Sex and health: Women’s sleep, hydration, and exercise needs
It’s obvious that male and female bodies have significant biological differences that result in different health needs, whether that’s regarding exercise, sleep, or how much water we drink. But did you know that, until as late as the 1980s, women were routinely excluded from medical research?
As a result, doctors were giving women advice that was only proven to apply to male bodies. Luckily, times have changed somewhat, and women’s health is slowly becoming better understood, in part through government policies to address the sex/gender health gap. Let’s look at some of the health needs that differ between the sexes:
Sleep is crucial for the overall health and wellbeing of all people, but studies show that women report sleep disruptions more frequently than men. While there’s no evidence that the sexes need different amounts of sleep, the female reproductive system can disrupt sleep patterns in a whole host of ways.
For example, menstruation often brings on cramps, bloating, and breast tenderness, which can all make it challenging to fall and stay asleep. During pregnancy, loss of sleep can occur due to back pain, nausea, and frequent trips to the bathroom. As menopause approaches, hot flashes and night sweats can also lead to lots of sleepless night.
All of this means that it's essential for women to prioritize healthy sleep, and be aware of how different phases of life can affect your sleep. Build good sleep habits such as keeping a consistent sleep schedule, making your bedroom more conducive to sleep, and avoiding screens, caffeine, and alcohol in the hours before bedtime!
Drinking enough water each day is also really important for our health, and here’s one place where women are slightly luckier than men. On average, women require less water than men due to lower muscle mass and higher body fat, on average.
Still, just like with sleep, the reproductive system can affect women’s hydration. Discomfort from bloating during periods can cause women to drink less water, worsening PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps. Pregnant and breastfeeding people also have greater water needs, though some folks may drink too little water in order to avoid frequent bathroom trips. Even mild dehydration can result in headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, so it's important to stay hydrated throughout the day, and even more so during periods and pregnancy.
Here’s something interesting: Did you know that women are more prone to both injury during exercise and age-related injuries? According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 80% of osteoporosis sufferers are women, while women are more likely than men to experience “runner’s knee” or ACL tears during exercise. These stats are due largely to sex differences in muscle mass and hormones, and that’s why choosing the right exercise is crucial for women. Low-impact cardio such as walking, and weight-bearing exercises like strength training can help maintain bone density and muscular support around the knee.
What’s more, regular exercise can help to regulate the effects of the menstrual cycle, which messes with both your mood and your energy levels. Exercise is also known to help with menstrual cramps and sleep! However, women do have to take special note when it comes to overdoing it on exercise. Too much can cause amenorrhea, which is the absence of menstruation. To some, no period might sound like heaven, but the menstrual cycle is one of the key indicators of health status in women, and any irregularities should be cause for concern.