How Being a Woman Impacts Sleep
Women’s History Month is the perfect time to celebrate the incredible contributions of women. However, it is also a great opportunity to acknowledge the unique challenges they face, including getting enough quality sleep. Women’s sleep patterns can be disrupted by several factors, including menstrual cycles and pregnancy.
Keep reading to discover the unique sleep challenges women face and how they can be addressed.
Sleep & the Menstrual Cycle
Sleep is an essential aspect of maintaining good health, and studies have shown that women have a unique relationship with rest.
During the menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuations can affect the sleep-wake cycle. Estrogen, a female sex hormone, has been found to increase the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the stage of sleep where we experience dreams. Progesterone, another female sex hormone, can cause drowsiness and increase the amount of slow-wave sleep, which is the stage responsible for physical restoration and repair.1
However, during the premenstrual phase, which occurs approximately seven to ten days before menstruation, progesterone levels decrease, leading to disrupted sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, and less restorative sleep. Studies have shown that women report poorer sleep quality during this phase, with increased daytime sleepiness, insomnia, and fatigue.2
In addition to the premenstrual phase, hormonal changes during menstruation can also lead to sleep disturbances. For example, women may experience increased pain, discomfort, and anxiety during their period, which can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
Moreover, women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may be more prone to certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. These sleep disturbances can further exacerbate symptoms of PMS and negatively impact overall health and well-being.3
How Sleep Differs for Men and Women
Women tend to have a higher prevalence of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and other sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome and sleep-disordered breathing, compared to men.4 This may be due to hormonal variances, as well as differences in sleep architecture and circadian rhythms.
Sleep Changes Through the Years: Pregnancy, Menopause & Postmenopause
Women also tend to have different sleep patterns throughout their lifespan, with significant changes occurring during pregnancy, menopause, and postmenopause. Throughout pregnancy, women may experience increased sleep disturbances due to physical discomfort and hormonal changes.5 During menopause, women may undergo hot flashes and night sweats, which can disrupt sleep.6 In postmenopause, women often suffer from changes in sleep architecture, such as decreased slow-wave sleep and increased REM sleep.7
How to Improve Sleep Quality
It is important for women to understand the impact of their menstrual cycle on sleep and take steps to manage any disturbances they experience. Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing sleep environment, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, can help improve sleep quality. Women who experience severe sleep disturbances during their menstrual cycle may benefit from speaking with a healthcare professional.
The intimate relationship between sleep and wellbeing is a difficult landscape to navigate so it is important to have a diverse set of tools at your disposal. Somnology offers a comprehensive perspective to sleep monitoring and care with the SLaaS® (Sleep Lab as a Service) platform, SomnoRing®, and mobile app. We have streamlined a typical sleep diagnosis experience by delivering the technology and medical insight of a sleep lab directly to users. To learn more about SLaaS® and the effects of sleep, continue reading our blog.
- Driver HS, Baker FC. Menstrual factors in sleep. Sleep Medicine Clinics. 2018;13(3):329-337.
- Chiaffarino F, Parazzini F, Palacios S, et al. Premenstrual syndrome and sleep disturbances in a population-based sample of Italian women. Journal of Women’s Health. 2011;20(12):1839-1843.
- Kaltwasser SF, Kessler M, Linz D, et al. Sleep disorders in women: a guide to practical management. Frontiers in Neurology. 2020;11:582.
- Zhang J, Lam SP, Li SX, Tang NL, Yu MW, Chan JW, et al. Gender differences in insomnia: a meta-analysis. Sleep. 2016;39(11):1951-60.
- Mindell JA, Jacobson BJ. Sleep disturbances during pregnancy. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. 2000;29(6):590-597.
- Gold EB, Sternfeld B, Kelsey JL, et al. Relation of demographic and lifestyle factors to symptoms in a multi-racial/ethnic population of women 40-55 years of age. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2000;152(5):463-473.
- Kravitz HM, Joffe H. Sleep during the perimenopause: a SWAN story. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 2011;38(3):567-586.