In general, women are more susceptible to sleep problems than men, in part because they experience some unique biological incidents—most notably, hormonal changes that occur during specific events and transitions in their lives, such as during pregnancy, after childbirth, and during menopause. With a decrease in estrogen coupled with lower melatonin levels level at night, women are especially at risk for sleep apnea and insomnia during menopause. But many women are not aware that they suffer from a sleeping disorder and that it needs attention.
Fortunately, common sleep conditions can be effectively treated. Equipping yourself with the right tools to recognize and seek help for sleep issues can drastically improve day-to-day life and your overall health.
While sleep apnea is generally more common in men than in women, a woman’s risk of the disorder rises after menopause. Unfortunately, many women are entirely unaware of the symptoms and warning signs. Sleep apnea causes snoring, dry mouth, and shortstops in breathing, interrupting sleep, and leaving a person tired and groggy the next day, even after a full night's sleep.
It’s often a gradual change and many women just accept the fact they are not sleeping well and attribute tiredness to their age or other life events; they, therefore, don’t seek help for their sleep disruption. But ignoring sleep apnea can increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or even stroke, so it’s critical for women to be aware of the quality of their sleep. There are multiple effective ways to treat sleep apnea, like weight loss, dental and other medical devices, and procedures, which can dramatically improve nighttime breathing and sleep. If you feel like you are at risk, talk to your doctor about getting yourself sleep-tested.
Insomnia is 40 percent more likely in women than men. As the most common sleep condition, a person with insomnia experiences difficulties falling or staying asleep until the desired wake-up time. As a result, they often feel tired, less concentrated, and even moody during the day, all of which can culminate in poor daily functioning and a sense of wellbeing.
In terms of treatment, sleeping pills are the most used intervention for insomnia today, as can be seen by the many pharmaceutical ads for sleep medications. These ads are marketed to consumers and healthcare providers alike, most recently Idorsia Pharmaceutical’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Aniston, endorsed their new insomnia medication. But keep in mind that sleep medications are not recommended for long-term use and are considered second-line therapies. Many people with sleep issues and their physicians are also concerned with their potential for unwanted side effects, dependency, and risk for injuries and health problems.
Professional medical and sleep associations (e.g., American College of Physicians [ACP], American Academic of Sleep Medicine [AASM]) among others, strongly recommend a trial of CBT-I, or cognitive-behavioural therapy, to relieve insomnia symptoms, before turning to medications. CBT-I is considered the first line of therapy for Insomnia today, which is not surprising given the vast amount of scientific evidence to support CBT-I’s short- and long-term sleep and health benefits, not to mention its safety profile.
For combating insomnia, the behavioural component of CBT-I is key. Its core elements are temporarily limiting time in bed (restricting the sleep period) and reducing wakefulness in bed. While this may sound too simple or counterintuitive, research shows that in just a few short weeks it helps most people strengthen their sleep drive and retrain their body and brain to associate being in bed with being asleep. This promotes higher quality, continuous sleep patterns.
Traditionally, CBT-I is conducted face-to-face, by a trained psychologist or another healthcare provider; however, this format is often expensive and inaccessible to many, not to mention the long waiting list most clinics have. New technologies utilizing CBT-I core treatment components along with sleep health data and smart AI-based algorithms enable personalized digital solutions (web or app-based) that are available everywhere and anytime and at a much more affordable price.
Some solutions have even integrated human chat support within the digital platform, such as health and wellness coaches or sleep trainers to achieve the best balance between a digital solution with a human touch. Several recent studies testing the performance of these innovative CBT-I solutions have published encouraging results on sleep and overall well-being.
So, don’t give in to poor sleep. Check out the solution that is the best fit for you, whether in person or through a self-help book or innovative smartphone app.
Written by Mairav Cohen-Zion, Chief Science Officer at dayzz