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Why Women Suffer Insomnia More Than Men – And What You Can Do About It

Why Women Suffer Insomnia More Than Men – And What You Can Do About It

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Far more women than men suffer insomnia or chronic sleep trouble, and middle-aged women suffer most of all, according to an international study commissioned by Calm.

Women are 40% more likely than men “always” to sleep badly, reveals the survey of 4,279 Britons and Americans, conducted by pollsters YouGov, on our behalf.  

Women are 40% more likely than men to sleep badly on a regular basis, reveals the survey of 4,279 Britons and Americans.

This figure rises to 55% in middle age [aged 45-54], when the gender gap hits its peak, as does the number of women who report “always” sleeping badly.

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“I certainly see more women with sleep trouble than men”, says Dr Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist, whose talk on sleep science and advice is one of Calm’s 30+ Sleep Stories.

There are several possible reasons that so many more women than men sleep badly, says Dr Orma, author of the book, Stop Worrying & Go To Sleep.

“One is hormones – such as estrogen and progesterone – which fluctuate more in women.” Such fluctuations can cause physical discomfort, which in turn can disturb sleep.

Hormonal changes can also cause mood changes and intensity both anxiety and depression, says Orma. “All those things can disturb sleep.”

Indeed, for various reasons, women get diagnosed with anxiety and depression about twice as often as men do, says Orma. Depression can either increase or decrease the amount someone sleeps, while anxiety tends to disrupt sleep. 

Other factors include pregnancy and children.

“Pregnancy involves a lot of discomfort”, says Orma. “You have an increased need to urinate. It can also cause breathing difficulties during sleep, such as sleep apnoea (where sleepers temporarily stop breathing).”  

Having young children can also often disturb sleep. New-borns are usually bad for both women and men but even nowadays, suggests Orma, women still tend to take more responsibility for getting up at night and child-raising in general.

Restless leg problem – whether related to pregnancy or not – is also more common in women, says Orma. “And that’s something that also disturbs sleep.”  

“People in general start sleeping worse when they get older and sleep becomes lighter, particularly in the latter part of the night”, says Orma. “But for women, specifically the menopause and resulting hormonal fluctuations and hot flushes can be another cause of sleep problems.”

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Six Reasons That Women Sleep Worse Than Men

  • Greater fluctuations in hormones like estrogen and progesterone, causing discomfort.

  • Anxiety and depression are twice as common for women.

  • Pregnancy and the associated discomfort. 

  • More responsibility for new-borns and young children.

  • Restless leg syndrome – women get it more.

  • The menopause brings more hormone fluctuations, hot flushes.

Psychologist’s Three Top Tips For Women With Insomnia

With women more than men, it’s important to identify any biological factors (such as hormones, pregnancy, menopause, etc) causing insomnia, says Dr Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist, insomnia specialist and author of the book, Stop Worrying & Go To Sleep.   

So his top tips are:

  1. First, seek to determine the cause of the sleep trouble: i.e., is it psychological, or is there something biological or hormonal going on?
  2. Seek treatment based on the specific cause: e.g. CBT-I (cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia) and/or medical treatment for the biological issue.
  3. Maintain good sleep habits over time (based on what you learn from CBT-I). 
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