More than 1 in 5 Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, a condition that has significant health and financial impact.
During a recent conference on the topic, Michael J. Twery, Ph.D., Director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH), explained that shift work, long work hours, and untreated and chronic sleep disorders are major contributors to America’s sleep deficiency.
Unknown to many is the fact that sleep disorders are more widely reported in women than men with women 1.4 times more likely to experience insomnia than men.
Sleep disorders “affect all racial groups and genders,” said Twery. They “increase the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, mortality, hypertension, and obesity.” Sleep controls our memory filters, affects our dreams, inspirations, and emotional responses, so not getting enough can be very detrimental to our health.
Helene A. Emsellem, M.D., said pregnancy can influence sleep patterns because of different hormonal levels in different trimesters. As a result, pregnancy can either increase or decrease sleepiness, and raises the risk of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) in the third trimester. However, Emsellem noted “35-40 percent of menopausal women report sleep problems as well.”
Emsellem explains that a lack of sleep causes cognitive impairment, difficulty focusing, impaired memory, delayed visual reaction time, and impaired motor function.
Men and women should set aside the requisite 7-9 hours for sleep to maintain high cognitive function and motor abilities. Emsellem suggests exercise, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and other healthy lifestyle habits to help fall and stay asleep.
Ronald Farkas, M.D., Ph.D., clinical team leader, Division of Neurology Products at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that the drug manufacturers must provide information on sleep drugs and dosing requirements that account for gender differences.
Farkas said, “To support FDA approval of drugs for sleep disorders (and most disorders), data is required about potential gender differences in safety and efficacy.”
For example, Zolpidem (brand name Ambien) – the most popular type of sleep drug – has a known gender difference.
It’s “known that women clear zolpidem from the body more slowly than men,” said Farkas. Because of this difference, women are prescribed a lower dose than men (1.75 mg for women vs. 3.5 mg for men).