Why Women’s Sleep is Unique and How to Improve Your Sleep Quality
I often get asked why I mainly work with women.
Well, I am a female and have struggled with insomnia and burnout in the past. I understand the female body and want to support women in feeling better.
We wear so many hats and juggle so many things simultaneously - and we need great sleep to do all this without burning out.
If we don't manage our health and stress in our 30s and 40s, we will hit a rough road when we age. And the time in our 30s and 40s is when we have lots on our plates and are often stretched between family, work and aging parents.
And this is where we often do what is known as "revenge bedtime procrastination." We stay up late to get some ME time that we didn't have during the day.
I understand why we do this.
It's the only time we feel we can have a quiet moment during the day, but it robs us of sleep and might even mess up our sleep cycle to the point that we can't fall asleep or burn out.
According to the CDC, less than two-thirds of women get enough sleep every night.
Over 60% of women do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. While the 7-9 hours is a general recommendation for men and women alike, men can often get by with six to seven hours, while women don't do as well on just six hours.
There is still a lot of debate in the field about how much sleep is ideal, but the consensus is: women do need more sleep than men.
Why Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?
There are many reasons why women need more sleep than men.
One big reason is hormones.
Women are structured hormonally very differently from men.
Men have testosterone as one of their main hormones, following a 24-hour cycle, similar to our sleep-wake cycle.
This means their body pumps out a lot of testosterone in the morning - just like our bodies do with cortisol. However, the male body can also synthesize testosterone throughout the day, giving them steady energy levels.
Synthesizing of testosterone also isn't affected as much by sleep deprivation.
For us women, many of our hormones are replenished in the adrenals, which work primarily overnight, starting as early as 9 pm.
So if we go to bed very late or struggle to fall asleep, this can quickly hurt our energy and hormone production.
On top of that, women's hormonal fluctuations occur on a 26 to 35-day cycle, making our bodies more prone to mood fluctuations and feelings of anxiety or depression.
Women who experience sleep deprivation (either because they struggle with sleep or go to bed too late) are also more likely to experience mood disorders like irritability and anger.
Sleep regulates emotion, specifically during REM sleep. The longer we sleep, the more REM sleep we get, which helps stabilize our mood. Cutting sleep short sets us up for an unstable mood the next day.
The other challenge is that our ability to handle stress decreases significantly after a bad night's sleep. And if this continues for extended periods, you're burning yourself out.
How to Improve Your Sleep Quality?
So, how can you get your sleep back?
Managing perceived stress:
We've all been there: your boss wants something from you, your kids need to be dropped off at school or soccer practice, you need to run the household, and you need to call your parents.
The list never ends.
All of this stress is raising your stress hormones and causing an imbalance in your body that you don't see but can feel. Your heartbeat might increase, you feel worn out at the end of the day, and your sleep might start to suffer: you might not be able to fall asleep or begin to wake up in the middle of the night. Or you might be sleeping but not feeling rested - even after 7 or 8 hours.
Learn how to build small breaks for yourself into your day, not over-schedule, set priorities and boundaries, and ask for help.
Addressing your gut health:
On top of the felt stress, the most significant contributor to sleep issues is your gut health.
And sleep and gut health are linked.
Studies have shown that just one night of bad sleep causes inflammatory markers in the gut to increase - in women more than in men.
And this is stress that we might not feel. Yes, you might have digestive issues such as bloating, gas, increasing reactions to foods you used to eat, brain fog, etc. But lots of women don't have any symptoms at all.
If we're constantly stressed, our protective gut lining breaks down, and we are prone to increased gut permeability, called a "leaky gut".
This allows pathogens or food particles to enter the bloodstream (where they don't belong) and travel throughout the body, causing inflammation. Our body then releases cortisol to fight this inflammation (because cortisol is an anti-inflammatory).
And elevated cortisol levels or cortisol released at the wrong time of day causes sleep issues.
In practice, I also see a lot of imbalance in the gut microbiome, such as an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.
This affects our ability to absorb and use nutrients, affecting our body's ability to make sex hormones. If this continues for too long, our sex hormones become imbalanced, affecting our cycle and causing sleep issues.
Balancing nutrient deficiencies
A lot of us are nutrient deficient.
Even if you're ensuring you're eating healthy, you are likely depleted. Because of the use of mono-crop agriculture, our foods don't contain a lot of nutrients anymore.
And stress depletes us of nutrients as it takes a lot of energy from the body.
If our nutrients are depleted, our bodies cannot make the proper calming neurotransmitters or hormones that support sleep.
Even years after pregnancy, women often struggle with nutrient deficiencies because they shared their body stores with the growing baby.
Symptoms of nutrient deficiencies can be a lack of energy, skin issues, low thyroid function, and sleep and mood issues, to name a few.
This is why I always look at my clients' gut health, hormones, and nutrients because all these being imbalanced puts stress on the body.
And putting stress on the body raises cortisol.
If we're already not sleeping and burning the candle at both ends, we don't want cortisol to go any higher; we want it to come down in most cases or want the body to be able to balance it again and use it properly.
That way, we can have energy during the day and still be able to wind down at night, go to sleep and sleep through the night.
And that is why I'm a holistic sleep and health coach for women.
Because there are so many things in the female body that are delicately interconnected and must be addressed together.