This statistic, from the Society for Women’s Health Research, may seem like it represents an inconsequential gap between the sleeping habits of men and women, but when 40 million men and women all suffer from a sort of sleeping problem (most commonly insomnia), that gap gets a whole lot more intimidating. Here’s a rundown on insomnia and why women are more likely to suffer from it than men:
What are the different types of insomnia?
There are two types of insomnia: primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia means that the issues a person has with falling asleep do not directly stem from another health problem. Secondary insomnia means that a person’s sleeping problems are connected to a separate health issue, whether it be a physical health problem, a mental illness, substance abuse, reaction to a medication, or another cause. There is also chronic insomnia and acute insomnia, which vary in duration. Chronic insomnia is long-term (a person who “has insomnia at least three nights a week for a month or longer” would be a chronic sufferer), whereas acute insomnia is shorter-term.
Why are women more likely to suffer from insomnia than men?
Women are more likely to suffer from insomnia than men (especially secondary insomnia) due to hormonal changes during perimenopause, menopause, and PMS and cycle changes. Women are also more likely to suffer from secondary insomnia because they are more susceptible to certain health issues that trigger secondary insomnia, such as depression, anxiety, and other sleep disorders.
How is insomnia diagnosed?
In many cases, an insomnia diagnosis is refreshingly simple — it’s the causes of insomnia that can be harder to decipher. Typically, after disclosing your symptoms to a doctor, the doctor will perform a physical exam, an evaluation of medical history and sleep history, and might ask you to keep a journal chronicling your sleep patterns throughout the course of a week or so. Some doctors also request an interview with the person you sleep with most to ask about your quality of rest. Further testing can occur at specialized sleep centers.
How is insomnia treated?
Insomnia treatment will vary based on the type of insomnia you are diagnosed with, and the health issues causing your sleep troubles. For those struggling with underlying health issues that trigger insomnia, a doctor may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help insomnia patients change sleep habits, patterns, and thoughts to achieve a more restful sleep, and is also commonly used to help those with mental health issues. CBT is helpful because it targets both the insomniac behavior, and the conditions that might lead to that behavior.
Sleeping pills may also be prescribed by a doctor, though typically only in small doses to avoid over-reliance.
There are also general sleeping practices that anyone can try, known as “sleep hygiene.” Good sleep hygiene means having consistent bedtimes and wake-up times (definitely a struggle, especially for those with work, school, or babies and children that are on their own unique sleep schedule), avoidance of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, and having a safe and comfortable sleeping environment.
Whether a person’s insomnia is situational or chronic losing a good night’s sleep can have more of a negative effect on daily life than you might think. If you or someone you know might have insomnia or other sleep issues, talk to your health provider, and check out some of the resources linked within this article. Good sleep hygiene is particularly key.