The National Sleep Foundation's 2000 Omnibus Sleep in America Poll found that forty-three percent of the people surveyed complained of excessive daytime sleepiness (Mooe). Many had medically significant sleepiness based on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Over a third of people surveyed said that the sleepiness interfered with their daytime activities, and many of these were women. The average woman gets barely six and a half hours of sleep most nights.
During any given month, more than half of the women surveyed reported symptoms of insomnia. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) Women and Sleep Poll found that lack of sleep interferes with daily activities of at least three out of ten women. Many women get far less sleep than they need. Women's sleep problems are different from men's because they have a different biology, psychology, and sleep patterns. Women's sleep is affected by many factors, whether it is PMS, pregnancy, or menopause, can contribute to sleep problems. Health problems that effect women disproportionately, such as depression and pain syndromes, also erode healthy sleep.
And social pressures, juggling work, home, and parenting, can fill a woman's night with anxiety, instead of restful sleep. Many of the problems women face with sleep have to do with their ages and stages of sleep. The stress of juggling work and home life, tending to careers, marriages, and children tend to initiate the onset of sleep problems among women, most commonly in their childbearing years (Core). After finishing their day jobs, women often take on a night shift or second shift with childcare. There are many women attempting to "do it all", maintaining careers, while shouldering too many responsibilities at home. Many women have many roles that they must play, and often there is no support, as a recent study by the Families and Work Institute indicated that 74 percent of single parents are women.
According to a the same report, although men appear to be pitching in more these days, women spend almost three hours doing chores on workdays and almost six hours on non-workdays, which is almost an hour more than their male partners. Women spend more than three hours daily caring for and doing things with their children during the workweek compared with two and third hours for men, and more than eight hours daily on weekends, versus not quite six and a half hours for the men (Galinsky). Child rearing itself can cause sleep disturbances. When one has young children, one is always "on call", and many women accept disrupted sleep as part and parcel of parenting. Attempting to juggle a variety of roles may also contribute to a loss of sleep for many women. Female sleep differences seem to start in infancy (Kobayashi).
Girls tend to have more slow-wave sleep than boys do as they grow (Kobayashi). Around the age of thirteen to fifteen, girls begin to spend less time in bed and have shorter sleep periods than boys do (Kobayashi). Around the age of sixteen they decrease the proportion of REM sleep as well (Kobayashi). Adolescent girls tend to have much less active dreams with much less sexual content than adolescent boys (Kobayashi). Even though teenage girls may have more slow-wave sleep than boys, they may also be more prone to social pressure to shortcut sleep. With the onset of their period, they must also cope with the unpredictability, cramping, and intermittent Pre-menstrual Syndrome associated with their periods.
Their rapidly changing bodies may cause concerns and stress. But, it is during a woman's childbearing years that many sleep problems arise (Lee). Some are caused by hormones during and after pregnancy, but other sleep problems can be caused by the demands of parenting (Lee). Being pregnant and caring for an infant has profound impacts on our sleep.
In addition to the hormonal aspects of pregnancy and childbirth there are the physical stresses of pregnancy and the demands of taking care of a newborn that needs to be fed on a schedule, day and night. In their striving to do their best as parents, sleep often gets put on the back burner. Postpartum depression or anxiety may be overlooked as a cause of sleep problems because new parents expect disrupted sleep at this time of life. No one expects to sleep well during the nights spent in the hospital after giving birth.
Noise, doctors and nursing staff bustling in the rooms and hallways at all hours, bright lights, the baby rooming in, and room-mates all contribute to the disruption of sleep no matter how tired one may feel after labour and delivery. Dr. Kathryn Lee, a nurse-researcher in San Francisco, notes that new mothers get about the same amount of sleep during the postnatal period as they did during the last trimester. Dr. Lee found that after delivery, women had no problem falling asleep, but they did have difficulty maintaining sleep. New mothers reported more daytime fatigue and low energy, similar to the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
However, Dr. Lee found that they were experiencing not true sleep deprivation, but the effects of sleep fragmentation, grabbing sleep a few hours at a time instead of in one long rest. What is going on is an increase in Wake After Sleep Onset (WAS) episodes, and a significant decrease in deep sleep (stages 3-4); our normal sleep patterns are interrupted by the need to feed and change a newborn. If you have a premature baby, you may be especially sleep deprived, because preemies have to be fed more often than full term babies. Twins can be particularly stressful, until you get them on synchronized sleep and feeding schedules. Stress and sleep loss is major culprits in the depressed mood and memory loss experienced by many new mothers.
Midlife may bring added responsibilities, with many women caring for ageing parents and children at the same time. When women hit pre-menopause, symptoms such as hot flashes and perhaps depression can also take their toll. If one is unhappy about approaching midlife, or if life changes are stressing, one may suffer the impact at night. A Study by Lentz showed that throughout their middle years, healthy, unstressed women gain more sleep than men and continue to have deeper slow-wave-sleep than heir male partners do. Women and men begin to average out and meet, sleep wise, when they are sixty. The National Sleep Foundation's Women and Sleep Poll revealed that women nearing menopause or those who had gone through menopause slept ten minutes less each night, and thirty-four minutes less on weekends (Mooe).
Twenty percent of midlife women slept less than six hours per night compared with twelve percent of younger women (Mooe). That is about an hour and a half less per week. The survey also found almost 30 percent of menopausal women reported difficulty falling asleep, compared with eight teen percent of pre-menopausal women, and their frequency of early morning awakenings was twice as high (Mooe). The number of arousal's during the night increases with age in both men and women (Mooe). Many problems women experience with sleep at this stage of life can be linked to hormonal changes. But a number of other factors can affect our sleep.
Research by Dr. Joan Shaver shows that among midlife women, sleep complaints were not related consistently to menopausal symptoms. In many midlife women reporting poor sleep, high stress and somatic symptoms, including pain, are more evident than high menopausal symptoms (Shaver). These women also reported high emotional distress including depressed mood (Shaver). In fact, the incidence of depression increases not during menopause but during pre-menopause (Shaver).
In midlife many of us are redefining out marital relationships or long-term partnerships. Women with marital problems are more likely to have poor sleep, independent of depression (Asplund & Aberg). Part of one's midlife reassessment may be switching careers or jobs. However, many women find themselves working in their later years out of economic necessity.
The U. S Labour Department estimated that by the year 2005 over half of women aged fifty-five to sixty-four would still are in the labour force (as cited by Asplund and Aberg). Stress and burnout can be lingering problems and these can seriously affect our sleep lives, disrupting our rest. Some women who have chosen to stay home and rear children have the freedom at midlife to pursue educational and career goals put on hold years earlier, the stress and anxiety of a new workload can hurt our sleep. Mid-life is also a time in life, unfortunately, when health problems begin to crop up, such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and heart disease. Sleep disorders may emerge in midlife; among them obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and periodic leg movement syndrome, and overactive bladder.
Also, wondering when and if you can retire and planning financially for that time may also add to stress and depression at midlife. Retirement may be an elusive goal and that anxiety can also ruin our sleep. Older age can bring changes in sleep patterns; physical ailments like arthritis can keep women awake. Some older women may have a health problem that requires relocation to a nursing home, and that brings its own set of sleep disrupter's.
It is a myth that we need less sleep the older that we get. As we age, our ability to sleep changes, but our need to sleep does not. As we get older, there's a natural shift in our biological clock. During most of our adult life, our internal clock triggers sleepiness around 10: 00 or 11: 00 P.
M, and wakefulness around 7: 00 A. M. But, as we age, the clock shifts and we start to feel sleepy several hours earlier, around 7: 00 P. M, and the biological clock sounds an unwelcome wake-up call at around 3: 00 or 4: 00 A. M. It is not exactly clear why this occurs, but it is likely that we get less exposure to light later in life, depriving our inner clock of important cues, because we are less active out of doors.
Studies suggest that we need at least two hours in natural sunlight to keep our biological clock running smoothly. Unfortunately, studies at Cornell University (as cited by Schetman) found that elderly women averaged only forty-five minutes of sunlight per day. Other studies suggest that our slowed metabolism and lessened activity in later life could inhibit the natural rise and fall of core body temperature, further messing up our normal sleep signals (Schetman). Women do continue to have more slow-wave sleep than men do, and women actually sleep more consolidate ly (Asplund & Aberg). Additionally, women hold on to their circadian timing longer than men do (Asplund & Aberg).
Unfortunately, many other health issues tend to disrupt our normal sleep in this stage of life. The most prominent of these is depression (Schetman). According to a study by Schetman, more women than men complain of depression across the years, and depression affects sleep. Depression tends to increase sleep fragmentation and wakes us up earlier in the morning. A study by the National Institute on Ageing (as cited by Schetman) found that people who are depressed are three times more likely to report symptoms of insomnia than those who are not depressed are. Arthritic pain may be the most common cause of secondary sleep disturbance; people with rheumatoid arthritis report a sixty- percent greater prevalence of sleep disorders (Lentz).
The natural movements one makes while asleep may produce joint or muscle pain that wakes them up, and many older people find it harder to get back to sleep. Respiratory problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can also cause wakefulness (Lusardi). Heart disease also contributes to sleep problems (Lusardi). In a survey in Sweden examining almost four thousand women with cardiac disease, eighteen percent claimed to have poor sleep.
Within that group, poor sleep was associated with chest pain and irregular heartbeat (Lusardi). However, in another study, women with coronary artery disease showed a higher incidence of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea remains a significant predictor of disease even when things like age, smoking status; weight, hypertension, and diabetes are accounted for. Further, after cardiac surgery, women's sleep patterns are greatly disrupted (Asplund & Aberg). Patients with hypertension have found their blood pressure rising following sleep deprivation. Older people are also more likely to be taking several medications, some of which can interfere with sleep or cause interactions that do.
Too many women accept sleep problems as a part of their lives. Somehow women figure men must sleep more easily, and that maybe women just need less sleep. There are differences in men's and women's sleep patterns, some of which have to do with hormones and gender. Women's sleep is disrupted by the hormonal surges of puberty, pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome, and pre menopause. Not to mention late nights caused by competing demands of careers and children, and caring for a newborn. Many of the problems women face with sleep have to do with their life stages and situations.
Understanding one's own life stage is a crucial element in getting a good night's sleep.