Women and Sleep

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women (58%) suffer from nighttime pain than men (48%), according to a 1996 NSF Gallup Poll. In a more recent 2000 NSF Sleep in America poll, one in four women reported that pain or physical discomfort interrupted their sleep three nights a week or more.

Pain conditions like migraine, tension headaches, rheumatic and arthritis conditions as well as heartburn are all more common among women. Pain may make it harder to fall asleep or lead to nighttime or early morning awakenings. Relaxation techniques, biofeedback, cognitive therapy, and over-the-counter and prescription medications may help. Treatment may target the pain, the sleeping difficulty, or both.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD)

RLS is a neurological movement disorder that affects as many as 12 million Americans. Its symptoms are outlined above. Because the unpleasant feelings occur at rest and are relieved by movement, RLS sufferers have difficulty sleeping. In the NSF 2002 Sleep in America poll, 18% of the female adult population reported RLS symptoms a few nights a week or more. Due to difficulties sleeping, RLS can lead to daytime sleepiness, mood swings, anxiety and depression. One study found that 42% of those with RLS stated that it affected their relationship with their partner.

Although we do not know the exact cause of RLS, recent research indicates that iron or folate deficiency may be a risk factor. Treatment may include iron or vitamin supplements, lifestyle changes and medications.

About 80% of those with RLS also have PLMD or involuntary leg twitching or jerking movements during sleep that can occur every 20-30 seconds. These symptoms can be bothersome to a bed partner, but are also treatable.

Shift Work

Shift workers — about one in five Americans — work non-traditional hours (not the typical hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ). Difficulty falling asleep is a common effect as is obtaining quality sleep during the day hours. Women who work on the night shift get less sleep and more disrupted sleep. Shift workers, in general, report more sleep-related accidents and illnesses. Night and rotating shifts can put a strain