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Why do women have more sleep issues than men?

optimal sleep checklist

If you are 35 years plus, you’ve probably noticed your sleep getting lighter or the quality of your sleep going down, especially as you approach your period. That’s definitely what happened to me: I used to sleep pretty well without any tools or routine or supplements - I really didn’t need any of it, I just slept!

Then after 35, it just gradually got worse and worse: now I need my earplugs, my mask, my breathwork or meditation, progesterone and GABA to sleep well. I also notice that as soon as I get off my usual schedule, it perturbs my circadian clock and I don’t sleep well.

I don’t know if you can relate, but I know that many women in perimenopause and menopause are struggling to sleep well.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably already know that not only the decline in your sex hormones but also your blood sugar that gets more sensitive with age (and due to declining estrogen levels) can wreck your sleep.

In fact, women have a 40% higher chance of insomnia and tend to have higher rates of persistent, chronic insomnia than men.

Although studies show that women tend to sleep slightly more than men (an average of 11 minutes longer), they also sleep less well.

Why is that?

Yes you may have guessed: one of the main reasons is that women are more stressed than men: women between 35-54 are juggling many roles: being a mom, making sure everyone has food on their plates, kids activities, working a full time job, possibly caring for an elderly parent, and therefore experience significantly higher stress levels than men. Recent anxiety statistics also highlight that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder compared to men.

So it’s actually not only declining hormones and imbalanced blood sugar levels but also stress that plays a big role in bad sleep and anxiety disorders. And to be fair, stress will have a negative impact on your hormone production overall because it puts your brain in survival mode and it will therefore not prioritize hormone production over survival.

One notable study published in the journal "Sleep" in 2008 by Dr. Edward Suarez and colleagues suggested that women might need more sleep than men due to their higher levels of psychological distress and greater risk of psychological conditions like depression and anxiety, which could impact their sleep needs.

Another study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2007 highlighted that women report more sleep-related complaints than men and are more likely to experience insomnia and sleep disturbances across different stages of life due to hormonal changes, pregnancy, and menopause.

Why do we end up sleeping less and less as we age?

After 43, sleep issues are more common for both genders though: trouble falling asleep, waking up more often throughout the night, and having less deep recovery sleep and that’s the type of sleep that your body needs to heal, repair and restore its daily functions.

As we age, our prefrontal cortex, which is the creative part of our brain, shrinks. Our prefrontal cortex is also the part of the brain that allows us to dream and process memories and emotions and it’s needed to enter the deep stages of restorative sleep at night. As it shrinks, it gets more difficult to access the restorative sleep phase.

I’ve been monitoring my sleep stages with my Fitbit watch and I can definitely tell that things like getting enough time outdoors, going to bed and waking up at the same time and specific supplements like Phosphatidylserine have a positive impact on my REM sleep (which is the phase where we dream and our brain restores memories) and then Progesterone and GABA will have a positive impact on my deep sleep phase (see below more info on the sleep stages).

What’s the difference between REM and Deep Sleep?

REM Sleep:

  • During REM sleep, the brain is highly active, almost resembling the activity observed when one is awake. This stage is associated with vivid dreams, rapid eye movements, and increased brain activity.

  • Interestingly, the body experiences temporary muscle paralysis during REM sleep, likely to prevent individuals from physically acting out their dreams.

  • REM sleep is believed to play a crucial role in memory consolidation, learning, and emotional processing. It's associated with integrating experiences and emotions from the day into long-term memory.

Deep Sleep (N3 Stage):

  • Deep sleep is characterized by slow brain waves known as delta waves. These slow waves are associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and restfulness.

  • This stage is crucial for physical restoration and repair. It's during deep sleep that the body releases growth hormones, repairs tissues, and strengthens the immune system.

  • Deep sleep also plays a role in memory consolidation and learning, particularly in the assimilation of information and motor skill development.

So aging in general doesn’t help to sleep well, but we can agree that women definitely have a disadvantage here over men with increased stress levels, declining hormones and blood sugar fluctuations.

I’m now 44 (soon to be 45) and although my sleep is definitely delicate, I’m sleeping pretty well most nights. That’s because I found a good routine and the right supplements that help me sleep well.


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