Five of the Most Common Causes of Insomnia in Women
It’s an all too familiar scenario. There you are, three in the morning, staring at your ceiling fan whirl by with the minutes and hours you lose precious sleep. Without sleep, the world is a much crueler place.
Sixty million Americans suffer from insomnia each week alone.
Insomnia is classified in several ways. It is the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or waking too early.
Cognitive function and awareness decreases, increase inflammation, you are more likely to experience moodiness, and it can cause you to gain weight. What’s worse is that prolonged insomnia can lead to a 58% increase in early death. On top of that frightening statistic is that women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men.
Why are women prone to insomnia? Let’s check out seven of the most common causes of insomnia for women and how to fix them.
Five of the Most Common Causes of Insomnia in Women
Whether it is kids or your party girl proclivities, your lifestyle may be affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Keeping odd hours, being up and down with kids and animals, or just trying to be Wonder Woman leaves less and less time for sleep. In fact, sleep is the thing that we often put off or reduce in favor of doing other things. According to a “Sleep in America” Poll from 2007, single working women spend the least time in bed sleeping. This Poll also found that 75% of stay-at-home mothers experience symptoms from insomnia.
What to do:
Practice healthy lifestyle behaviors. First, set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it as regularly as possible. Also, try to keep a consistent awakening time to get your body’s circadian rhythms
Incorporate exercise and sex (if you are partnered up) into your daily activities. You don’t have to do the equivalent of a Spartan Race, but be sure to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderately challenging activity per day, so you work your body and cause it to crave sleep for repair.
While it sounds easy, it can be challenging so start with the goal of adding one new practice per week for maximum success.
Stress seems to be the universal patsy—everything gets blamed on stress and our inability to manage it properly. It’s no surprise that stress is known to cause insomnia, and conversely, insomnia leads to more stress! For every deadline, you fuss over and every kid’s costume that is behind schedule, stress levels increase. Stress creates tension and anxiety that make us unable to sleep. It also causes hyperarousal, which results in repeated wakings in the night, robbing you of quality rest making you irritable and groggy in the morning.
While it’s easy to tell yourself to stop stressing, it is easier said than done, so here are a few tricks to decrease stress before bed.
What to do:
Try left nostril breathing. Cover your right nostril with your thumb and breathe normally through your left nostril only. This activates a nerve that engages the relaxation portion of your nervous system.
Try the three-part yoga breath. Inhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and then exhale for five seconds. Do this for about three minutes and don’t be surprised if your eyes start to feel heavy as you breathe.
Supplement for sleep. Drink some chamomile tea or mineral magnesium supplement to relax you and magnesium is great for reducing anxiety as well. Inhale some soothing essential oils like cinnamon, lavender, and vanilla either in a bath or just bedside to prepare yourself for sleep. You can also try a product like Serenity. It has natural products like Zinc, Magnesium, Melatonin, Valerian Root, and Vitamin B6 to help you sleep naturally, without chemicals or worrying about dependency (like you need something else to worry about!).
Hormones regulate nearly every process in our bodies so it is no wonder that they can be the cause of insomnia, in particular for women. Hormones that regulate a woman’s fertility significantly add to the issue of insomnia. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause all contribute to sleep disruptions and insomnia.
Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., and author of The Woman’s Book of Sleep: A Complete Resource Guide says, “More than 70% of women complain of sleep problems during menstruation when hormone levels are at their lowest.” Sixty-seven percent of women who menstruate experience up to three days of interrupted sleep or insomnia per month according to a poll done by the National Sleep Foundation. Women of child-bearing age are likely to experience insomnia not only during their periods but before (when they get the least REM sleep). Those who experience PMS tend to sleep even less due to uncomfortable symptoms like cramping, bloating, back pain, and breast tenderness. The constantly waxing and waning amounts of estrogen and progesterone in the body can make it difficult for the body to stay on a sleep schedule.
Pregnancy with all its beauties and beasties can also cause insomnia. Tender breasts, a growing belly, and a frequent need to urinate can rob expectant mothers of quality sleep. Postpartum insomnia is an especially serious for both mother and baby, leading to irritability, illness, and postpartum depression in some cases.
Few people know that Estrogen is an essential hormone for sleep. Its job is sleep-maintaining. During perimenopause and menopause, the body doesn’t produce enough estrogen, causing difficulties with sleep. On the flip side, if a woman doesn’t have enough testosterone in her system, she is more likely to snore and develop sleep apnea. Sleep apnea, in very simplistic terms, is when the body wakes up multiple times per hour during sleep.
What to do:
For Menstrual Issues: Your body temperature rises a bit during this time, so lower the thermostat by a few degrees to compensate. Over-the-counter pain medicines are also useful when timed correctly to your sleep schedule. Also, a little Vitamin D, as found in food like milk and fish oils, can also curb insomnia.
Pregnancy: Drink a soothing cup of tea or HOM (warm milk with honey) to prepare your body for sleep. Ward off congestion (pregnant women produce for mucus) with a neti pot session each night, so you aren’t waking up to constantly blow your nose or cough.
Menopause: If menopause is causing your insomnia, you may want to try hormone therapy to increase estrogen in your system. If you prefer a more natural route, look into including more sweet potatoes or yams into your diet.
When you aren’t getting sleep, it makes sense that you use stimulants to propel you into your day. What you may not realize is they could be the underlying issue for your insomnia. Caffeine might just be the most popular drug in the world. Often used because you didn’t get a good night’s zzz’s, too much caffeine can rob the next night’s sleep as well. It takes about six hours for one-half of the effects of caffeine to leave the body.
Often overlooked, the nicotine that addicts you is also what may be keeping you awake at night. A 2013 study out of the University of Rochester shows that smoking can alter circadian rhythms. Smokers are also 2.5 more times likely to find an obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis in their future, further complicating their sleeping issues.
Is that glass of wine before you think is helping you sleep keeping you awake instead? Some 20% of the adult population admits to using alcohol to help them fall asleep. Like smoking, studies are showing that alcohol is also upsetting the body’s natural sleep-regulating mechanisms. According to Pradeep Sahota, M.D., chair of the University of Missouri School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology, “Alcohol disrupts sleep, and the quality of sleep is diminished. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, which increases your need to go the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning.”
What to do:
Reduce caffeine, smoking, and alcohol from your diet. Studies show that going “cold turkey” can also cause insomnia, so ease yourself off the stimulants slowly.
You don’t have to quit caffeine or alcohol if used responsibly. Just drink it way before going to bed and do so with moderation.
If you are a smoker, stop. If you aren’t ready to quit, reduce your smoking habit drastically to improve your sleep and overall health. Also, quit smoking a few hours before bed, as timing is also important to sleep disruption.
5. Poor Sleep Environment
Where you sleep is as important as when you sleep. Temperature, sounds, and light all affect your dozability. If one is off, you could be counting sheep instead of getting zzzzs.
If you keep your home too warm, you could be unwittingly being causing your insomnia. In fact, drops in body temperature prompt drowsiness. Sound is also a factor in creating a peaceful sleeping environment. Noises can rouse you from a peaceful sleep. Things are simple as pets and appliances can distract you from sleep or disturb you during it. Storms and traffic, things that are difficult to control, can also affect your ability to fall and stay asleep. We are most likely to be awakened by sound during Stage 2 of sleep which is a non-REM cycle we spend the greatest amount of the night in. Losing REM sleep makes us irritable and foggy during the day.
Light is perhaps the most profound environmental factor that affects sleep. Before electricity, our bodies naturally went to sleep close to sundown and then awoke according to the sunrise. In a new technological age where we live by manufactured, unnatural light, our bodies’ natural rhythms are compromised.
What to do:
Temperature is crucial for optimal sleep. The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 – 68 degrees. In fact, “Fresh air can have a cooling effect, and we know that a cool bedroom environment is a key to getting a good night’s sleep,” according to Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation. If you can safely, and the weather is right, open your window to benefit from Mother Nature at her best.
Control nighttime sounds with gadgets like white noise machines, fans, and humidifiers. Minimize inside noises by turning off ice machines on the fridge before bed, avoid running appliances, and put your smartphone on Do Not Disturb (DND). Most of all, if your partner snores, consider some noise canceling earbuds to get sleep (and save your relationship!).
Finally, moderate light by purchasing black-out curtains for your bedroom to ensure that no light gets in until you are ready for it. Also, stop sleeping with your smartphone, tablet or laptop nearby. During the night updates and text messages can light up your phone even with DND is on, causing you to wake up and disrupt your sleep cycle.
You don’t need to suffer from insomnia. Long, restless nights can be a thing of the past if you control your environment and practice healthy behaviors. Some people find that a sleep diary is useful to track their day and sleep. You can also use a Fitbit or similar activity, and sleep tracking devises to help analyze what you did right on days you don’t suffer from insomnia.
Sleep is one of the fundamental needs of our bodies, like air, water, activity, and nourishment. It is the battery from which we get our energy. Be sure to charge yours well.