One report suggests that 67% of women lose sleep during their menstrual cycle each month. The female period, and particularly the time just before it, is associated with a sharp drop in the hormone progesterone, which is a known hypnogenic substance or soporific. Nighttime pain from menstrual cramps, as well as complaints such as migraine, tension headaches, rheumatism, arthritis, heartburn, etc (all of which affect women to a greater degree than men), can also lead to disrupted sleep.
As many as 78% of women report more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times. This may result from the changing hormone levels during pregnancy, but many common pregnancy-related complaints, such as anxiety, emotional extremes, nausea, physical discomfort, leg cramps, acid reflux, snoring, shortness of breath, extra bathroom trips during the night, etc, may also contribute to sleep disturbances. This combinartion of effects is sometimes referred to as pregnancy-related sleep disorder. Pregnant women are also at substantially increased risk of full-blown sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder. Once the baby is born, of course, most of these problems will be resolved, but then looking after a new baby brings its own sleep deprivation issues.
The hormone-related period of menopause in middle-aged women can lead to depression-like symptoms as well as sleep problems. The “hot flashes” that are typical of menopause can occur in the nighttime too, and may seriously disrupt sleep. Menopause has a marked effect on the incidence of sleep disorders in women, and post-menopausal women report about twice the rate of insomnia compared to pre-menstrual women, and about three times the rate of sleep apnea. However, sleep state misperception also appears to be more pronounced after menopause.