Healthy Sleep Routine: How Women Can Sleep Soundly
Of all the differences between men and women, sleep may be the source of some of the most perplexing. Compared to men, women are significantly more likely to suffer from insomnia, to get an insufficient amount of sleep, and to experience excessive daytime sleepiness. But why is this problem so pervasive? And what can we do to protect our rest?
The fact is, women struggle to sleep for multiple reasons, and there is no quick fix. In order to end the nightly struggle, we need to address these common issues, both biological and environmental. Only then can we begin to address our pressing sleep disparity.
From Menstruation To Menopause
One of the most common reasons women struggle to sleep soundly is related to hormone fluctuations, both over the course of a single month and across our entire lives. As estrogen and progesterone levels change during each monthly menstrual cycle, our circadian rhythms shift with them. In particular, when progesterone is high, we tend to sleep better than when estrogen levels are higher.
If you can survive decades of these fluctuations, then it’s time to face menopause. During menopause, you’re likely to experience hot flashes, night sweats, and an increased likelihood of sleep apnea. The temperature changes can wake you up due to discomfort, while sleep apnea may cause micro-arousals you’re not even aware of, stirring your body to wakefulness when your breathing is interrupted.
While men typically experience a decline in testosterone over the course of their lifetimes, this gradual decrease is nothing compared to the constant hormonal shifts women experience. The slow change gives men time to adjust and maintain a comfortable sleep routine, but ours change so often and dramatically that 63% of women experience insomnia at least a few nights a week. In reality, that number may be higher – if it takes you more than 15 minutes to fall asleep at night, you’re considered to have insomnia from a clinical perspective.
Another reason women struggle to get enough sleep on a nightly basis is environmental rather than biological. First, for those of us who have children, we tend to take on the majority of nighttime waking responsibilities. When the baby cries or your child has a nightmare, mom is almost always the one on call. Redistributing the responsibility so that your spouse takes some of those late night comfort sessions can make a big difference, even if it only adds up to another 30 minutes of sleep.
Of course, children aren’t part of everyone’s environment, but they aren’t the only environmental issue disrupting your sleep. Women tend to be more sensitive to light, sound, and temperature variations in the bedroom since they can exacerbate existing discomfort caused by hormonal fluctuations. One solution is the install light blocking curtains in the bedroom, which not only help keep the sleep space dark, but also keep the bedroom quieter and reduce temperature changes by insulating the space. You wouldn’t be remiss to install some in your child’s room as well, in order to help them sleep more soundly.
Whether you’re an insomniac or simply too busy to settle down, not getting enough rest can have dire consequences. Persistent lack of sleep can increase your risk of heart disease and colon cancer, as well as diabetes. And have you noticed that when you get a cold, it takes ages to get better? You can chalk that up to your poor sleep as well – chronic insomnia and insufficient sleep can cause problems with your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off illness.
Our modern lifestyle simply isn’t designed for quality sleep, but while we can’t fight our hormones, we can make other simple changes to get more, higher quality sleep. We need to be intentional about making space in our lives for sleep, because it just won’t come naturally.