Is Insomnia More Common in Women?

Last updated: May 20, 2019

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that results in the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It is one of the most common sleep problems in the country. It can affect any person regardless of age or gender. However, women are more at risk of having insomnia compared to men.

According to a 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 57% of women said that they experienced a symptom of insomnia at least a few times a week. In contrast, only 51% of men reported experiencing a symptom of insomnia several times per week.

Unfortunately, according to a separate poll by the National Sleep Foundation, only seven percent of women who experienced symptoms of insomnia received treatment.

Why are women more prone to insomnia?

Hormones may have something to do with the discrepancy between women and men who have insomnia. It is possible that women are more at risk to insomnia because of the unique hormonal changes that they undergo. Some of these hormonal changes include:

The menstrual cycle

A 2007 National Sleep Foundation Poll revealed that 33% of women say they have disturbed sleep whenever they’re in their menstrual cycles.

There are two main phases in the menstrual cycle. The first phase is the follicular. This covers the phase from day one of the menstrual cycle to ovulation. Luteal is the second phase of the menstrual cycle. This is the phase after ovulation. During the follicular phase, there is a buildup of estrogen up until ovulation. At around the 14th day of the menstrual cycle, during ovulation, there is a great increase in estrogen. This is the part of the menstrual cycle where a lot of women reported experiencing sleep disturbances.

The progesterone levels in a woman’s body rise after ovulation. This can cause drowsiness. Estrogen and progesterone levels then drop a few days before the start of a new menstrual period. This is the time when many women experience trouble sleeping. The theory is that the abrupt withdrawal of progesterone may be causing insomnia.

Pregnancy

Insomnia is a disorder that women can experience in all stages of pregnancy. However, this sleep disorder is more common during the first and third trimesters. Insomnia affects approximately 78% of pregnant women.

There are many reasons why a pregnant woman experience sleeping difficulties. Common reasons include:

Frequent urination

According to urologists, urinating more than 8 times in a 24-hour period falls under frequent urination. Pregnant women have overactive bladders. This is due to the extra weight that they put on. The excess body weight brought about by pregnancy places extra pressure on the bladder. This leads to the frequent urge to urinate.

Nausea or vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are some of the first signs of pregnancy. These usually begin around the 6th week of pregnancy. A pregnant woman can experience these any time of the day or night. Some doctors say that morning sickness is a good sign of pregnancy because it means that the placenta is developing well. Due to the fact that a pregnant woman can experience nausea at any time, it can also disrupt a woman’s sleep.

Back pains

Chronic body pains like arthritis can disrupt sleep. For pregnant women, body pain occurs mainly on their backs. Back pain due to pregnancy happens where the pelvis meets the spine. This is the sacroiliac joint.

There are many reasons why a pregnant woman experiences back pains. The most common reason is weight gain. It is normal for a pregnant woman to gain between 25 to 35 pounds of extra weight. This is an additional weight that the spine needs to support. And since this additional weight is something that the spine is not used to supporting, it can cause lower back pain. The nerves and blood vessels in the pelvis and back also bear the pressure brought on by the weight of the growing baby and uterus.

There is also a shift in a woman’s center of gravity because of pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy a woman gradually adjusts her posture and the way that she moves. This can cause back pain or strain.

The body also produces a hormone called relaxin. This hormone relaxes the ligaments in the pelvic area. It also allows the joints to loosen up in preparation for birth. Relaxin can also cause the ligaments that support the spine to loosen. This causes instability and pain.

Muscle separation is another source of back pain. The rectal abdominis muscles, two parallel sheets of muscles running from the rib cage to the pubic bone, may separate along the center seam. This separation is a result of the expanding uterus.

Leg cramps

Pregnant women can also experience trouble sleeping because of leg cramps. In pregnant women leg cramps are a result of the additional weight. It can also be due to changes in the body’s blood circulation. Leg cramps can also be a result of the pressure from the growing baby on the nerves and blood vessels that go to the legs.

Stress

Stress can also cause insomnia in pregnant women. An expectant mother might feel anxiety about labor and delivery. This is especially true for first-time mothers. Some pregnant women also worry about how they will perform as mothers and how can they balance their family and professional life. These thoughts can keep a pregnant woman up all night. It can also stimulate the brain and make it harder to fall asleep.

Perimenopause and menopause

Perimenopause is the transition period prior to menopause. This transition period begins a few years before menopause. Menopause, on the other hand, describes the changes that a woman goes through before or after she stops menstruating. These two causes hormonal and lifestyle changes that can result in insomnia.

During these two stages there is a decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is a sleep-promoting hormone. The shift in the ratio of these hormones can contribute to a woman’s inability to fall asleep.

A woman also experiences frequent hot flashes during these periods. A hot flash is a surge of adrenaline. This surge of adrenaline can awaken the brain from sleep. Hot flashes also produce sweat and cause a change in body temperature. Both of these can make sleeping uncomfortable.

Around 20% of women who are in perimenopause or menopause also experience depression. These may be a result of estrogen loss. Depression is a leading cause of insomnia.

What can be done to help relieve the effects of insomnia?

Back pains

Getting regular exercise can help strengthen the muscles. It also helps boost flexibility and ease the stress on the spine. There are exercises that are safe for most pregnant women. Walking or swimming are just some of these exercises. It is important to consult a physician or a physical therapist beforehand. They can devise an exercise regimen that can help reduce back pains without any negative effects on the mother and the unborn child.

A hot and cold compress can also help. Upon getting approval from a health provider, a cold compress can be applied to the painful area. Apply a cold compress for up to 20 minutes several times a day.  After 2 or 3 days of a cold compress, the patient can then replace it with a hot compress. However, care should be taken to ensure that heat is not applied to the abdomen during pregnancy.

Leg cramps

Preventing leg cramps is better than relieving them. Getting enough exercise can help prevent leg cramps among pregnant women. However, it is important to consult a doctor before performing any exercises. Perform only exercises approved by a doctor. Magnesium supplements can also help prevent leg cramps during pregnancy.

A massage can relieve leg cramps. Gently stretching the affected leg can also help relieve leg cramps. If the cramps are mainly in the calf area, flexing the foot in an effort to stretch the muscle can help stop the cramps. If the pain brought by leg cramps is bearable, walking around on the heels can also help.

Sleep Hygiene

A good sleeping regimen can go a long way towards a night of better sleep. These are sleeping habits that can help ensure the right quantity and quality of sleep.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule can help. The sleep and wake cycle also goes by the name of the Circadian Rhythm. This means that the human body is programmed to sleep and waken based on an internal biological clock. Maintaining a fixed sleep and wake schedule can help improve the quality and quantity of sleep.

It is also important to make the bedroom as conducive to sleep as possible. There are several ways to ensure this. One way is to make it as comfortable as possible. Make sure that the pillows and bed are comfortable to sleep in. A pillow with just the right combination of firmness and comfort can help a woman sleep better.

It is also important to ensure that the bedroom has the right temperature. This means ensuring that the bedroom is neither too cold nor too hot. When a bedroom is too cold, it can cause an individual to feel the need to urinate. This can interrupt one’s sleep and that person may find it hard to get back to sleep. On the other hand, a bedroom that is too warm can make sleeping uncomfortable. It can also cause a person to sweat a lot and this can also translate to an uncomfortable sleep.

Women who work on a shifting schedule should also ensure that the bedroom is as dark as possible. Exposure to light can wake up the brain and make a person feel active. On the other hand, darkness triggers the release of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. There are also melatonin supplements available that can help a person get more sleep. However, it is important to consult a doctor or a sleep specialist first. The doctor can prescribe the right daily dose of melatonin that can help a person get better and longer sleep.

There are also sleep masks that a person can use to ensure that they are in complete darkness while they sleep.

Ensuring that the bedroom is quiet during bedtime can also help facilitate better sleep. Noise from outside the bedroom can make falling asleep difficult. It can also lead to arousals. There are available curtains in the market that can help block sunlight while acting as sound-dampening curtains as well.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

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