New guide aims to unmask unique challenges women face in getting healthy sleep

December 18, 2017, Society for Women's Health Research
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Though sleep is essential to health and wellbeing, the unique barriers faced by women in maintaining good sleep health are often misunderstood or overlooked, according to a new resource "Women & Sleep: A Guide for Better Health" developed by the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR) Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep. The guide provides an evidence-based overview of key sleep challenges women face throughout the lifespan. The Sleep Network also partnered with patients from MyApnea.org to develop "Women & Sleep Apnea," to raise awareness on a disorder that is widely perceived as a "man's disease." Both resources are designed to help women and their healthcare providers address sleep problems.

"Healthy is essential for physical, emotional, and cognitive just as a healthy diet and physical activity are. Yet, the barriers to faced by women are often overlooked, dismissed or accepted as an unavoidable part of life," said Susan Redline, MD, MPH, SWHR Network on Sleep Chair and Professor of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School. "These are not unsolvable problems and this guide will help women and their healthcare providers improve diagnosis, treatment, and management of and circadian rhythm disorders."

Research has linked poor sleep—including short sleep duration and circadian disruptions, as well as sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia—to chronic health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, mental illness, and dementia. However, the sleep needs specific to women are under-recognized. The SWHR Network on Sleep guide addresses sleep challenges for women in three areas:

  • Sleep challenges across the lifespan, including the impact of hormonal changes, challenges of pregnancy and early parenthood, impact of sleep on fertility, and the role of menopause
  • Types of sleep and circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, hypersomnia, shift work sleep-wake disorder, and parasomnias, which are abnormal movements or behaviors during sleep
  • Impact of sleep and circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders on health and well-being, including heart disease, diabetes, mental health, cancer, pain, and cognitive decline

The SWHR Network on Sleep developed additional resources to highlight the specific challenges of sleep apnea in women, in partnership with patient representatives from MyApnea.org. Approximately 90 percent of women with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. The toll of sleep apnea is well documented, with short-term impact including fragmented sleep, low blood oxygen, sleepiness, and cognitive deficits, and over time, increased risk for vehicle crashes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. "The health consequences of a missed diagnosis are profound and it's critical to recognize that the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea in women are different, and often more subtle, than the hallmark of loud snoring we associate with in men," said Redline.

The SWHR Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep brought together 12 researchers and clinicians across sleep-related fields, including epidemiology, obstetrics/gynecology, neurology, pain, physiology, psychiatry, pulmonology, and . Launched in 2014, the Network promotes awareness, education, and research that highlights sex and gender differences in sleep and circadian rhythms, and their impact on health and well-being across the lifespan. "This work facilitates discussions between women and clinicians about sleep," said SWHR president and CEO Amy M. Miller, Ph.D. "While more research is needed to expand scientific understanding of sleep disorders and the differences between women and men that impact sleep, there is a lot we do understand and can address though awareness and dialogue about how sleep disorders can be successfully managed."

The sleep guide assesses both the sex and gender-based factors that can impact women's sleep health. Research shows that women generally sleep longer and may have a higher sleep need than men. Various social and cultural factors impact women disproportionately. Women are often the primary caregiver for their families and frequently have jobs that require shift work. Single parents, especially women, who are the sole source of family income and childcare, are at higher risk for short sleep duration and insomnia.

Women in general are 40 percent more likely to suffer from insomnia or symptoms of insomnia compared to men, and the causes for this disparity are unclear. "Research into how the brain controls sleep suggests that the neuronal pathways controlling sleep may be different between males and females. Such evidence makes it tempting to speculate that the sleep circuitry for women is different than it is for men, and when combined with those social factors, it may leave women at higher risk for sleep disorders," said Jessica Mong, Ph.D., SWHR Network on Sleep Co-Chair and Professor of Pharmacology, University of Maryland School of Medicine. "While there are many interventions that can help address these , sometimes it be as simple as improving sleep hygiene. The health risks of not taking action are simply too great to ignore this critically important component of women's health."

SWHR leads the way in advocating for greater funding for women's health research and for the study of biological differences between women and men that affect disease, its presentation, and treatment; promotes the inclusion of women and minorities in medical research; pushes for the analysis of research data for sex and ethnic differences; and informs women, healthcare providers, and policymakers about 's health issues.

Explore further: New study links severe hot flashes with greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea

More information: swhr.org/wp-content/uploads/20 … omen-Sleep-Guide.pdf

Related Stories

New study links severe hot flashes with greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea

November 1, 2017
Many menopausal women complain about poor sleep. Should the problem be blamed simply on menopause or on a more serious underlying sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? What, if any, is the connection between ...

Research finds hot flashes, night sweats connected to obstructive sleep apnea risk in middle-aged women

November 9, 2017
In a new study published recently in Menopause, researchers have found that the hot flashes and night sweats faced by upward of 80 percent of middle-aged women may be linked to an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep and Alzheimer's disease connection

October 17, 2017
How often do you get a good night's sleep? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend adults get an average of at least seven hours of sleep a night. Dr. Ronald Petersen, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, says ...

Sleep deprivation may increase risk of cardiovascular disease in older women

November 15, 2017
Older women who don't get enough sleep were more likely to have poor cardiovascular health, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2017, a premier global exchange ...

Insomnia, sleep apnea nearly double the risk of preterm delivery before 34 weeks

August 9, 2017
Pregnant women who are diagnosed with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia appear to be at risk of delivering their babies before reaching full term, according to an analysis of California births by researchers ...

Sleep apnea and insomnia in African-Americans goes undiagnosed

May 22, 2017
African Americans with sleep apnea and insomnia are rarely diagnosed with either problem, even when the severity of the two sleep disorders are likely to affect their health, according to new research presented at the ATS ...

Recommended for you

India launches 'Modicare', world's biggest health scheme

September 23, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched the world's biggest health insurance scheme, promising free coverage for half a billion of India's poorest citizens ahead of national elections next year.

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

Smart pills dumb down medical care, experts warn

September 21, 2018
Enthusiasm for an emerging digital health tool, the smart pill, is on the rise but researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics that cautions health care ...

Crunched for time? High-intensity exercise = same cell benefits in fewer minutes

September 20, 2018
A few minutes of high-intensity interval or sprinting exercise may be as effective as much longer exercise sessions in spurring beneficial improvements in mitochondrial function, according to new research. The small study ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.