything you can delegate? Who from your support network may be able to assist you so that you don’t feel as though everything hinges on you?
You may also find it helpful to keep a notepad beside your bed if you find that tasks you have forgotten keep popping into your head as you are drifting off to sleep and keeping you awake.
A latex mattress can truly be a savior to help you experience deep and uninterrupted sleep. The natural buoyancy of latex helps to relieve pressure points which means you won’t feel the need to move around as much during the night. Latex also reduces the disturbance felt when a partner changes position.