Women & Sleep - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Women and Sleep

Learn the secrets of a well-rested woman

Women and sleepWhether it’s from stress, lifestyle, hormonal changes or even a snoring spouse, women – especially those in their reproductive years – face a host of particular challenges with getting a good night’s sleep.

That’s why it’s important for women like you to be aware of the types, risk factors and treatments for common sleep disorders.


For many women, sleep health is affected by normal life events, such as the onset of menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. As a result of hormonal fluctuations and physical changes, all three phases of a woman’s life can cause nighttime discomfort and insomnia.

Other causes include...

Juggling Roles:

These days, women are busier than ever. Women who balance multiple roles such as work, parenthood and elder care can find that their sleep patterns are erratic and their sleep quality is compromised by hectic schedules.


The use of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine—all three of which act as stimulants—can disrupt sleep. While alcohol is technically considered a depressant and drinking can speed the onset of sleep, women who drink tend to wake up in the middle of the night as their bodies metabolize the alcohol.

    Work and Lifestyle:

    Shift work is a major cause of sleep-related accidents and illnesses. Many women who work nights and rotating shifts sleep less, which can result in irregular menstrual cycles, fertility problems and higher rates of miscarriage. While exercise in general is good for sleep, exercising at night can contribute to sleeplessness.

    Depression and Anxiety:

    Anyone who’s been up at night worrying knows that mood has a profound impact on sleep. Depression can lead to lethargy or insomnia. Women in general are more likely than men to develop depression, and hormonal changes throughout the life cycle can exacerbate the problem. Anxiety, which often occurs alongside depression, is in itself a major cause of sleeplessness. Making matters more complicated, sleep problems can be the cause of depression and anxiety and in some cases it can be difficult to determine which came first.


    Chronic pain—anything from migraines to rheumatic arthritis to heartburn—is common among women and can make it hard to fall or stay asleep. In 2000, one in four women reported that pain or physical discomfort interrupted their sleep at least three nights a week.

    Top Sleep Conditions Affecting Women

    Women experience all of the same sleep problems men do, but their specific biological makeup, hormonal changes and special health concerns like pregnancy impact just how (and how chronically) these conditions affect them.

    Sleep Apnea:

    Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or low breathing during sleep, and is typically only recognized by an observer. Studies have shown that the ratio of women to men with sleep apnea is one to two or three, but many women go undiagnosed because women’s symptoms (fatigue insomnia, morning headaches, mood disturbances) are different from men’s (snoring, witnessed breathing pauses and excessive sleepiness during the day). Older women and pregnant women, especially those that are overweight, are at risk for developing sleep apnea. What’s more, some studies have shown that apnea can lead to pregnancy and labor complications.


    Across the board, insomnia is the most common sleep problem for everyone, but women are more likely to report struggling with sleepless nights. Women often first encounter insomnia during bodily changes like menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, but because insomnia is a cyclical issue, the insomnia can be a long-lasting problem and sufferers may find it hard to break out of the pattern over time.

    Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)/Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD):

    RLS, a neurological disorder that affects up to 12 million Americans, causes an unpleasant throbbing, creeping or pulling sensation in the legs and the uncontrollable urge to move them. These symptoms worsen at night, leading to insomnia. The incidence for RLS is twice as high in women. Also occurring more frequently in women is PLMD, a disorder in which the patient involuntarily moves their limbs during sleep, and it, too, leads to insufficient rest.

    Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NS-RED):

    An uncommon condition, NS-RED causes sufferers to eat during the night while they appear asleep—and in the morning they have no memory of this behavior. Over 66 percent of people with NS-RED are women, and it can be caused by medications prescribed for insomnia or depression or triggered by arousing sleep disorders like RLS or sleep apnea.


      Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that affects about one in 2,000 people, and the symptoms typically emerge during teen years. People with narcolepsy have sudden “sleep attacks” and excessive daytime sleepiness. While narcolepsy can be treated with medication, women who suffer from narcolepsy and are considering having a child should discuss their options with a physician.

      Self Care

      Improving Sleep Hygiene:

      Before you see a doctor, there are many techniques for self-treatment that you can try at home to enhance the quality and duration of your sleep.  


      • Try not to eat large or spicy meals close to bedtime.
      • Avoid caffeine (that includes chocolate) at night.


      • Any kind of physical activity can promote sleep.
      • Try vigorous exercise earlier in the morning or afternoon and opt for relaxing exercise like yoga later in the day or just before bed.

      Nighttime Routines:

      • Save your bed for sleeping.
      • Try not to watch TV, surf the internet, listen to the radio or read in bed.
      • Establish a regular nightly bedtime.
      • Avoid emotionally upsetting activities or conversations before sleeping.

      Bedroom Conditions:

      • Create a relaxing, pleasant sleep environment with a comfortable bed.
      • Find the right temperature for you and keep your room adequately warm or cool.
      • Make sure the room is sufficiently dark and as quiet as possible.

      Other Suggestions

      • Avoid napping during the day.
      • Try to get adequate exposure to natural light, which can be important for older people in establishing a healthy waking-sleeping cycle.
      • Experiment with having a light snack before bed, and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to further improve sleep patterns.

      Professional Care

      • If self-care is not enough and you’re still struggling with sleep problems, it may be time to contact one of the specialists at the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Centers.
      • At an initial appointment you will be seen quickly and evaluated with a detailed history and physical examination.
      • Our sleep specialists are here to listen to you and help you determine the best course of treatment so you can get the rest you need.

      Diagnosis and Treatments

      Unfortunately, too many people never seek treatment for their sleep problems but the good news is that most sleep conditions are easily identified and treated. Learn more about the tests and treatments we provide at the Crozer-Keystone Sleep Centers.