Women and Sleep: Are You Putting Your Health at Risk?

Sleep is a crucial component of healthy living. During sleep, your body and brain perform healing activities. Without it, you’re not able to operate throughout the day as your “best self.”

Kathleen Gallagher, Manager of Pulmonology in the Riverside Sleep Center

For women, in particular, sleep issues are often under-reported and thus under-diagnosed. Kathleen Gallagher, Manager of Pulmonology in the Riverside Sleep Center attributes this to a couple of reasons. For example, she notes that women often accompany their male partners to appointments but rarely go to the doctor for their own problems.
“They certainly don’t want to admit to anything going ‘wrong’ with them. Plus, they report their symptoms a little bit differently. They’ll say they’re tired because they have insomnia or maybe they’re feeling depressed, maybe they’ve got restless legs, whereas the men will report having snoring and gasping episodes.”

What Causes Sleep Disruptions?
One root cause women face when it comes to poor sleep is hormonal fluctuations. Many women experience poor sleep during certain parts of their menstrual cycle. Women going through perimenopause and menopause also encounter sleep disruptions.
Another culprit is snoring—although Gallagher says women are less likely to report snoring than their male counterparts. It’s important to be upfront about snoring, though, because it can be indicative of sleep apnea. While no one really wants to wear a device at night to help address the sleep apnea, it’s a necessary treatment to prevent even more dangerous conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart, heart failure, diabetes, and heart attack.
It’s especially important for pregnant women to look into a potential sleep apnea diagnosis. If mom isn’t getting enough oxygen during sleep, then neither is baby.
“Once you get into the later trimester, it can also lead to problems like gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia. The idea is to actually fix those problems early enough, so we don’t have those problems later on during the pregnancy,” states Gallagher.

Addressing Insomnia
If you toss and turn at night, have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or all three, you’re not alone. Insomnia is the number-one sleep disorder—but it’s a tough one to mitigate. Before trying sleep medications, Gallagher encourages women to try interventions like guided meditation, breathing exercises, and calming sounds (e.g. ocean waves, falling rain).
She also suggests trying to “transport” yourself to a different place, maybe the Caribbean or Hawaii. “Whatever it is for you, create a space you can just transport yourself and see if it helps take your mind off of whatever it is keeping you from sleep.”

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
For any sleep issue women are having, they should absolutely have a conversation with their doctor—sooner rather than later. If you’re not getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night, your body and brain will start to deteriorate over time.
“Don’t be afraid to report what your symptoms are, especially if it’s starting to cause other problems such as memory issues,” cautions Gallagher. “Have a conversation with your doctor. They’re all aware of what sleep is, but if you tell them you’re doing ‘fine’ they’re probably going to pass on and not push further.”

**To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Kathleen Gallagher, Manager of Pulmonology in the Riverside Sleep Center, please follow this link.