Sleep Disorders in Women – Women and Sleep Disorders

According to research, women are twice as likely to suffer from sleep disorders than men.

The clinical definition of a sleep disorder is “an unsettling pattern of sleep that may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, falling asleep at unsuitable times, excessive total sleep time, or abnormal behaviours associated with sleep”.

There are four categories of sleep disorders –

  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Sleeping Disruptive Disorders
  • Having trouble sticking to a normal sleep pattern.

Some of the many factors that may impact the ordinary sleep cycle for women include –

  • Changes in hormone levels
  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Lifestyle and sleep environment
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormone fluctuations associated with menstrual cycles
  • Pre-menstrual sleep disturbances
  • Psycho-social stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

As well as the above, pain, grief, and worry can also disturb a woman’s sleep, as can certain medical conditions, medications, and breathing disorders, in menopausal and postmenopausal women.

Women and Sleep Problems

Menopause and Sleep

Menopause hits middle-aged women and can cause anxiety and heart palpitations. A decrease in hormone levels can cause insomnia, frequent awakenings, and fragmented sleep. Some menopausal women experience hot flashes at night, ⁣which are medically termed night sweats. Over 30% of women suffer from night sweats, which can start several years before menopause sets in.

Pregnancy Sleep Disorder

Pregnancy, which naturally only affects women, causes a whole host of sleep disturbing symptoms. Some pregnant mothers are faced with their first introduction to sleep apnea during pregnancy.

A lack of oxygen can become a real problem for mother and child and can cause low birth weight in newborns. Frequent urination, heartburn, general discomfort, fetal movements, low back pain, leg cramps, nightmares, snoring, and sleep apnea are all part of pregnancy and can keep a mom to be from getting her much-needed shut-eye. Men, of course, do not have these issues to worry about.

Sleep Apnea

One in four women over the age of 65 are said to suffer from sleep apnea disorder. Sleep apnea takes place more often in menopausal women. Being overweight is a risk factor for this sleep disorder. One presumption is that the increase in belly fat during menopause may be one reason women are more likely to face this disorder. Sleep apnea is characterized by snoring, intermittent breathing during sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Restless Leg Syndrome

The NSF 2002 Sleep Poll in America recorded 18% of females having reported symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome. Restless Legs Syndrome, RLS, is a neurological movement disorder which can lead to daytime sleepiness, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.


Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that often shows symptoms during the teenage years. Patients report having abrupt sleep attacks, a sudden loss of muscle tone or strength, or disturbed nighttime sleep.

More women than men suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Chronic stress is the major contributing factor and sleep disturbances are common as patients have trouble falling asleep.

According to a 1996 NSF Gallup Poll, more women suffer from nighttime pain than men. 1 in 4 women said pain or discomfort interrupted their sleep 3 or more nights per week. Women are more prone to migraines, tension headaches, rheumatic or arthritis conditions, and heartburn.


Women are more likely than men to complain of insomnia. Insomnia has been linked with depression and stress. Studies show that 20% of people with insomnia suffer from major depression, and 90% of people with depression have insomnia. Stress and depression are the main causes of insomnia. Depression may cause early morning awakenings.

Psychosocial stress affects women who, traditionally and culturally, wear many hats. Women fill the role of wife & mother, caregiver for ageing parents, and employee, which can cause broken sleep and sleep deprivation.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Female shift workers get less sleep and more disrupted sleep than the normal nine to five shift worker. Working the night shift puts strain on the family and puts women at a higher risk for irregular menstrual cycles, problems with conception, and higher rates of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight babies.

Over 60 percent of people with nocturnal sleep related disorder are women. Patients eat food throughout the night while they appear asleep. Patients with this condition report not remembering their nighttime eating. It can be caused by medications or other sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders are more common in older women, but affect women of all ages. Most, if not all of these issues, will not affect men.