Why so many women have bad sleep

"I honestly can't remember the last time I jumped out of bed full of energy."
"I honestly can't remember the last time I jumped out of bed full of energy." 

You finally flop into bed after an exhausting day. You desperately try to fall sleep but you can't. The more you look at the clock, the more anxious you become about not being able to sleep.

You are not alone. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, around one in three Australians suffer from mild insomnia.

What is insomnia?

There are three basic elements that can occur in any combination in insomnia. These include difficulty falling asleep (sleep-onset insomnia); difficulty staying asleep, including waking up too early (sleep-maintenance insomnia); and poor-quality, fragmented sleep.

What causes insomnia?

There are a variety of medical, psychological, neurological, environmental and behavioural conditions that can contribute to insomnia.

Not only is this debilitating epidemic on the rise across the age groups and sexes, for women there is a slightly darker reality.

There are proven links between sleep disturbances and adult women. These are associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, due to the monthly variation of female reproductive hormones, particularly progesterone and oestrogen.

Women of reproductive age report more sleep disturbances during the premenstrual week and first few days of menstruation. These disorders can include both hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day) and a premenstrual night or two of insomnia. You can read about suggestions specific to PMS insomnia here or consult your GP.


Debbie Martinez is a 36-year-old stay-at-home mum to three children under six in Sydney's Peakhurst. Since the birth of her second daughter three years ago, she has become unnaturally accepting of the fact that she is constantly tired.

"I honestly can't remember the last time I jumped out of bed full of energy. With a husband, three kids, a cat and a dog, I really don't have time to think about how tired I am," she says. 

"I'm a shocking sleeper. By the time I clean up after dinner, organise baths and get the kids down for the night, I'll sit on the couch to watch some TV or unwind with a book and the next minute, I wake up and it's around 3am.

"I drag myself into bed and usually just lie there wide awake, cursing the clock and staring at the ceiling, then I'm up at 5.30 getting my husband ready for work and my day starts all over again.

"It's a vicious circle, it's affecting my health, my patience and my relationship with my husband. I can't go on like this," she says.

Janine Blakey, a part-time medical receptionist from Tingalpa in Brisbane, feels the same. The recently divorced 52-year-old put her insomnia down to the stress of her break-up but was shocked when a GP at her practise suggested there was more going on.

"One of the GPs explained to me that women are much more likely to experience insomnia, thanks to hormonal shifts during our menstrual cycle or during the onset of menopause [perimenopause]," she says. "Because I'm not suffering the hot flushes yet, it didn't even cross my mind.

"She explained that sleep difficulties are linked to hormonal changes - and our risk of depression is even higher during menopause, which can exacerbate the insomnia."

How to sleep better 

The experts recommend that we get between seven and eight hours of good shut-eye every night. This isn't always possible, so what can we do to improve the quality of our sleep?

There are several steps to help increase productive sleep time, according to sleep specialist, Dr Sean Tolhurst.

"It is important to establish and maintain a routine prior to bed - relaxing activity, brush teeth, put on pyjamas, hop into bed, turn light off, go to sleep," he says.

"Avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, vigorous exercise in the hours before sleep, and ensure medical conditions that could impact on sleep are adequately treated.

"Switch off mobile phones and avoid technology before bed - not only does this stimulate your mind, but also acts as a distraction from sleep. All clocks should be turned away from viewing - clock watching does not help you get a good night sleep!"

If you think you may be suffering from insomnia or another sleep related ailment, a visit to your GP is recommended.