Sleeping well every night is not the norm for women, according to the survey results. "If you take 100 women, most will have sleep problems," says Meir Kryger, MD, this year's task force chair for the poll. Overall, 29% of the women surveyed say they use some type of sleeping aid at least a few nights a week.
In the new survey, called the National Sleep Foundation's 2007 Sleep in America poll, researchers interviewed 1,003 randomly selected women by telephone for about 20 minutes in September and October of 2006. The women were from all parts of the country and ranged in age from 18 to 64.
The focus for the poll was to find out how women's sleep problems may change in type and frequency as they move through the different biological stages of their lives -- young adulthood, pregnancy, young motherhood, middle years, menopause, and after -- says Kryger, director of research and education at the Gaylord Sleep Center at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn.
New Moms Losing Sleep
Among the findings were that women who just had a baby were among the hardest-hit with sleep problems. "Forty-two percent of postpartum women rarely or never get a good night's sleep," says Kryger. And 30% of pregnant women said they rarely or never got a good night's sleep, compared with about 15% of the women interviewed overall.
Those groups weren't the only ones with problems, Kryger tells WebMD. "Among the worst sleepers we found were women working full-time who also had children. Women who worked part-time slept better. And when you think about it, it makes sense."
Insomnia was a common complaint among respondents, whatever their work schedules, with 74% of stay-at-home moms, 72% of working moms, and 68% of single working women saying it affected their sleep.
Women also commonly reported that they didn't wake up feeling refreshed or that they woke up too early and couldn't go back to sleep.
As women age, they tend to have more sleep problems, the survey shows. While 33% of women aged 18 to 24 had a sleep problem a few nights a week, 48% of those 55 to 64 did.
Overall, women reported being in bed (though not necessarily sleeping the entire time) eight hours and 24 minutes on nonworkdays and seven hours and 28 minutes on workdays.
Despite the sleep problems, 80% of women said if they get sleepy during the day they accept it and forge on. Many said they rely on coffee or other caffeinated beverages to stay alert.
One bright spot, at least for women with partners: Those who said they sleep with their significant other -- and not pets or kids -- were less likely than those who slept with a pet or a child to have insomnia.
Interpretations of the Survey
Lifestyle and other factors definitely have an impact on sleep, not surprisingly, says Kryger. Family and work demands weren't the only factors affecting sleep quality.
Advice for the Sleep-Deprived
While some people are naturally better sleepers than others, Kryger says anyone can improve. First step: "Make sleep a priority."
Good sleepers obey "sleep hygiene" rules, he says. They include keeping a regular sleep schedule of going to bed and waking about the same time daily.
Other recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation: Have a relaxing bedtime routine, finish exercising at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bed.
Though older women surveyed had more sleep problems than younger ones, advancing age doesn't have to mean an increase in sleep problems, Kryger says. "People used to believe older people are lousy sleepers." But older people in relatively good health can be good sleepers, he says, especially if they practice good sleep hygiene.
Women must also stop thinking of a constant lack of sleep as a badge of honor, says Joyce Walsleben, PhD, RN, a sleep medicine specialist at New York University Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine. She was not involved in the poll but is familiar with its findings.
"Women have to understand sleep is vital," she says. "I don't think we've gotten that message out there."
Not only can women perform better at jobs and family duties when they're well rested, Walsleben says, but they may be more likely to maintain a healthy weight. "Lack of sleep is the source of a lot of obesity," says Walsleben, citing several recent research studies that link lack of sleep to weight gain over the years.