Sleep and Women’s Health

Optimizing your sleep is one of the most important actions you can  take right now to improve your overall health, wellbeing and potential longevity.

What good sleep looks like?

We are learning more and more just how critical good consistent sleep really is for our health and wellbeing.    Sleep is absolutely fundamental for the proper functioning of all our physiologic systems.  It is the necessary reset, reboot, cleaning, maintenance and repair that our brain and body needs every day. All life on earth evolved to optimize function around the 24-hr day – night cycle.  This circadian rhythm is the rhythm of life.  The more that we are out of sync with our natural circadian rhythms, the more problems begin to show up (circadian dys-synchrony).  This new science called chronobiology has linked increased risk for diseases that impact the central nervous system, reproductive systems, metabolism, cardiovascular and endocrine functions to circadian disruption.

There 4 pillars of good sleep are: regularity, continuity, quantity and quality.  What defines the parameters for good sleep for one individual can be different than another but there are some general guide posts.  The following are characteristics of good sleep:  You can fall asleep without difficulty in less than 30 minutes.  You do not awaken more than once during the night and you can fall back asleep in less than 20 minutes.  You wake up feeling refreshed and energized, physically and psychologically and perform well throughout the day. Consistent sleep times and awakening times do seem to matter as our systems work better when there is a routine.  Research studies have found that optimal sleep quantity ranges from 7 – 9 hours.  However, the quality of sleep is as important if not more important than the quantity.  Sleep is a complex physiologic process where our brain cycles every 90 minutes  through REM and Non-REM stages.  You should spend roughly 75 percent of your night in non-REM sleep and 25 %in REM sleep.  Of this, approximately 25% of the total sleep should be in deep sleep.


Why sleep  matter’s to women’s’ health, well-being and longevity?

Regardless of sex, consistent, good quality of sleep over the course of one’s lifespan is a major protective factor in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases of aging including heart disease, metabolic conditions such as diabetes, neurodegenerative brain disorders including Alzheimers, depression and anxiety, as well as some forms of cancer including breast cancer. Good sleep is key to emotional well-being, healthy metabolism and weight, balanced hormones, optimal cognitive performance and optimal immune system function.

There have been a number of studies have suggested that women may be slightly more susceptible to and effected by circadian disruption.   Insomnia is reported at nearly twice the rate in women compared to men. This is invariably due to sex differences in hormones and how they change dynamically through a woman’s life.   There is substantial evidence of associations between circadian rhythm disorders and reproductive health  in female shift workers.  A 2014 meta-analysis of 15 studies with more than 100, 000 women subjects  found that shift workers had an 11% increase in infertility and a 16% increase in menstrual irregularities.[1]  Sleep disturbances during peri-menopause and menopause are common and are partially due to reduced levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone which have sleep protective benefits.  However, the age-related decrease in melatonin is also a factor.  Additionally, it has been observed that a reduction in melatonin levels in women is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Night shift work appears to increase this risk possibly due to the melatonin suppression.

The key to longevity or more importantly “healthspan “which is defined by the number of years of life in good health is to avoid or to delay the onset of the major chronic diseases of aging.  These include the big four:  cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), disturbed metabolism (diabetes), neurodegenerative brain disorders (Alzheimers) and cancer.  The  root mechanisms for all of these conditions include a chronic inflammatory response, elevated sympathetic nervous system tone (stress response), impaired glucose metabolism (insulin resistance), oxidative stress. Impaired immune response and hormonal imbalances. Sleep is vital to regulation of these key physiologic processes.

If you want to live longer and healthier, make sleep a number one priority in your life.


Optimal sleep is non-negotiable in terms of overall health and well-being.




[1] Stocker LJ, Macklon NS, Cheong YC, Bewley SJ. Influence of shift work on early reproductive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obstet Gynecol. 2014; 124(1): 99-110. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000321[5]