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Sleep Deprivation & Women: Know What's Good For Sleep & What's Not

Written by Dr. Lozynska Liudmyla Yaroslavivna on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • Every individual needs to prioritize sleep, because those hours of rest rebuild our bodies.
  • There are ways to induce good sleep, and one of the main solutions is to switch off gadgets at least 30 minutes before bedtime, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime.
  • Lack of sleep can lead to loss of concentration, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and even depression.
  • Women usually experience a higher sleep debt than men, for biological reasons such as periods and pregnancy, and cultural reasons such as child care.
  • Children and teenagers should be made to follow a sleep schedule, so that their parents, especially their mothers, can get enough sleep, too.
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One of the least understood problems of the modern world is the lack of quality sleep that a lot of women are faced with. 

Simply put, this means women not adhering to their best sleeping time, not calculating their best sleep hours, and going through life with little awareness about how many hours' of sleep is good for health. The relation between sleep deprivation & women is more common than you know. 

This is caused primarily by the device-driven 24/7 connectivity culture and a misguided emphasis on nonstop productivity. 

In this scenario, taking the initiative to discuss the best time to sleep and wake up and trying to figure out how many hours of sleep do adults need are often seen as an indication of laziness. 

But as per medical and anecdotal evidence, getting enough sleep and going to sleep at more or less the same time every day can boost productivity.

Benefits of enough sleep

Benefits of sleep 

High quality sleep fortifies your immune system, balances your hormones, boosts your metabolism, increases physical energy, and improves the function of your brain.  

Without all of the essential benefits of sleep, you will not enjoy optimal wellness. 

  • Sleep is known to be an elevated anabolic state, heightening the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, skeletal, and muscular systems. Basically, sleep rebuilds you.
     
  • Research from the University of Western Ontario, published in the journal Sleep, has shown that sleep influences all adults equally. The best sleep hours associated with highly functional cognitive behaviour is the same for everyone (7 to 8 hours), regardless of age. 

How much sleep do women need?

In general, women complain more of sleep debt and poor quality of sleep

  • Research shows that women also have more difficulty adapting to shift work than men. 
     
  • They are also at a greater risk of menstrual cycle disruption, problems with fertility and reproduction, and breast cancer.

According to the Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night to feel refreshed. However, research suggests that women tend to sleep just a little bit longer — 11 minutes to be exact — than men.

Also, the impairment associated with too little, or too much, sleep does not depend on age. Those who sleep 4 hours or less perform as if they are almost nine years older. Those who sleep more than 7-8 hours are as impaired as those who sleep too little.

Women's sleep patterns through different life stages

1. Menstruation and sleep

Menstruation and sleep 

During the menstrual cycle, women's sleep quality is poor immediately before and during the initial part of the periods. 

While the duration of night-time sleep is longer before the periods, it is disturbed sleep. There are mood changes and physical complaints like bloating, cramping, headaches and breast tenderness. 

  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) can lead to poor sleep, frequent awakenings, unpleasant dreams, and complaints of insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
     
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a more severe form of PMS, can also be marked by insomnia or excessive sleepiness and mood changes. Dysmenorrhea (abdominal pain during periods) can result in diminished sleep quality and duration of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

2. Birth control and sleep

Birth control and sleep 

The use of oral contraceptives can also produce significant changes in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage 2 or light sleep and decreases in REM sleep. 

Research published in 2021, in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, says, "The study findings showed consistent associations between oral contraceptive (OC) use and more severe insomnia symptoms."
 

3. Pregnancy and sleep

 Pregnancy and sleep 

Pregnancy affects sleep quality and duration profoundly. 

The first trimester will see an increase in the frequency of awakenings and wake time after sleep onset, as well as decrease in nighttime sleep duration and increase in daytime napping.  

Sleep tends to improve during the second trimester, which again significantly deteriorates during the final months of pregnancy.

Sleep disturbance may be due to a combination of factors such as breast tenderness, dyspnea (labored breathing), nausea, frequent urination, movements of the baby, leg cramps, or anxiety. 

Pregnancy also aggravates sleep-related breathing disorders like snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Healthcare experts observe that excessive sleepiness may continue into the postpartum period, and new mothers may experience significant sleep loss and frequent napping.

4. Peri-menopause and post-menopause

Peri-menopause and post-menopause 

With declining levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, and irregular menstrual cycles, women in the 40-plus age bracket (the years leading up to menopause) can get hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, and frequent urination. 

This leads to disturbed sleep, which, in turn, can give rise to excessive sleepiness, sleep fragmentation, and insomnia.

What happens if you don't sleep enough?

What happens if you don't sleep enough? 

Research shows that lack of sleep, or disrupted sleep, can have detrimental short- and long-term effects. It increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Risk of high blood pressure: According to Mayo Clinic, people who sleep 5 hours or less a night may be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure or worsening already high blood pressure. 

 

There's also an increased risk of high blood pressure for people who sleep between 5 and 6 hours a night. It's thought that sleep helps your blood regulate stress hormones and helps your nervous system remain healthy. Over time, a lack of sleep could hurt your body's ability to regulate stress hormones, leading to high blood pressure. 

According to the European Society of Cardiology, there's a relationship between sleep duration and cardiovascular disease. It says in a report, “Too much or too little sleep may be bad for the heart. We do know that sleep influences biological processes like glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation — all of which have an impact on cardiovascular disease.”

Risk of weight gain and diabetes: Sleep and eating patterns are linked. Sleep deprivation can lead to junk food cravings at night, which leads to unhealthy snacking and weight gain. 

Effects of too little sleep 

A 2014 study in the journal PLoS Medicine says that short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that control feelings of hunger and satiety, or fullness. According to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, sleep loss is also a risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. 

Bad mood and anxiety: According to the National Sleep Foundation, United States, the link between sleep and mood has been observed over and over by researchers. 

People with insomnia have greater levels of depression and anxiety than those who sleep normally. The more a person experiences insomnia, the higher the chances of developing depression. A 2010 study published in the journal Emotion says that sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.

Mental lapses: Sleep serves to re-energize the body's cells, clear waste from the brain, and support learning and memory. 

Sleep deprivation makes it difficult for brain cells to communicate effectively, which, in turn, can lead to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.

Impaired judgment: Sleep deprivation is likened to being drunk. A study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine says, “Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.”

So, what's the best time to wake up and what's the best time to sleep? 

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States, adults need 7 hours of sleep or more.
  • A UK study says that 10 pm is the right time to sleep, but experts say that there's no magic hour. 
  • The Cleveland Clinic says that while 10 pm may be ideal for some, it may not work well for some others. Instead of focusing on the clock, consistency of sleep time should be your goal.

Light sleepers vs heavy sleepers

Light sleepers vs heavy sleepers 

Why is it that some of us wake up at the slightest sound or a sliver of light, while others can sleep through a hurricane? 

Based on this, sleepers can be classified as: light sleepers or heavy sleepers.

  • There are four phases of sleep. Stages one, two, three, and rapid eye movement sleep (REM) sleep. 
  • Light sleepers spend more time in stage one (light sleep) than heavy sleepers. This is the phase at which the body is in between being asleep and awake.

Sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School have looked into what differentiates light sleepers from heavy sleepers. 

They've identified brain-wave spikes called 'sleep spindles', which are bursts of brain waves during non-REM sleep and appear to protect sleepers from waking up in response to noise. 

Their research shows that sleepers with more sleep spindles tend to sleep more soundly and deeply, and hence are heavy sleepers, while sleepers with fewer sleep spindles tend to wake more easily, and are light sleepers.

If you're a light sleeper who doesn't feel rested in the morning, then you're experiencing disturbed sleep, and you need to pinpoint the causes. It could be anxiety, depression, antidepressants and other medications, or lifestyle habits like napping during the day. 

It could also be that you're genetically predisposed to light sleep. But you could still take steps to get enough good sleep. 

How can you sleep better?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers the following tips on how to get a good night's sleep:

 how to get a good night's sleep
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
  • Get a full night's sleep every night.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that has a stimulant, prior to bedtime.
  • Do not bring your worries to bed with you.
  • Do not go to bed hungry, but don't eat a big meal before bedtime either.
  • Avoid any rigorous exercise within 6 hours of your bedtime.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol. 
  • Make the room temperature comfortable.
  • Keep the room as dark as possible.
  • Try a white noise device to diffuse external noises.
  • Stick to a bed time and wake time every day, even on the weekends.
  • Get some sunlight during the day.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
  • Don't nap during the day.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
  • Turn off the electronics at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

Change where and how you sleep

If the simple steps to get good sleep don't work, then look at changing where and how you sleep.

Try moving your sleeping area, or take a look at the mattress and see if that's the problem.

1. Bed sharing

If you share a bed, then approximately 50% of your sleep disturbance is caused by your partner.

For many couples, night-time can turn into a battleground due to snoring, sheet-tugging, or one partner reading while the other tosses and turns. You may want to consider separate beds or even a separate bedroom.

2. Wrong mattress

A study that evaluated the sleep quality of 128 people on 7 types of mattresses found that even small differences in mattress support (soft, medium, firm) correlated with changes in sleep and comfort/discomfort.

Research indicates that the optimal mattress firmness varies among people and is affected by their activity level.

Ideally, you should buy your mattress at a physical store, so that you can lie down and check if the firmness is comfortable. Try to immediately replace  a lumpy or unsupportive mattress, as it can cause or exacerbate back pain. Spend on a good mattress, because it's an investment in sleep.

Conclusion

The best time to sleep and wake up varies from one individual to another, but on an average, a minimum of 6 hours and a maximum of 8 hours are ideal. 

Sleeping too little can cause a number of health problems, and sleeping too much can be almost as bad.

Women, because of reasons ranging from biology to family responsibilities, often suffer sleep deprivation or have irregular sleep, and they ought to remedy this as an investment in their own health.

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Dr. Lozynska Liudmyla Yaroslavivna

She graduated from Lviv National Medical University. She has a specialization in psychiatry and psychotherapy. She have published scientific articles: “Anemia of Pregnant Women”; “Urinary Tract Infections”.

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