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Women's Health

Insomnia in Women

NetWellness experts receive many questions about insomnia and other sleep disorders in women. Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) is a common problem in women and is considered a medical condition which may require treatment when it is recurrent.

Causes

Insomnia can be associated with several life factors such as:

Insomnia may sometimes be accompanied by other physical symptoms such as:

Conditions that may cause insomnia

If you suspect that you are experiencing insomnia as a result of another medical condition consult your healthcare provider. He or she may identify any of the following as a possible or probable cause of your insomnia:

Sleep apnea: Weight loss can improve but may not adequately treat sleep apnea. Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills can also help. You may want to talk to your doctor about a treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). With CPAP, each night you wear a mask that increases the air pressure inside your throat. This prevents your airway from collapsing during sleep and may allow you to sleep without interruption. A dental brace that holds your lower jaw forward during sleep is an increasingly available option for snoring and mild to moderate sleep apnea for those who are unable to tolerate CPAP. In some selected cases, surgery of the upper airway may also be an option.

Pregnancy: Pregnant women who experience insomnia may find relief by taking afternoon naps, drinking warm milk, or taking a warm (not hot) bath before bedtime. Exercise during the day should help too. Expectant mothers may find it more comfortable to sleep on their side, with pillows supporting their head, and topside knee. Women who are pregnant should not take sleeping pills or herbal sleeping remedies without talking with their doctor first.

Narcolepsy: Often, naps help relieve narcolepsy but cannot be relied on exclusively. Your doctor may prescribe stimulants to make you more alert. Newer medications are available that helps control cataplexy (drop attacks) or sleep paralysis, if present.

Restless leg syndrome: Cutting your caffeine intake may help. Other self-help measures may include a warm bath or relaxation exercises before bed. Warm or cold packs on your legs may provide relief. Several effective medications are available. Restless leg syndrome is a very treatable condition.

Nightmares/night terrors: If your child has a nightmare or night terror, the best medicine is comfort. If the dreams reoccur frequently, talk with your child's doctor about the problem. Typically, the episodes become less frequent as the child gets older.

Age: The lighter sleep patterns of older adults can sometimes lead to sleep problems. However, studies show that older adults who exercise and keep active sleep better than those who don't. Elderly people who don't sleep well at night may find afternoon naps helpful. However, excessive naps will disrupt sleep at night. Getting adequate light during the day, particularly in the morning, is important.

Lifestyle: You'll sleep better if you have good sleep hygiene and avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and heavy meals before bed. Regular exercise can improve sleep, as long as the exercise is performed several hours before bedtime.

Medication: If you think prescription or over-the-counter medication may be causing your sleep problems, talk with your doctor. You may need to have your medication dose adjusted or may need to take a different kind of medication.

Depression and Anxiety: If depression or anxiety is keeping you up for more than a few nights, talk to your doctor about treatment.

Heart failure and lung problems: If you experience breathlessness when you lie down to sleep or awaken in the night feeling breathless, you should see your doctor. You could have problems with your heart or lungs.

Treatment

There are now various forms of medication available that can help with your insomnia or any of the above conditions that may be causing it. Consult your healthcare provider to determine what might be best for you. Here is a list of do-it-yourself suggestions to help your insomnia:

If none of these suggestions help, your healthcare provider may suggest that you visit a sleep clinic. You may spend a night or several nights sleeping at the sleep clinic while your heart rate, brain waves, and respiration are monitored. This can help identify exactly the cause of your sleep difficulties. Please consult our NetWellness topic on Sleep Disorders for more information.

For more information:

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Aug 30, 2006

Ulysses J Magalang, MD Ulysses J Magalang, MD
Clinical Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
Clinical Professor of Neuroscience
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University