Why Are Women More Likely to Get Insomnia Than Men?

a picture of a woman that is having difficulty sleeping due to insomnia
If you are a woman, you are more likely to experience sleep difficulty than men for a variety of reasons that usually relate to changes in your hormones.

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Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that causes difficulty falling and staying asleep and it can be caused by many factors, including stress, anxiety, medication side effects, and health conditions.

If you are a woman, you are more likely to experience sleep difficulty than men for a variety of reasons that usually relate to changes in your hormones.

There are many treatment options available for insomnia, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach and you will need to discuss with your doctor the best options for you.

There are also some things you can do to prevent insomnia from occurring in the first place to help promote a good night of sleep which we will discuss below.

What is insomnia?

Most people think of insomnia as simply having difficulty falling asleep.

However, it is much more complex than that as it is a sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both.

It can also cause you to wake up feeling exhausted which can affect your quality of life.

There are several terms used to describe different aspects of the disorder and they include primary insomnia, secondary insomnia, acute insomnia, and chronic insomnia.

Primary insomnia is when sleeplessness is not caused by another health condition or problem while secondary insomnia is when insomnia is caused by another health condition or problem.

Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia that usually lasts no longer than a few weeks while chronic or long-term insomnia is defined as having difficulty sleeping three times per week for at least three months but can last even longer.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

There are several symptoms associated with insomnia and they can be physical, mental, or emotional.

The most common symptom is difficulty falling asleep which can cause you to feel frustrated and anxious.

You may also find yourself waking up frequently during the night or early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep which can leave you feeling exhausted during the day and cause daytime sleepiness. Other symptoms include anxiety, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and depression.

Your lack of quality sleep can also leave you more error-prone which can lead to motor vehicle accidents or increase your risk of falls and affect your memory too.

What are the risk factors for insomnia?

There are several different risk factors that can increase your chances of developing insomnia.

One of the most common is stress as it can be a major trigger for sleeplessness.

Other risk factors include having a mental health disorder, working night shifts or having rotating work schedules, taking certain medications, and having unhealthy sleep habits.

Physical health conditions can also cause insomnia which is one of the reasons why if you are over the age of 60 you are also more likely to have it.

Insomnia in women is more common than in men which can be due to hormonal changes as we noted above.

Why are women more likely to get insomnia than men?

As a woman, you are more likely to suffer from insomnia due to the hormonal changes that can occur throughout your life including during puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause.

Hormones are the way your body regulates its processes and these biological factors can have a big impact on your sleep.

Puberty

You first develop hormonal shifts when you start menstruation during puberty which can cause irregular sleep patterns.

Girls are also more likely during the onset of puberty to suffer from depression than boys which is also a risk factor for insomnia.

Menstruation

Your monthly menstrual cycle is also influenced by hormonal changes and can also disrupt your sleep.

The rising and falling of hormones, particularly your estrogen levels and progesterone levels, can cause you to feel fatigued and have mood swings which make it hard to relax and fall asleep.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which is when you experience symptoms a week or two before your period, can also cause poor sleep quality.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS that can cause even more significant sleep problems.

Insomnia in Women

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is another time when you will experience hormonal changes and they can cause insomnia as well.

The first trimester is when most women feel fatigue and nausea which can make it hard to fall asleep.

In the second trimester, your energy levels usually improve but then start to decline again in the third trimester as you prepare for childbirth.

After you give birth, your hormones will also fluctuate which can lead to what is known as the “baby blues” or postpartum depression and both of these can make it difficult to sleep.

Menopause

The perimenopausal stage is the period of menopausal transition leading up to menopause which can also cause sleep problems due to hormonal changes as your body prepares for menopause.

Menopause is when your ovaries stop producing eggs and your hormone levels decline.

Some of the most common menopausal symptoms are hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, and depression which can all cause problems sleeping or staying asleep.

What are other causes of insomnia?

There are other causes of insomnia besides hormonal changes and they include:

Stress

Stress is a common cause of insomnia as it can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.

When you are stressed, your body produces the hormone cortisol which can make you feel alert and keep you awake.

Mental health disorders

If you suffer from certain mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) you are also more likely to have insomnia.

Anxiety can make it hard to relax and fall asleep.

If you have anxiety, you may experience racing thoughts, worry, and fear which can all keep you up at night.

Depressive symptoms can also make it hard to sleep as they can cause fatigue, low energy levels, and negative thinking.

PTSD can also lead to insomnia as the memories of a traumatic event can cause you to have nightmares and flashbacks that make it hard to sleep.

Medications

There are certain medications that can cause insomnia such as antidepressants, beta blockers, and stimulants.

If you are taking medication that may cause insomnia, please talk to your doctor or health care provider about possibly switching the medication for something else that will not cause sleep disruptions.

Physical health conditions

There are certain physical medical conditions that can cause insomnia such as chronic pain, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), diabetes, asthma, heart disease, chronic pain, and cancer.

Neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can also lead to insomnia.

Finally, there are certain physical sleep disorders that may also keep you awake at night.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when you have disruptions in your breathing during sleep and restless legs syndrome is when you have an urge to move your legs while you are trying to sleep.

Shift work

If you work shifts that are outside of the traditional nine to five, you may have difficulty sleeping due to not having a normal sleep-wake schedule that aligns with your circadian rhythm.

Jet lag

Jet lag is when you experience fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms due to travel across time zones and increases your risk of insomnia.

Alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine

Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can also lead to insomnia but not all for the same reason.

Nicotine and caffeine are both stimulants that need to be avoided later in the day or near bedtime while alcohol can help you fall asleep but makes it more likely that you will not go into a deep sleep and you are more likely to wake up during the night.

Unhealthy sleep habits

There are certain habits that can make it hard to sleep such as working in bed, watching television in bed, or using your phone or laptop in bed.

Eating a heavy meal or drinking late at night may also contribute to insomnia as a big meal may make it uncomfortable to lie down and when you drink lots of fluids it can cause frequent urination during the night.

What are the best treatment options for insomnia?

If you are struggling with insomnia, there are treatment options available that can help promote better sleep. Some of the most common treatments for insomnia include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is one of the most effective methods in the treatment of insomnia and is a type of therapy that can help you change the thoughts and behaviors that are preventing you from sleeping.

There are several different forms of these behavioral treatments, but all of them aim to help you learn how to get more quality sleep time.

Sleep medication

There are several different types of sleep medications that can be used to treat insomnia.

The most common type is a sedative-hypnotic medication which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. These prescription sleep medicines can be effective, but they are only supposed to be used for a short period of time as they can be addictive and have side effects.

If you are interested in taking sleep medication, please talk to your doctor or health care provider about what option would be best for you.

Supplements

There are several herbal supplements that are sometimes used to treat insomnia such as valerian root, chamomile, and lavender.

It needs to be noted that research has had mixed results for linking these alternative sleep aids in helping insomnia and there is no conclusive evidence that they may help you fall asleep.

Melatonin is also available as an over-the-counter supplement and is a hormone produced by your brain when you are exposed to darkness.

It is important to talk to your doctor or health care provider before taking any supplements as they can interact with other medications you are taking.

Are there any ways to prevent insomnia?

There are several things you can do to help prevent insomnia such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule even on weekends, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and avoiding working in bed. Exercising regularly also helps to promote better sleep too.

If you have high-stress levels in your life, finding ways to manage them can also help prevent insomnia.

Avoiding large meals and not drinking lots of fluids before bed may also help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Naps need to be avoided to not disrupt your sleep schedule further.

It is also important to create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, and cool, and that you only use your bed for sleep and sex.

You may also use any other aids that may help such as a white noise machine, sleep mask, or a light therapy machine to help increase your hours of sleep.

If you have any health conditions or medications that may be causing your insomnia, it is important to talk to your doctor or health care provider about treatment options that may better benefit your sleep cycle.

Summary

You are more likely to have insomnia if you are a woman due to shifts in your hormones throughout your life.

There are also other risk factors for insomnia such as unhealthy sleep habits, stress, and certain health conditions.

If you are struggling with insomnia, there are treatment options available to help you get quality sleep.

Some of the most common treatments for insomnia include cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia and sleep medications although your doctor will determine what is best for you.

There are also several things you can do that you can make daily habits to help prevent insomnia which we list above. If you have any questions about insomnia, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.

References, Studies and Sources:

Mayo Clinic

Sleep Foundation

WebMD

Cleveland Clinic

Yale Medicine

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