Far more women than men suffer insomnia or chronic sleep trouble and middle-aged women suffer most of all according to a just released international study.
Women are 40% more likely than men to “always” sleep badly.
This figure rises to 55% in middle age (aged 45-54) when the gender gap hits its peak, as does the number of women who report “always” sleeping badly.
By contrast, there is barely any difference in the level of sleep problems among women and men aged 18-24 when both genders are also least likely to report chronic sleep troubles.
This research comes after a survey of 4,279 Britons and Americans was conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the meditation and sleep app Calm.com.
“Our own user data suggest that far more women than men are looking for help getting to sleep,” says Alex Tew, co-founder of Calm, which many users rely on to help them sleep.
While 70% of Calm’s users are women, no less than 85% of listeners to the app’s popular Sleep Stories (or bedtime stories for grown-ups) are female, according to Calm’s own data, compared to just 15% male.
“I certainly see more women with sleep trouble than men,” says Dr Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist whose talk on sleep science and advice is one of Calm’s 30+ Sleep Stories.
14% of all female respondents to Calm’s poll report ‘always’ having sleep trouble, compared to just 10% of male.
17% of middle-aged women (aged 45-54) always have such difficulty versus just 11% of men the same age.
40% of women compared to 31% men across all ages have sleep trouble either ‘always’ or ‘often’ 75% of women across all ages sleep badly either ‘always’, ‘often’ or “sometimes’ compared to 63% of men.
There are several possible reasons that so many more women than men sleep badly says Dr. Steve Orma.
“One is hormones – such as estrogen and progesterone – which fluctuate more in women.” Such fluctuations can cause physical discomfort, which in turn can disturb sleep.
Hormonal changes can also cause mood changes and intensity both anxiety and depression says Orma. “All those things can disturb sleep.”
Indeed, for various reasons, women get diagnosed with anxiety and depression about twice as often as men do says Orma. Depression can either increase or decrease the amount someone sleeps, while anxiety tends to disrupt sleep.
Other factors include pregnancy and children.
“Pregnancy involves a lot of discomfort,” says Orma. “You have an increased need to urinate. It can also cause breathing difficulties during sleep, such as sleep apnea.”
Having young children can also often disturb sleep. Newborns are usually bad for both women and men but even nowadays suggests Orma women still tend to take more responsibility for getting up at night and child-raising in general.
Restless leg problem – whether related to pregnancy or not – is also more common in women says Orma. “And that’s something that also disturbs sleep.”
“People in general start sleeping worse when they get older and sleep becomes lighter, particularly in the latter part of the night,” says Orma. “But for women specifically the menopause and resulting hormonal fluctuations and hot flushes can be another cause of sleep problems.”
Six Reasons That Women Sleep Worse Than Men
• Greater fluctuations in hormones like estrogen and progesterone causing discomfort.
• Anxiety and depression are twice as common for women.
• Pregnancy and the associated discomfort.
• More responsibility for newborns and young children.
• Restless leg syndrome – women get it more.
• The menopause brings more hormone fluctuations, hot flushes.
Psychologist’s Three Top Tips For Women With Insomnia
With women more than men, it’s important to identify any biological factors (such as hormones, pregnancy, menopause, etc) causing insomnia says Dr. Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist, insomnia specialist and author of the book, “Stop Worrying & Go To Sleep.”
His top tips are:
1. Seek to determine the cause of the sleep trouble: i.e., is it psychological or is there something biological or hormonal going on?
2. Seek treatment based on the specific cause: e.g. CBT-I (cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia) and/or medical treatment for the biological issue.
3. Maintain good sleep habits over time (based on what you learn from CBT-I).
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