Although statistically every third person in the world has a sleep disorder, research has shown that women are much more likely to suffer from insomnia than men. One in four women has some insomnia symptoms.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
Regardless of gender, the most common insomnia symptoms include:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Waking up during the night
- Waking up too early
- Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
- Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
- Irritability, depression or anxiety
- Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
- Increased errors or accidents
- Ongoing worries about sleep
At some point in your life, you’re likely to experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which can last for days or weeks. But many people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts for a month or more. If this is the case for you, you should consult your GP who may refer you to a specialist.
Can insomnia be inherited?
Yes, recently researchers have discovered that sleep problems can be inherited. Insomnia has a significant genetic component. Scientists have now identified hundreds of genetic locations that may each contribute a little bit to a person’s overall risk of developing insomnia.
There’s lots of evidence to suggest that our environment, particularly stressful life events, can change which genes are expressed in our cells without directly altering our genetic code (epigenetics). Importantly, epigenetic changes can be passed from parents to children, but they are also thought to be reversible.
What else causes insomnia?
The most common causes of insomnia include:
- Concerns about work, school, health, finances or family keeping your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep.
- Stressful life events such as the death or illness of a loved one, divorce, or a job loss.
- Travel or work schedule, working a late or early shift, or frequently changing shifts.
- An irregular bedtime schedule, naps during the day or stimulating activities before bed such as using your smart phone or watching TV can interfere with your sleep cycle.
- Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep e.g. some antidepressants and medications for asthma or blood pressure.
- Some medical conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Coffee, tea and other caffeinated drinks are stimulants. Drinking them towards the end of the day can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine is another stimulant that can interfere with sleep.
Why do women suffer more often than men from insomnia?
Women may be more likely to have insomnia than men because of hormonal changes during:
- The menstrual cycle, especially in the days leading up to their period when many women have problems going to sleep and staying asleep.
- Pregnancy, especially in the later stages, when they may struggle to sleep because of discomfort or needing to use the bathroom.
- The birth of a child, this can considerably affect the sleep cycle. Getting up in the night, feeding and exhaustion during the day lead to an increase in problems falling asleep or waking up.
- Perimenopause and menopause, when hot flashes and night sweats can disturb sleep.
Also, some health problems are more common in women than in men. These include:
- Depression and anxiety. People with insomnia are 10 times more likely to have depression, and 17 times more likely to have anxiety. Researchers aren’t sure if mental health conditions lead to insomnia or if insomnia leads to mental health conditions. But not getting enough sleep may make mental health conditions worse.
- Fibromyalgia. The pain experienced with fibromyalgia can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
No wonder women top the rankings for sleep problems!
So how do we deal with insomnia?
Statistically, most often we reach for:
Alcohol – Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it prevents the deeper stages of sleep and often causes awakening in the middle of the night. In addition, using alcohol to fight insomnia could lead problems with alcohol;
Sleeping pills – Prescription sleeping pills can help you get to sleep, stay asleep or both. Doctors generally don’t recommend relying on prescription sleeping pills for more than a few weeks as they can be habit-forming. Prescription sleeping pills can have side effects, such as causing daytime grogginess and increasing the risk of falling.
Reading at bedtime – unfortunately instead of reading a book, many people reach for the phone, scrolling through social media messages or browsing photos. The blue light emitted by smartphones slows down the production of the melatonin needed to send us to sleep.
So, how should you deal with sleep problems? Be sure to follow our blog to find out our recommendations for improving your sleep.