What are the possible complications of sleep dysfunction in women?

Updated: Jan 31, 2019
  • Author: Gila Hertz, PhD, ABSM; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Persistent insomnia may lead to daytime fatigue, decreased daytime function, memory and concentration problems, higher incidents of automobile accidents, and depression. Patients with persistent insomnia tend to have more psychological and medical problems including those of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and musculoskeletal systems.

Disturbed sleep and weight gain

Over the past decade, studies have focused on the association between reduced sleep and weight gain in healthy individuals. Evidence has grown to support a role for reduced sleep time as a risk factor for weight gain and obesity. A few mechanisms have been proposed to explain this risk. Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, which may lead to decreased physical activity. Shorter sleep time allows for additional time for food consumption. Sleep disturbance has been also associated with changes in the hormone leptin, an appetite-inhibiting hormone. Reduced sleep has been associated with a drop in the diurnal amplitude of leptin.

Data from the Helsinki Health Study, which surveyed more than 8000 men and women over 5 years showed that major weight gain was associated with reduced sleep time in middle-aged women. No such associations were found in men. [1]

As women are more likely to report insomnia, this may explain why women are more likely to be obese than men.


A dose dependent association between sleep problems (reported as often and always) and risk for fibromyalgia has been reported in women. [2] The association was stronger in middle age and older women.

Psychological issues

Healthy women who reported poor sleep also reported greater psychological distress, including depression and anger. These feelings were not associated with the same degree of sleep disruption in men. [3]

Heart disease and diabetes

Women who report poor sleep have found to have increased levels of interleukin 6 and C-creative protein, both biomarkers of increased risk for metabolic syndrome. [3]

Untreated or undertreated sleep apnea may lead to cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, and congestive cardiac failure. In addition, daytime fatigue has been associated with increased neuropsychological impairment. Patients with sleep apnea are at higher risk for traffic accidents and increased mortality rates related to cardiovascular complications. (See Prognosis, Presentation, Treatment, and Medication.)

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