The COVID impact of sleep issues on a woman’s health

By Carolina Boyd, Communications Associate

Sleepless nights are all too common for many people, especially those suffering from sleep disorders. It is an especially difficult situation for women who, according to the National Sleep Foundation, are more likely than men to struggle with sleep. Hormonal changes during menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause affect how well a woman sleeps. Add to that, the COVID-19 pandemic which has created a host of new sleep challenges — even for those who previously had no sleeping issues.

Sleep is critical to physical health and the effective functioning of the immune system. It is also a key promoter of emotional wellness and mental health. When it comes to overall health, sleep is just as important as diet and exercise. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to feel well rested but women, between the ages of 30 and 60, average only six hours and forty-one minutes of sleep during the workweek.

Sleep is extra important during the pandemic. Sleep empowers the immune system. Some studies have even found that a lack of sleep affects vaccine efficacy. Women who get too little shuteye are also at a higher risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, frequent colds, joint pain and weight gain.

Insomnia is the most common sleep problem. It is the inability to go to sleep, waking up too early or a general feeling of being “unrested” after sleep. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve insomnia-related sleep problems, including exercise, dietary changes (like scaling back on caffeine or alcohol), and establishing regular bed times.

Pain, from various disorders or diseases, is another common cause of sleepless nights for women.  One in four women reported pain or physical discomfort disrupting their sleep at least three nights a week. Conditions like migraines, arthritis, allergies, heartburn and fibromyalgia are all more common in women than in men. Treatments can be as varied as the sources of a woman’s pain. In some cases, relaxation techniques and over-the-counter and prescription medications can offer relief.

Sleep apnea is more than just a snoring problem. This serious sleep disorder interrupts breathing during the night and causes excessive daytime sleepiness. While sleep apnea is more common in men, it ramps up in women after the age of 50. Being overweight is a risk factor for sleep apnea and the increase in abdominal fat during menopause may be a reason why menopausal women get this sleep disorder more frequently than younger women. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, contact your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

Fortunately, there are some ways for women to get better sleep:

  • Exposure to sunlight or a “light box” during the day.
  • Disconnect from electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise at least 150 minutes a week.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Find ways to relax.

If you suffer from sleep issues or have any COVID-19 related concerns, contact your Legacy Community Health doctor for help. Call 832-548-5000 or visit our website to schedule an appointment.