It’s no secret that women are the worst when it comes to ignoring fatigue. It’s estimated that over 80% of women experience insomnia because of premenstrual syndrome. Compared to men, twice as many women have some form of sleep dysfunction. It gets worse over age 40 - as we age, sleep quality declines. We experience worsening insomnia, wake up frequently, and sleep lightly, making us more prone to daytime fatigue. The impact on job performance and stress is not something to be ignored. The goal is to figure out what’s happening and take it from there.
Underlying problems should be evaluated by a physician. Examples include breathing disorders that might indicate obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway abnormalities. Men have more difficulty than women with sleep disordered breathing, but the risk of obstructive sleep apnea increases for women over age 50, and equals that of men. Conditions such as enlarged tonsils and tongue enlargement (macroglossia) are included as possible contributors to major sleep disorders. Declining estrogen levels also contribute to the development of sleep apnea. Snoring is found to increase the incidence of sleep apnea due to the obstruction that occurs.
Hormones play an important role in sleep deprivation. Hot flashes don’t do much for comfort or emotions. Women and men are equally prone to restless leg syndrome (RLS), and it’s worse if you have diabetes, smoke or are overweight.
Take an active role in stress management. Focus on weight loss when necessary. Your doctor may have insight into medications that may interfere with sleep patterns. It’s important to rule out underlying causes, such as chronic cardiac or lung disease, chronic pain thyroid disease, and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Inability to fall asleep and awakening early may be signs of depression. Premenstrual hypersomnia is a rare sleep disorder that begins a few days before menstruation, and ends a few days after menstruation starts. Symptoms include excessive sleepiness during the daytime. Interruptions in sleep can result from alcohol intake, which may seem relaxing, but can cause nightmares and fragmented sleep patterns. Caffeine, nicotine and stimulating drugs, such as cold medications with pseudoephedrine should be avoided. Inactivity is a major contributor to poor sleep hygiene, another good reason to exercise and recreate often.
Identifying the cause of sleep disturbance is the first step toward finally getting some good rest. Discuss possible causes with your healthcare provider. A good night’s sleep is mandatory for overall health and well-being. With a bit of investigation and perhaps lifestyle changes, you can once again learn to “sleep like a baby”. Your body will thank you through years of better health and increased happiness.