Fewer sleepless nights

Treating women's health problems differently leads to new insights into illnesses.


Sarah Elizabeth Richards
April 19, 2006 4:05AM (UTC)

If you're a woman, you're more likely to suffer from sleep problems and more likely to die from heart disease than men are. That's according to the cover of the most recent Newsweek and today's New York Times. But there is some good news; researchers hope that focusing on how the disorders show up in women will help them find better solutions.

For example, before the early 1990s, a middle-aged man was a familiar face in sleep labs. But Newsweek reports that more attention to women's sleep problems is leading to a growing recognition that "what might seem like simple new-mom fatigue or menopausal angst could actually be a physical or psychological problem that can be relieved with changes in sleep routines, medication or [a breathing machine]. In fact, experts say women are more likely than men to experience insomnia and sleep problems at every age. "You can blame some of those yawns on the complexity of modern women's lives. They're workers, wives, mothers and caregivers to elderly parents -- all of which add up to stress and anxiety that don't stop when the lights go out. Long-term sleeplessness takes a toll," Barbara Kantrowitz writes. The costs include depression, heart disease and obesity.

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Here's a sample windfall of their research: Women are most susceptible to insomnia during hormonal shifts, such as during their periods, pregnancies or menopause. Reducing caffeine intake or taking painkillers can help.

As for heart disease, researchers have wondered why men benefited more from recent studies. (After age 60, men are more likely to develop the disease, but women who get it suffer more.)

"Puzzling differences have emerged between men and women with heart disease, making it plain that past studies, mostly done on men, do not always apply to women," writes Denise Grady. "Researchers have come to realize that to improve diagnosis and treatment for women, they must sort out the differences."

What a fantastic trend!


Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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