Sleep is the third pillar of good health (alongside nutrition and exercise) and is something we all need to lead a healthy life. Quality sleep is vital for overall health and wellbeing, with research showing links between poor quality sleep and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and obesity.
It’s recommended that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to wake up feeling refreshed, yet the reality is that sleep needs vary depending on many factors such as age, mental and physical activity, and gender.
A.H. Beard’s resident sleep expert Dr Carmel Harrington (sleep scientist and author of ‘The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep’) states that women simply need more sleep than men. Regardless of how compatible you are with your partner, men and women are just biologically designed to need different amounts of sleep!
“Up until puberty, boys and girls need about the same amount of sleep. However once puberty hits, women need more sleep than men, and they will for the rest of their lives; on average about 20 minutes extra!”, explains Dr Carmel Harrington.
Read on for some of the key reasons behind this, and top tips from the experts to improve your sleep.
To start with, hormones are a common cause of sleep disruption for women. Some experience problems sleeping during certain phases of their menstrual cycle and pain or changes in body temperature may be to blame. Dr Carmel Harrington explains, “As we get closer to the end of our cycle, a lot of us suffer from PMT (premenstrual tension), feeling irritable, grumpy or emotional,” she says. “And those are also the hallmarks of sleep deprivation.”
Women in the second half of their cycle are also less sensitive to Melatonin, our natural sleep-inducing hormone. A great way to remedy this is to avoid blue light (phones & television) in the hour leading up to bed and bring in a red light to increase the release our body’s production of melatonin.
Women are more prone to sleep problems such as insomnia and excessive sleepiness than men are. A study by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that approximately 15% of women experience sleep issues of some kind, compared to just 8% of men. Furthermore, 63% women experience insomnia at least a few times a week (with men coming in at 54%).
COVID-19 lockdowns are also having their impact, as many women, on top of running the house and parenting the children are now working from home and homeschooling. This isn’t to say that women don’t have help from their partners, however research indicates (Nina Waddell (2021)) shows that women bore the greater share of parenting and housework impacting both their personal times and relationships. Similarly, Daniela Del Boca (2020) who looked at women’s and men’s work, housework and childcare, before and during COVID-19, found that, “with the exception of those continuing to work at their usual place of work, all of the women surveyed spend more time on housework than before”.
Another huge sleep disruptor for women is pregnancy. Weight gain, nausea, restless legs and reflux often associated with pregnancy (especially in the final trimester) are known to make good sleep a thing of the past. A good sleep is one with minimal disruptions. Unfortunately, many pregnant women experience multiple sleep disrupters like reflux, discomfort, vivid dreams and nocturia, finding that they need to wake to the toilet multiple times through the night. often making consolidated sleep difficult.
The onset of Menopause brings with it a slew of disruptive changes. Just when women think they’ll be able to settle into a sleep pattern, they enter another phase of their life cycle – menopause. Research clearly shows that women in either menopause or perimenopause (the period leading up to menopause, which can last for years) are at tremendous risk of sleep disturbances. Hormones are shifting, leading to sleep-disrupting hot flashes and early-morning awakenings.
“One in two women around the age of 50 have a sleep issue – so if you’re struggling, you’re not on your own! Some great things you can do to remedy this are to make sure your bedding is breathable and bring a fan into the bedroom if needed. Anything that brings down your body temperature is going to help”, says Dr Carmel Harrington.
Expert tips to improve your sleep
If any of the above disruptors are impacting your sleep, we recommend applying some (or all!) of the following tips to your bedtime and daily routine. The best way to know whether you’re getting enough quality sleep is to think about how you feel when you wake up – do you wake feeling refreshed and ready to begin your day? Or do you feel groggy and exhausted at the thought of all there is to do?
Although it can seem as if the odds are stacked against women being well rested, being mindful of your sleep and actively working to improve it can turn things around. Here are a few ways to help prepare for sleep:
- Keep a regular sleep and wake time – even on weekends!
- Keep mentally and physically active, with at least 30 minutes of exercise each day
- Limit caffeine after 2pm
- Keep your bedroom at the ideal temperature for sleeping, between 18 and 22 degrees
- Limit your exposure to blue light by putting the screens away an hour before bedtime. Pull the blinds, turn on a red light or light a candle
- Make your bedroom the ideal sleep environment by investing in good quality bed linen and the best mattress you can afford
Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of purchasing a new mattress? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for sleep, so you’re right to investigate. A.H. Beards 60 second mattress finder is the ideal tool to help find the right mattress for your personal needs.
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