Mother’s Day and Mother’s Night: A Woman’s Sleep
Published in The Huffington Post
This past year, I watched my daughter-in-law, Adriana, proceed through her second pregnancy, childbirth and the care of our family’s lovely newborn, Eva. I watched her struggle with some of the most common challenges of motherhood, including of course, disrupted sleep. As Mother’s Day draws near, I’m remembering the many mothers, both new and seasoned, who have come to me with sleep concerns.
Partially due to hormonal fluctuations, women have 40 percent more insomnia than men. Both menstruation and menopause are associated with an increased risk for occasional sleeplessness as well as insomnia. It’s not at all uncommon for teen girls to encounter sleep challenges with the start of menses. The majority of middle-aged women I worked with over the years had sleep problems stemming from perimenopausal symptoms.
Obviously, women are at even greater risk for insomnia when they become mothers. Because sleep struggles are so common during pregnancy, sleep doctors facetiously refer to it as a sleep disorder. And the normal feeding schedules of healthy infants will fragment mom’s sleep for those first few months, not to mention the throes of weaning and shifting routines. Even under the very best of circumstances and with optimal support of partners, spouses or other family members, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing and infant care will, to varying degrees, disrupt sleep.
It’s not at all surprising that women come to depend quite heavily on prescription sleeping pills. IMS Health reports this dependence peaks from age 40 to 59, resulting in more than 15 million prescriptions per year. And this figure does not account for millions of additional prescriptions of off-label sleep drugs, OTC medications and the excessive consumption of alcohol and marijuana as sleep elixirs.