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Having trouble sleeping? Hormonal changes can affect sleep quality for women

The physical needs of women and men differ, as we well know, and it is no different when it comes to sleep.

What we know about the major distinctions in sleep requirements of men and women include:

  • Women’s sleep rhythms seem to change more slowly than that of men.
  • Women enjoy the stages of deep sleep into their 30s.

    By their 20s, men start to experience a decline.
  • Women get more slow wave sleep, compared to men.

    This is a critical component of sleep that helps you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
  • Women have less issues with waking up in the middle of the night, compared to men.

On the surface, it would appear that women should be getting better quality sleep.

But our precious sleep can be disrupted by various factors and a particular problem is the surge and decline of our hormones every month.

Women will find that the premenstrual and menstrual periods during the month are the most common times when sleep interruptions occur, some of which may be in the form of difficulty sleeping, acute dreams and waking up in the middle of the night.

Why I’m so tired

In general, if you feel drowsy throughout the day, you may not be getting the kind of sleep quality that you really need.

Apart from hormonal disturbances, here are other factors that could explain why you go through the day feeling like you aren’t well-rested:

  • You’re always busy

    Between juggling a full-time job, caring for children, wife duty and miscellaneous responsibilities at home and within the community, it’s not surprising for women to feel like the multi-load of responsibilities on their shoulders can be a tremendous drain on daily energy levels.
  • Hormonal changes

    Going through premenstrual days, menopause, puberty, pregnancy and menstruation all have an effect on hormonal balance.

    It would appear that one main culprit of sleep disruption in women are hormones.

    Although oestrogen is beneficial to improving the quality of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the rise and fall of hormones due to imbalance or changes in the body is the reason for these disruptions.

    For example, when progesterone levels in women rise after ovulation, fatigue or drowsiness also increases, and it is the reverse when progesterone is low – sleep quality suffers.
  • Not enough hours of quality sleep

    This usually comes as a result of the demands of a very busy schedule.

    While you may get an adequate number of sleeping hours, it is not the same as getting high quality sleep that makes you feel well rested.

    A brain that is deprived of sleep is more prone to increased irritability and feelings of anxiety, as well as physical discomfort such as headaches.

How much to sleep

The amount of sleep that a person needs hinges on many factors, in particular, their age.

A general guideline for determining the amount of sleep goes as follows:

  • Infants (ages 0-3 months) require 14-17 hours daily.
  • Babies (ages 4-11 months) require 12-15 hours daily.
  • Toddlers (ages 1-2 years) require about 11-14 hours daily.
  • Pre-school children (ages 3-5) require 10-13 hours daily.
  • School-age children (ages 6-13) require nine to 11 hours daily.
  • Teenagers (ages 14-17) require about right to 10 hours daily.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, although some people may need as few as six hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.

Women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy require more sleep than the average woman.

Older adults (ages 65 and older) need seven to eight hours of sleep each day.

However, researchers have pointed out that, on average, women need twenty more minutes of sleep than men, because women use more of their brain during the day to multitask, and thus, require more rest.

Deprived of sleep

Sleep deprivation causes many serious concerns.

Past studies have shown that sleep-deprived individuals perform as poorly as individuals under the influence of alcohol in driving simulators or while conducting tasks requiring hand-eye coordination – and chugging caffeinated drinks while you are sleep-deprived does not help.

Even small signs can hint at your lack of adequate sleep. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Changes in mood.
  • Inability to focus on tasks.
  • Falling asleep soon after sitting or lying down on the couch.
  • Sleepiness or tiredness, even during sedentary activities like watching a movie or commuting through public transport.
  • Feeling a need for a nap or naps during the day.

Healthwise, the consequences of not getting enough sleep include:

  • High risk of chronic conditions such as heart attack, weight gain, a rise in blood pressure or diabetes
  • Dark circles and wrinkles
  • Low libido
  • Memory problems, and the eroding ability to think clearly and make good decisions
  • Lowered immune system that exposes you to sickness
  • Depression

For a chance at getting better sleep, cultivate long-term healthy habits.

Despite a busy schedule, getting a good night’s rest will ensure that you won’t encounter sleep-related problems.

Go to bed before midnight and try to follow these guidelines:

  • Regulate your sleep schedule.

    Wake up and go to bed at the same time, even on the weekends.
  • Practice having a bedtime routine that includes dim lighting, soft music, aromatherapy or a hot bath.
  • Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary.

    It should be clean, airy and dimly lit to encourage a feeling of relaxation.

    Turn off your mobile phone to reduce the amount of blue light that disrupts your brain from switching off, and read a book instead.

Prioritising sleep

Modern life has its many advantages, but its fast-paced nature doesn’t take into account the harmful effects on women’s sleep health.

A disturbance in sleep patterns leads to problems like poor concentration and fatigue, among other things.

While getting adequate quality sleep is essential for everyone, regardless of age, women who wish to live a life of being an all-rounded career and family woman may find that a lack of sleep can become an increasingly serious issue.

Making it a priority to improve sleep health will help women lead happier and more productive daily lives.


By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, Dec 23, 2019