How Your Sleep Changes During Every Stage of Life
By Krissy Brady
Men have it way easier than women.
Once upon a time, you slept like a baby…well, because you were a baby. Before long, your obsession with staying up late as a kid morphed into a love for sleeping in late as a teenager. And now that you’re a full-fledged grown-up, your sleep pattern has shifted yet again – only this time, it seems like there’s never enough zzz’s to go around. What gives?
You’re not just imagining it. It’s totally normal for your sleep pattern to become more chaotic and less satisfying as you get older – but just because scoring less shut-eye is common doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. It turns out the whole needing-less-sleep-as-we-age thing is just a rumour. “Ageing is associated with sleep disturbances, but ageing itself isn’t the cause of sleep problems,” says Tacjana Friday, neurologist at the Noran Neurological Clinic. “As we age, the need for adequate sleep still remains. Most people require seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and this remains consistent throughout our life.”
Both guys and girls experience sleep pattern changes throughout their lives and particular stages of development – and for women, sleep disturbances can start early on. “After the age of 11, we see twice the rate of insomnia in girls versus boys,” says Robert S. Rosenberg, board-certified sleep medicine specialist and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. “This may be hormonal, but studies have shown the rate of interpersonal stress and depression is higher in girls, and this may contribute to their insomnia. They also begin to develop a circadian delay, which makes it harder to fall asleep at their prior bedtime.” Add that to the list of Reasons It’s Hard to Be a Woman.
The main sleep-related problem that strikes when we’re in our teens is social jet lag: Many teens try to get by on less than seven hours of sleep (when they should be getting eight to 10 at this age), followed by binge-sleeping on the weekends – which as we now know, doesn’t work. “Catch-up sleep will still leave you with residual cognitive function and only make it harder to fall asleep on Sunday night,” says Rosenberg. Young women need 30 to 45 minutes more sleep than young men – likely because we’re suckers for multitasking and tire ourselves out more because of it, he adds.
Once we’re in our twenties, our need for sleep levels off, and we require the usual seven to eight hours of shut-eye. But the hormone extravaganza women experience during adulthood can mess with meeting that requirement, starting with our pesky periods: At least half of all women experience sleep disturbances during their menstrual cycle, says Friday.
Pregnancy can also saddle us with oodles of sleep problems. “The first – not to mention peeing like there’s no tomorrow – there’s a greater chance that restless legs syndrome will keep you up at night. “Although the prevalence in the general population is between 10 to 15 percent, it’s more common in women and has an increased incidence with age,” says Friday. “Common causes in women include iron deficiency and hormonal influences, and approximately 20 to 25 percent of pregnant women have restless legs syndrome.” It doesn’t end there: Once you’ve given birth, 15 percent of women develop post-partum depression, which can result in insomnia, says Rosenberg.
As we get older, our sleep architecture changes further. “Our sleep consists of lighter stages and has more sleep fragmentation or awakenings, which can lead to sleep deprivation, daytime sleepiness and waking up feeling un-refreshed,” says Friday. Menopause can exacerbate these issues, thanks to hot flashes and night sweats, which can go on for several years. “We also begin to see an increased incidence of sleep apnea in women, which leaves them sleepy and fatigued and may cause problems with staying asleep,” says Rosenberg.
To top it off, our risk of insomnia increases with each passing decade. “About one in four women between the ages of 45 to 64 will experience insomnia, and this number increases to over 30 percent for women older than 65,” says Friday. An internal pile-up of health issues over the years could be why we feel like we need less sleep, but we should always shoot for the standard seven to eight hours every night.
Better Sleep Tips
So what’s a sleepy girl to do? First, make sure you get up and go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends, says Friday. Because it can get harder and harder to pinpoint what’s messing with your sleep pattern as you get older, take stock of any habits or health issues that might be the culprit on the regular – such as how much time you spend on your gadgets, how much caffeine you drink, and how often your bladder gives you ‘tude, and tweak your lifestyle accordingly, she adds. And if all else fails, check in with your doc for a full assessment of the situation. It’s not worth losing sleep over.
Looking for more advice on your sleeping pattern? Here are seven easy sleep hacks that’ll help you get a better night’s rest, plus five everyday activities that could seriously be sabotaging your zzz’s.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com