Have you ever lain in bed staring at the ceiling for hours and unable to fall asleep? Well, you’re not alone. Among all other things that women have to deal with, insomnia too seems to have joined the club. But what causes insomnia? Let’s explore.
Wendy Troxel, Ph.D., is a certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist and clinical psychologist who has worked with many such patients. According to her, most of her patients struggling with insomnia are women.
Interestingly, the majority of these women have male partners who have no trouble falling asleep. In her experience of dealing with these patients, she discovered gender disparities to be the root cause of insomnia.
In a Mind Body Green article, Troxel discusses the role of hormones and patriarchy (is it even surprising anymore?) in causing sleep problems in women. So let’s find out why women have more sleep issues than men and what they can do to cope with them.
Does Insomnia Actually Affect Women More?
To date, several studies have indicated that insomnia is more common in women than men. Some have even estimated the lifetime risk of insomnia to be significantly higher in women than men.
Not just that, the reasons, causes, and symptoms of insomnia vary a lot in women from men. For instance, senior women are often prone to multiple symptoms, while men usually show just one or two signs.
The National Sleep Foundation also researched this topic. They found that up to 67% of women experienced sleeping problems for a few nights while 46% had issues almost every night in the past month.
So this shows us that scientific research clearly backs up the findings of Troxel, and more women have insomnia as compared to men.
What Causes Insomnia in Women?
One of the major causes of insomnia in women seems to be the gender gap, especially the cultural aspect. Generally, women are the primary caregivers at home, always attentive at night, sensitive to the tiniest sound from their kid’s bedrooms.
Even after the children grow out of this age and phase, women tend to be active every night as the instinct doesn’t go away.
Troxel explains that women she’s talked to about their insomnia narrate that they’ve developed a habit of waking up in the middle of the night ever since they had children. These women also said that they’ve been unable to sleep as soundly as they used to before.
Troxel also explains the role of hormones in causing this problem. She says that sleep issues are common during pregnancy and menopause.
Although there’s no scientific information about the particular hormone that’s at play here, it’s expected that the hormones of the menstrual cycle are to blame.
These include progesterone, prolactin, luteinizing hormone, and others. Apart from this, physical discomfort associated with pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause also make it difficult for women to fall asleep quickly and soundly.
The family and cultural obligations coupled with the hormones can render it hard for women to doze off, making them experience insomnia. The common symptoms include poor sleep quality, difficulty sleeping restfully, and low sleep latency.
Troxel points out the irony here by saying that women are better sleepers despite being more prone to experiencing insomnia than men.
Epidemiological studies report, women sleep profoundly and longer than men on average. However, even during sleep, some parts of the female brain show heightened activity. That’s exactly what your mother means when she says, ‘I’m sleeping, but my mind is awake.’
Considering this, Troxel elaborates that we’re probably not using the right metrics to measure sleep quality at the moment. In the future, once we have a better understanding of the subject, we’ll explain a good night’s sleep slightly differently than we do today.
Other Causes of Insomnia in Women
Generally, there are numerous reasons why women have difficulties in falling – and staying – asleep. Although Troxel’s points are valid, she missed mentioning some other factors, including:
Depression and Stress
Your mental health has a significant impact on your sleep quality.
Studies show that women are more likely than men to suffer from sleeping issues linked to mental conditions like depression and stress.
The common symptoms of depression diagnosed in women are sleeping too little or too much.
Moreover, women are also more concerned about their symptoms, which contribute significantly to their anxiety and affect their ability to fall asleep again.
However, the study didn’t tell us the specific reason why women’s sleeping ability is more affected by these conditions. While biological changes can be involved, several external factors can also make them stressed out.
Health conditions like frequent urges to pee at night, known as nocturia, can also become an obstacle between women and sound sleep.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OSHA) reports that women suffer from urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control) two times more than men. Plus, they also are more prone to developing symptoms of an overactive bladder.
This condition persuades women to wake up more times at night and in between their sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Another health condition, Restless leg syndrome (RLS), occurs when a person has a strong desire to move their legs when lying down or sleeping. This causes several sleep difficulties and affects the overall quality of sleep.
Sadly, RLS is more common in women than men. Although the actual cause is still unknown, it is an inherent condition.
How to Combat Insomnia?
Irrespective of your gender, there are a few things you can do to improve sleep quality and be well-rested in the morning. First off, it’s vital to identify the problem at hand. What’s keeping you up at night?
Is it a noisy neighbor or crying kids? Often, even after kids have grown out of the phase where they need you to check up on them every few hours, your muscle memory might keep you awake at night.
Parents should join a support group or get advice from other parents who’ve dealt with this problem in the past.
On the other hand, if your problem is purely hormonal and you tend to have sleep issues only during certain times of the month, adjust your diet and try to improve your lifestyle.
Here are a few other things that can help in the treatment of insomnia.
If you don’t want to take the drug route towards recovery, meditation is the ultimate fix. A 2015 study reported meditation improves sleep quality, making study subjects fall asleep quickly.
Meditation supports sleep health by alleviating the causative conditions, such as anxiety, stress, depression, pain, and digestive problems.
If you’ve never meditated before or have trouble following a written guide, watch any video tutorial online to get started.
Keep in mind that medication shouldn’t be the first solution that comes to mind if you’ve slept poorly for two days in a row. Instead, it should be the last resort.
If changing your daily habits doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, talk to your doctor about the possible medicinal intervention. Or, you can purchase an over-the-counter medicine like Benadryl, which is an antihistamine.
Some prescription medicines that help people with insomnia include Lunesta and Ambien. However, all sleep medication tends to come with side effects, so it’s always a wise decision to discuss this with a doctor first.
Melatonin is the naturally produced sleep hormone that you can also take externally to combat insomnia. As of now, the studies surrounding melatonin seem to be inconclusive, although the anecdotes show that many people actually do see results.
Research has hailed melatonin as a safe treatment for short-term use. However, more studies need to be done to determine if it’s safe over the long run for the body.
If you’re pregnant or suffer from any medical condition, work with your health care provider to develop the right plan for using melatonin supplements for sleep.
Besides, you can also opt for CBD for sleep tinctures with melatonin properties. These days, many brands have come up with sleep aids having sleep-inducing melatonin as their primary ingredient to give you a good night’s sleep with just a few drops.
So if you’re willing to try a natural alternative, you can buy a melatonin CBD for sleep from any reputable brand and use it for a few days. However, keep in mind to start with the lowest dose and then make your way up.
The use of CBD for sleep has increased in the past few years, and fortunately, no significant side effects have been reported until now. So, it is a pretty safe option.
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From what it seems, women have a more challenging time falling asleep than men. Social construct, patriarchy, and gender disparity are some of the reasons behind this.
However, insomnia isn’t something you can’t deal with. We’ve discussed some tips for dealing with sleep issues in this guide that you can put to practice and enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep. Besides bringing some significant changes in your routine, you can also try a natural alternative like CBD for sleep tinctures and improve your sleep quality.