Women do it differently

While sleep is usually fine during the first half of the cycle, many women feel more tired during the latter half of their menstrual cycle as a result of sleep disturbances. And with that the risk of developing anxiety and depression increases, too. Compared to men, women are more vulnerable to the emotional effects of poor sleep, and can experience more anxiety the day after. So what’s driving these sleep problems? 

What makes sleep in women unique? 

While sleep is usually fine during the first half of the cycle, many women feel more tired during the latter half of their menstrual cycle as a result of sleep disturbances. And with that the risk of developing anxiety and depression increases, too. Compared to men, women are more vulnerable to the emotional effects of poor sleep, and can experience more anxiety the day after. So what’s driving these sleep problems? 

Well, it’s down to our cyclically changing ovarian hormonal milieu. Oestrogen and progesterone, and their fluctuating levels across the menstrual cycle, are the most powerful drivers behind the sleep problems many women experience. Often, sleep is made worse by experiencing menstrual symptoms such as tender breasts, headaches, bloating and changes in mood. A woman’s sleep also changes over her lifetime. Sleep problems may start in puberty when we experience the puberty-associated rise in ovarian hormones, and for many women sleep problems arise in periods when large hormonal changes take place. 

How else does a woman’s sleep experience differ from a man’s?

A woman’s internal body clock tends to run a little faster. The time it takes the clock to complete a cycle is, on average, about six minutes shorter compared to men. And for some women it’s even shorter: less than 24 hours! Physiologically speaking, this means that the rhythms of alertness, body temperature and melatonin, for example, are shorter and start earlier. Most importantly, though, the timing of sleep is earlier for most of us women (compared to men), and that can have implications for the quality and duration of our sleep. On that note, women potentially tend to need more sleep than men and have more deep sleep. But women also seem to accumulate a sleep debt much faster than men, and the effects of sleep loss on health may also be more severe than in men. Why this is the case is currently under investigation, but it certainly highlights the importance of regular sleep and wake times. 

What does having a faster ticking clock and earlier sleep timings mean for everyday life? If you go to bed and wake up when your internal clock tells you to, not much. But if you go to bed much later than your internal clock wants you to, you are cutting into your sleep. Now you won’t be able to make up for this lost sleep in the morning because your wake-up time is set by your internal and/ or alarm clock. Your internal clock triggers the waking-up processes a little before it expects you to wake up, irrespective of how many hours you have slept. You might notice this as drifting in and out of sleep or poor-quality sleep in the last few hours. Eventually this can lead to insomnia and other sleep problems. Women are almost twice as likely to develop insomnia than men, and as women get older the risk of developing sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnoea increases. 

 

If you want to learn more about how I can help you sleep well and feel good, book an exploratory call with me. 

Warmly,

Dr Kat