Young Women Struggle to Shake Sleep Woes

Scientists have bad news for young women with sleep troubles: There's a good chance you'll still be tossing and turning in a decade.

An Australian study involving almost 10,000 women has revealed that 20-somethings with sleep problems had troublingly high rates of insomnia when questioned a decade later. This is despite many seeking medical help to solve their sleep troubles over the years.

"This analysis reveals an alarming level of risk of ongoing sleep issues in women who reported sleep difficulties 'often' in their early 20s," says Professor Dorothy Bruck, sleep psychologist at the Sleep Health Foundation and senior author of the paper published this month in the scientific journal Sleep Medicine.

"If we were lacking proof that insomnia is often a chronic and persistent health condition then we certainly have it now."

The study analyses data collected from women in 2000 when they were aged 22 to 27, and again in 2003, 2006 and 2009. The sample analysed for ongoing sleep problems did not include those with depression so as not to skew results.

Results show about 10 per cent of women reported 'often' having sleep difficulties when first questioned.

"But even more concerning was the evidence that those women who reported frequent sleep difficulties in 2000 had a 10-fold increased risk of continued sleep problems over the next nine-year period compared with women who had no sleep difficulties," Professor Bruck says.

Of the women who often had sleep problems in 2000, 45 per cent went on to suffer persistent sleep problems over the next nine years.

A further 21 per cent got better at some point and then experienced a relapse of symptoms, while about a third of the sample achieved remission after 2000 and had slept well since.

Although about a third of women with sleep troubles sought help, less than half were satisfied with the health care they received.

"This suggests that current health care isn't effective at breaking the pattern of chronic sleep difficulties that develop in some young women," Professor Bruck says.

"We need to look at where we're going wrong and step up to ensure these women get the help they need early so they can resume a lifetime of healthy sleep."

We know that in many cases insomnia can be helped by making changes that reduce unhelpful sleep-related behaviours and thoughts.

The research used data collected from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, which focused on a cohort of women born between 1973 and 1978. The work was led by Melinda Jackson and overseen by Professor Bruck, both of Victoria University, alongside colleagues from Esquant Statistical Consulting and University of Newcastle.

Read the full article "Chronic sleep difficulties in non-depressed young women: a longitudinal population-based investigation".

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