Starving for Sleep

 Wake up and start the morning with a hot cup of coffee, drop the children off at school, and work a full 8-hour day. Add a pinch of household chores, an attention-deprived husband, and one scoop of raging hormones, and you have the bulk of American women who are starved for sleep.

For optimum performance, women and men need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night. While men are actually more prone to sleep apnea due to anatomy, women with sleep apnea often go undiagnosed due to female-specific conditions. Meir Kryger, MD, director of the Sleep Disorder Clinic at St Boniface Hospital Research Center at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, says, “There are many sleep problems that men don’t ever have like the sleepiness of pregnancy, waking up for breast-feeding, and hot flashes. Further, the most common sleep problem is insomnia, and in every single age group beginning at adolescence, women are two times more likely to have insomnia than men.”

Most women do not realize they are prone to sleep deprivation or acknowledge it as a health risk. But it is. According to a national survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 1,000 women between the ages of 30 and 60 were surveyed, which resulted in the following:

  • 74% of women sleep less than 8 hours a night during the work week, with an average sleep time of 6 hours and 41 minutes.
  • 31% of women reported using caffeinated beverages, over-the-counter         medications, or prescription drugs to help them stay awake during the previous year.
  • 50% of women drove while drowsy, and 14% dozed off at the wheel in the previous year.

Suzanne Griffin, MD, a psychiatrist at Georgetown University who specializes in sleep disorders, says, “Women do not pay attention to sleep deprivation. They tend not to ascribe their symptoms to sleep deprivation even when there is a clear connection.” This, she believes, compounds the problem. She adds that many women tend to stay up later at night “because it’s the only quiet time they have for themselves.”

So how can you help? The most important things that sleep specialists can do are to increase public/women’s awareness and encourage overnight sleep studies. Some helpful tips include: exercise regularly, but finish workouts 3 hours before bedtime—exercise may relieve some premenstrual syndrome symptoms and increase the amount of deep sleep; avoid foods and drinks high in sugar (including honey and syrup), caffeine (coffee, colas, tea, and chocolate), and salt, and consumption of alcohol before bedtime; try to have a standard bedtime routine and keep regular sleep times; make sure that the bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet and that pillows, sleep surface, and coverings are comfortable; and consult a physician if needed. Sleep specialists can encourage people to attend health fairs in the community; pass out literature about sleep deprivation to the public; and perhaps raffle off a free sleep study. You can make a difference and curb the hunger for sleep.

Paige Smith
Senior Editor
[email protected]