Overcoming Sleep Disturbances at Any Age
Do you toss and turn some nights, only to wake up feeling exhausted and not ready to tackle the day ahead? You’re in good company! Sleep disturbances affect more than 20 percent of all women. At any age, a woman can develop a sleep issue that can affect both her health and her quality of life. And, with busier-than-ever schedules, it’s no wonder why millions of women aren’t getting the rest they need to effectively function during their waking hours.
High School and College Years
Students frequently do not get sufficient sleep. With varying class times, erratic schedules and busy social lives, keeping a regular bedtime is often a real challenge. Chronic insomnia and sleep deprivation are common in young women, which can take a toll on both cognitive and mental health and may even be linked to some mood disorders. “Young adult women will sometimes try to catch up on sleep on the weekends,” says Dr. Preethi Rajan, attending physician, North Shore-LIJ Sleep Disorders Center. “Yet, although getting more sleep to cover a sleep deficit can be beneficial, it can also interfere with the sleep cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Expert Tip: Set realistic daily goals along with a sleep schedule. Focus on trying to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, while striving to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Possible symptoms of a mood disorder should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. In many cases, treating an underlying condition like depression can greatly improve the ability to sleep.
20s to 40s
These decades are often the busiest for women and can be when insomnia often strikes those who have never experienced a prior sleep problem. The reality is that juggling career, family, financial and personal responsibilites can lead to sleep-hindering stress and anxiety. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or caring for infants are particularly susceptible to sleep issues during these years.
Expert Tip: “For many women who are experiencing sleep disorders,” says Dr. Rajan, “cognitive behavioral therapy can be as effective or even more effective than pharmaceutical sleep aids. When this treatment option is combined with some simple lifestyle modifications, such as limiting caffeine and the use of electronic devices before bed, many women are able to return to a healthy sleep schedule and eliminate much of their daytime sleepiness.”
As hormone levels shift, sleep patterns frequently do as well. Nighttime breathing disturbances, known as sleep apnea, become a much greater problem for women who are experiencing menopause or who are post-menopausal. In research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was found that post-menopausal women had 3.5 times greater odds of having sleep apnea than pre-menopausal women. Hormonal changes, along with weight gain, are both contributing factors in the higher prevalence of the condition.
Expert Tip: “Apnea is often overlooked in women because they can present differently than men,” says Dr. Rajan. “Women with sleep disordered breathing frequently complain of insomnia, anxiety and even depression rather than sleepiness during the day. Given this, it’s important for postmenopausal women who have symptoms of a sleep disturbance to undergo sleep testing for assessment of possible sleep apnea. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for sleep apnea, including weight loss, continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) and dental appliances.”
Complaints of sleep difficulties are very common among post-menopausal women. In a study conducted by the National Institute on Aging, more than half of women report at least one chronic sleep complaint. The most commonly noted in the study were difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, early-morning awakening and excessive daytime sleepiness. In older women, there are many factors that can contribute to sleep disorders, including chronic illness, medication effects, psychiatric disorders, social changes and even circadian rhythm shifts.
Expert Tip: “The consequences of sleep problems can be significant in older women,” says Dr. Rajan. “A lack of sleep can exacerbate many conditions common in older populations and even increase the risk of falls and accidents. This is why sleep problems should be taken seriously, properly evaluated and treated.”
While sleep disorders can happen to women at any age, the good news is that there are highly effective treatment options. By taking symptoms seriously and being proactive about getting help, a lifetime of problem-free sleep can be a reality.
Do you want to learn more about sleep disorders and treatments? Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-KIWH (5494) to speak with a women’s health specialist.