The differing health needs of women are becoming more widely recognised. From adjusting our food intake around our menstrual cycle to our differing hormones, a lot of areas of our health need to be tailored to our unique biology.
Sleep is one area in which women are impacted differently than men, though many women are unaware of their specific biological needs. Women are 40% more likely to suffer insomnia than men for a number of reasons. For one, we’re twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression in our lifetime, which increases the likelihood of insomnia.
Our hormones are also to blame – because of the way they fluctuate throughout the month, they can affect our sleep cycles. Additional factors include our periods, whereby cramps and other symptoms can keep us awake at night, and the menopause, which causes hot flashes.
Free Soul, provider of health products and vegan pure protein powders that are designed to meet women’s unique nutritional needs, shares the ultimate guide to a good night’s sleep – specifically designed for women.
We know that women are often predispositioned to feel colder than men because of the way our body fat is stored and our lower metabolic rates. And while that might lead to you keep your bedroom toasty overnight, a warm sleeping space can negatively impact your sleep.
Being too warm overnight can disrupt our sleep – but you might be surprised at what classifies as “too warm”. The recommended temperature for our bedrooms is 18.3°C, which might feel a little chilly to sit in, but is optimal for sleep. That’s because the temperature of our bodies drops at night, so by encouraging that, you’re encouraging your body to get ready for sleep.
This is especially helpful for women who are experiencing the menopause, which is often accompanied by hot flashes that can wake you through the night.
Having a warm bath or shower on an evening is not only a soothing exercise, but it’s another step you can take to naturally cool down your body temperature – without really noticing it. When we take a warm bath or shower, our temperature rises initially, but cools and signals to our brain that it’s time for sleep. For menopausal women, taking a slightly cooler shower can combat hot flushes but still kickstart the body cooling process.
Having an evening shower or bath has additional benefits that can also improve our sleep. It can release any physical tension we’re holding in our bodies after a long day, soothing muscles and easing aches and pains ahead of bedtime.
Taking the time out to care for ourselves can also provide a mental well-being boost – and if you have the time, make the most of your bathing. Indulge in a book in the bath or use your shower time to practise mindfulness and rhythmically apply your favourite shower gels and scrubs. This act of self-care can put our mind at ease, which can help prevent a racing mind once you lay your head on your pillow.
Those racing thoughts are a common cause of insomnia in women. And as women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men, we are more likely to experience these anxious thoughts at bedtime. Often, our mind goes into overdrive when we head to bed because we have fewer distractions and therefore more opportunity to overthink.
Mindfulness is a powerful way to reduce these anxious thoughts – and it can come in many forms. We no longer think of mindfulness and meditation as the practice of sitting cross-legged and chanting “omm”, but as a process where we take moments to pause and free our minds during the day.
While this type of mindfulness is beneficial, journaling can also be an effective way to – quite literally – remove those negative thoughts from our brain. At least an hour before you head to bed, take a few moments to write down all your anxieties and worries from the day. Then, note down whether you can resolve it, and whether it can be resolved in that moment. If it can, take those steps. And if it can’t? You leave that anxiety on your sheet of paper instead of in your head.
Women’s differing hormones, as well as our menstrual cycle, means our nutritional needs vary from men’s. Women who have periods can benefit from iron supplements – and this is especially true for those who experience heavy periods. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also more prone to iron deficiencies and should consider increasing their intake or supplementing.
We may also suffer from a deficiency in magnesium – and this mineral plays an essential role in our sleep. It’s recommended to get as much magnesium as possible from your diet, but if you’re struggling, supplements can help too.
Tryptophan is another essential player in a good night’s sleep. This amino acid can be found in foods including turkey, milk, cheese, nuts and seeds. It’s more bioavailable in animal products, which means vegans may struggle to get enough of it – and women aged 18-34 make up the largest proportion of vegans. It’s possible to supplement tryptophan and combine it with other powerhouse sleep-boosters such as 5-HTP and camomile to enhance your diet.
In a so-called man’s world, women’s unique needs have often been downplayed. And while gendered marketing of razors, pens, tissues and other items that are overall unisex has been criticised for being unnecessary, we do have health requirements that are specific to our sex. Our hormones, menstrual cycles and child-bearing traits have an impact on many areas of our health, including our sleep. These tips can help you to battle the insomnia that we’re more prone to by reducing the anxiety that can cause it, regulating our body temperature and addressing common nutritional deficiencies. Now, go ahead and get the restful sleep you need.