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While Sleep Disorders Affect Both Genders, Women Often Struggle with Getting a Good Night's Rest

In Brief

  • While sleep disorders affect both genders, women often struggle with getting a good night’s rest.
  • Insomnia, or the inability to sleep, disproportionately affects women.
  • Though men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing than women at a younger age, that difference balances out as women get older.
  • Another potential sleep disorder women face is restless legs syndrome, which can be caused by iron deficiency during their childbearing years.

While sleep disorders affect both genders, women often struggle with getting a good night’s rest. That’s why it’s important for women to be aware of the particular conditions that might affect them and learn how they can be treated. 

Insomnia, or the inability to sleep, disproportionately affects women. “The reasons for this are that hormones throughout their life cycle, from pregnancy to menopause, can affect women,” says Michael Weinstein, M.D., pulmonologist and medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.  

Women who are pregnant can suddenly develop insomnia during the third trimester of pregnancy, and because it’s a habitual problem, it can continue on well beyond the baby’s birth. “With insomnia, we see people developing coping mechanisms, such as drinking caffeine, watching TV in bed or not exercising because they’re tired, and all of these activities can perpetuate the problem,” Dr. Weinstein says.  

Since post-partum depression can be linked to insomnia, it’s important for even very new mothers to try to develop healthy sleeping habits. 

Hot flashes during menopause are another major culprit in insomnia. “There’s no doubt that menopausal symptoms will disrupt sleep,” says Calvin Stafford, M.D., chief of neurology and medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Taylor Hospital. Treatments for this type of insomnia might address the hot flashes specifically with a short course of hormone replacement therapy or supplements. 

“When treating insomnia we try to get at the cause of the problem and address it,” says Asad Khan, M.D., pulmonologist and medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center at Brinton Lake. “We can use cognitive behavioral therapy to try to confront misperceptions about sleep needs and work on sleep hygiene to address any factors that are prohibiting the patient from getting a good night of rest.” 

In general, Khan says women are more likely than men to come into the sleep center with a complaint about insomnia. “We see many women who are frustrated and looking for help.” 

Though men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing than women at a younger age, that difference balances out as women get older. “According to studies, post-menopausal women catch up to men in the rates of sleep apnea. In this case, we have some concern about the social circumstances of women reporting snoring,” Weinstein says. 

Because women are sometimes unaware that they have sleep apnea or they may be reluctant to disclose it, they may not seek help for a disorder that can easily be resolved with the help of a device like the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. “What’s interesting is that when you look in the laboratory you see that women who have sleep-disordered breathing don’t tend to look like the typical male sufferers,” Stafford syas. “They’re not always overweight and they might not have a large jaw or neck, as with men, so it can be easy to miss.” 

Another potential sleep disorder women face is restless legs syndrome, which can be caused by iron deficiency during their childbearing years. It may show up any time, but often presents during pregnancy. If anemia is the cause, then supplementation can help treat the problem. 

Other sleep issues women should be aware of include the fact that women suffer from nighttime pain more than men, often from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Lack of sleep can also have a negative impact on fertility and menstrual cycles as well as mood disorders. 

For any woman with concerns about their sleep health, the most logical place is to start is with a consultation with one of the board-certified sleep physicians at Crozer-Keystone’s sleep centers, says Dr. Khan. “The best thing is for someone to come talk to us and we can work with them individually to try to get help.”  

To request an appointment with a Crozer-Keystone Sleep Center specialist, or to learn more about CKHS sleep medicine, call 1-888-SLEEP03 (1-888-753-3703) or visit http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org.

 

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