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How Sleep Deprivation Affects Women

Sleep deprivation, or not getting enough sleep, is impactful for many reasons. But studies show that this condition effects women and men in very different ways. 

By
SleepAdvisor.org, Sponsored
Woman waking up

Sleep deprivation has a big impact on our lives. It’s a major deciding factor in our overall well-being. Not only that, but women and men experience sleep deprivation differently, and it has a different overall effect on each sex.

Hormones like estrogen, testosterone and progesterone play a big part in influencing the brain’s chemical systems that govern things like sleep regulation and arousal.

The frequency and regularity of hormonal changes women experience could mean they face [sleeping] challenges more often than sleep-deprived men.

Studies show that during times of major hormonal change such as pregnancy and puberty, women were much more susceptible to sleeping disorders like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnoea, and restless legs syndrome.

The sleep industry has begun to catch on to the issues women experience with hormonal changes like menopause. They’ve started making mattresses specifically to alleviate the problems these changes can create.

Sleep is most troubling for women before and during their menstrual periods. People struggle with day-to-day functions when they don’t get the sleep they need. The frequency and regularity of hormonal changes women experience could mean they face challenges more often than sleep-deprived men.

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences USA shows that sleep-wake cycles vary between women and men. For 10 days, 18 women and 16 men were put through a 28-hour cycle that consisted of 19 hours of awake time and nine hours of sleep.

The study reported that, on average, women in the experiment were less accurate than men when performing cognitive tests.

Sleep Issues May Be Under-Recognized in Women

Regardless of the fact that sleep issues can disproportionately affect women, they may be under-recognized. Experts cite that men are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed in youth or middle age with obstructive sleep apnoea, a disorder that causes the periodic stopping and starting of a person’s breathing during rest.

Two-thirds of women surveyed had experienced sleep problems a few times a week in the past month.

Christine Won, Director of the Women’s Sleep Health Program at Yale’s School of Medicine, argues that the reason most diagnostic standards and criteria are centered around men is that obstructive sleep apnoea was first discovered in men. Because of that, the diagnosis of that disorder tends to slant toward men.

Another reason for the difference is that women with sleep apnoea often demonstrate a wider variety of symptoms, like daytime sleepiness. As expected, doctors may not immediately associate such symptoms with the disorder.

Health Risks in Sleep Deprived Women

A study conducted by Duke University Medical Center researchers discovered that there’s a higher risk of health-related issues for women who have sleepless nights than men. Poor sleep leads to a higher risk of depression, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Hormones are typically thought of as being the most likely reason for this higher risk, but there isn’t absolute certainty yet about how they keep men safer or make women more vulnerable to sleep disorders.

The National Sleep Foundation carried out a survey that studied these effects and found that two-thirds of women surveyed had experienced sleep problems a few times a week in the past month.

These are some of the challenges that sleep-deprived women face:

Weight gain

An increase in appetite is linked to sleep deprivation, which can lead to weight gain in women and men. Research shows that sleep-deprived women are more likely than sleep-deprived men to be overweight.

Hypertension

Compared to men, women who are restless throughout the night are more likely to have higher C-reactive protein levels, an inflammation marker associated with high blood pressure.

Type 2 diabetes

Sleep deprived women and men both have a higher type 2 diabetes risk, with sleep-deprived women being more susceptible to enhanced levels of insulin and black sugar.

Depression

Impaired thinking and memory, along with depression, anger, and hostility, is more prevalent in women than men.

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