Selected Podcast

Women and Sleep

Kathleen Gallagher, the Sleep Center manager at Riverside Healthcare, leads a discussion on women and their sleep habits and patterns.
Women and Sleep
Kathleen Gallagher, RPSGT
Kathleen Gallagher, RPSGT is the Sleep Center Manager.

Gabby Cinnamon: Welcome back to the Well Within Reach podcast brought to you by Riverside Healthcare. I'm your host, Gabby Cinnamon. And today, I'm joined by Kathleen Gallagher, Manager of Pulmonology in the Riverside Sleep Center to talk about women and sleep. Thank you so much for joining us today, Kathleen.

Kathleen Gallagher: Thanks for having me back again. Always happy to talk about sleep.

Gabby Cinnamon: Yes. I think you're one of our most frequent podcasts guests, so we're very excited to have you back. For those of us who haven't listened to a previous podcast with you, can just tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as the manager of the sleep center?

Kathleen Gallagher: Sure. I've been working in the field of sleep medicine for about 14 years now. I'm happy to see how much sleep has really become so important and so talked about over the years. I feel that in my role as the manager, not only to manage the departments, but really to educate people about why sleep is so important because I think a lot of people take it for granted. We know we need it, but, you know, skipping on it is okay, and it's really not okay.

Gabby Cinnamon: Right. Well, it sounds like you have a lot of experience. And obviously, the topics we've talked about before too, you have a lot of experience in the field of sleep and sleep is very important. And like, as you said, that we might be having other issues in our life and not realize they're all related to sleep. So you brought up the topic of wanting to talk about women and sleep, which is our topic for today. Can you kind of talk about why that's so important and like how you came across this topic of wanting to talk about it?

Kathleen Gallagher: I think for women and sleep, like you said, it's a very important topic because there's a lot of gaps in research when it comes to women and sleep issues, namely because it's usually a man's problem before women, you know, bring it up as being their problem. And interestingly, you know, women will accompany men to their doctor's appointments and like to tell on them for everything they're doing wrong. And women only go to the doctor by themselves. And they certainly don't want to admit to anything that's going wrong with them. Number one, the first one, really being snoring is a big issue with women and sleep. And plus they report their symptoms a little bit differently. They'll say they're tired because they have insomnia or maybe they're feeling depressed, maybe they've got restless legs, whereas the men will report having snoring and gasping episodes.

So I feel that for women, especially the underreporting of their symptoms is what really makes the issues with women and sleep more prevalent.

Gabby Cinnamon: Yeah. So we'll talk too a little bit later about how the different symptoms present differently in women versus men. You mentioned some sleep issues that women tend to face, insomnia, restless legs, sleep apnea. Are there issues that women have with sleep more frequently than men or is it just the underreporting that kind of has to do with this?

Kathleen Gallagher: I think women because of the hormones that we have surging through our body at all different times of our lives really are what causes a lot of sleep problems. So when you're younger, when women are still having their periods, we've got hormones that will mess up your sleep cycle then. And of course, as we get older and experience menopause, there is again the decrease of these hormones that women need, which also cause problems. So definitely, throughout our cycle, if you were to look at sleep an entire month for a woman, there's really not a whole lot of great sleep in that timeframe due to the surges of different hormones at different times.

Gabby Cinnamon: Oh, wow. That's really interesting and not something that you think about ever, you know, That it's all related. You know, everything that's going on in your body is all somehow connected. And it's interesting that it's connected to your sleep too.

Kathleen Gallagher: Absolutely.

Gabby Cinnamon: Earlier, you mentioned that women don't really report their snoring or they have restless legs and they might think, "Oh, it's nothing," you know. Why do you think these symptoms of sleep apnea or other sleep issues, why do you think women don't report these things?

Kathleen Gallagher: Well, certainly snoring. There's a stigma associated with snoring, like that's not lady-like. And certainly I see enough people coming to the sleep center who they kind of turn their head and, "Yeah, I snore." Well, yeah. Guess what? A lot of people snore and it's okay to admit it. But snoring actually is one symptom. But snoring can actually lead to other things or it can be a symptom of something called sleep apnea, which is where people stop breathing when they're sleeping at night. So that's why it's really important to pay attention to the snoring. Some people snore a little. Some people snore a lot. I think people, even if they were somebody who was loud in snoring, either their perception is they don't or they underrate as to "No, I just snore kind of softly," but really at home they're blowing the roof off the house. And it's really important to know that could actually be a part of a bigger problem, especially if there's other symptoms like you're feeling tired or you have a dry mouth or you get up to go to the bathroom frequently. Absolutely, those are things that women need to talk about.

Gabby Cinnamon: So one of the topics when you had sent over like involved information about this was pregnancy and sleep, which is something I wanted to talk about today. So when women are pregnant, their sleep can obviously be affected depending on the stage of the pregnancy. Can you talk a little bit about that and some of the negative symptoms that women might experience who are pregnant with their sleep?

Kathleen Gallagher: Absolutely. So if you imagine the first trimester, when a woman's pregnant, of course, she's tired all the time. Frequent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night. There's so much extra blood flow flowing through the body and sleep is not the greatest. But once you get past that first trimester, when you should actually be sleeping better, women should really pay attention to other symptoms like snoring, for example, like I talked about, it's already considered a flow limitation. And like I spoke to earlier flow limitations, especially if it's related to sleep apnea, if mom's having this issue, guess what? So is the baby. So if you're somebody who's young and who's snoring and snoring isn't just certain age group that has it happen. We know young kids can snore, so it can affect anybody throughout their life, sleep apnea as well.

So if you're pregnant and you've got some issues with snoring, potentially somebody who has been heard gasping or snorting through the night, that might be something you need to talk to your physician about because once you get into the later trimester. You know, it can also lead to problems like gestational diabetes and hypertension and preeclampsia. So the idea would be to actually fix those problems early enough so that we don't have those problems later on during the pregnancy.

Gabby Cinnamon: Wow. So, yeah, it's kind of leading into the next question, when do you talk to your doctor about this? Maybe a partner mentions, "Hey, you know, you're snoring really loud" or they start to notice it. When should you bring that up with your provider?

Kathleen Gallagher: You really should bring it up to your provider as soon as you hear about it, because then maybe there's something that can be done early enough. As you know, you're only pregnant for a certain timeframe, so the idea would be to get something done certainly In the timeframe you're pregnant or, you know, before you have that baby. And that's why there's gaps in the research because there is research to prove it, but to actually get cohorts of women together who are pregnant all at the same time is not the easiest thing to do.

Gabby Cinnamon: I would imagine not.

Kathleen Gallagher: Right. So definitely, I would say that for any woman, for any stage, whether it's snoring, apnea, tiredness, there are things you need to report. And I know the people always say to me, "Well, I don't want to wear that machine." Well, guess what? Maybe that machine is what you need to help. And I say that should be the stigma we need to get rid of.

You think about those futuristic movies, where people put themselves in those bubbles and they go to sleep. Could you imagine if everybody got to plug into their CPAP at night, because you know what? You'll look younger. You stay healthier. It helps your heart rate. It'd help your heart from being damaged, your blood pressure, any diabetes from coming on board. So there's really some great benefits to it. And maybe guess what? CPAP isn't for everybody and there are other options out there too.

Gabby Cinnamon: Yeah. So obviously, if you think that you have sleep apnea or another more serious sleep issue, you need to talk to your doctor. Can you talk about some of the other sleep issues that pregnant women might face, you know, might not require you to go to the doctor, but something that maybe you could do something about on your own?

Kathleen Gallagher: So insomnia is a big one too. A lot of people, whether you're pregnant or not experienced that. It's a number one sleep disorder. So especially when you're pregnant, you have worries about the baby or about being pregnant, whatever, finances, you name it. But insomnia, like I said, is a number one. I know I've talked about in the past, maybe finding a guided meditation for sleep. My latest is when you close your eyes, pretend you're someplace else/ transport yourself someplace else. Where would you want to be? Some people say, "Gosh. I'd love to be in Hawaii or the Caribbean or something." And you know, for me, I imagine I'm on this beautiful big wrap around front porch of a house, and I can hear the ocean in the background. And just when you close your eyes, create that space you want to go to, and whether you're playing those nice ocean sounds in the background or maybe some people like to hear the rain or the thunder. Whatever it is for you, maybe create a space you can just transport yourself someplace else and see if it doesn't help take your mind off of whatever.

Of course, there's focus on your breathing, Take some nice deep, slow breaths in, count to eight, release to another count of eight and just focus on that breathing. Some people like to say their prayers before they go to bed.

Insomnia is a tough one. So if it's chronic, if it lasts for a really long period of time, that might be something you want to talk to your doctor about. Some people have it come on acutely, but it is actually normal to have it happen during your week any of us.

Gabby Cinnamon: Yeah. Yeah. That's good to know. And I feel like those tips can apply at any phase of life. Obviously, as you mentioned, we go through different things at different times of our lives. Stress, obviously, can lead to lack of sleep. And when you're stressed, you probably need more sleep to kind of take on whatever you need during the day. So tips like that definitely will help.

Kathleen Gallagher: Certainly, you know, melatonin is a hormone in our body that builds up during the day to help us get to sleep at night. But when we're stressed out, believe it or not, that melatonin production is kind of impeded a little bit. So it really does take a toll on us when we're trying to go to sleep at night. So I know that there are over-the-counter aids and that's fine if that's what you need to try. But just remember, they're there to help you initiate sleep. They're not necessarily there to help you stay asleep.

Gabby Cinnamon: Yeah. That's definitely good to know. If you think there might be a larger issue, definitely talk to your doctor about that and not just put a band-aid on it. So that's definitely good to know.

Kathleen Gallagher: Absolutely. And women out there, don't be afraid to report what your symptoms are, especially if it's going to cause other problems, especially women who report memory issues because not getting enough sleep will definitely have an impact on your memory over time, but have a conversation with your doctor. They're all aware of what sleep is, but if you just tell them you're doing fine, they're probably going to pass on and not push further.

Gabby Cinnamon: Yeah, that's a really good tip. Is there anything else that you would want to tell women about getting better sleep and how to get the best sleep at any stage of life really?

Kathleen Gallagher: Well, just do the best that you can. Honestly, it's not the easiest. Everybody's got stuff going on. Try to definitely get as much sleep as you're supposed to, which is really your seven to seven and a half. I'd really like to see people get as much as they can. Don't think that you could just skimp on it and get four or five. Over time, that's not going to be, you know, a great option to have because your brain has functions it needs to do when you're sleeping, mainly saving our memories and healing and cleaning all toxins out of her brain. So definitely set yourself up for success when it's time for bed.

Gabby Cinnamon: Thank you so much for sharing all this information with us today, Kathleen. This is a very interesting topic and something that isn't really talked about, and it was a very interesting podcast. So thank you so much.

Kathleen Gallagher: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Gabby Cinnamon: And thank you, listeners, for tuning in to the Well Within Reach podcast, brought to you by Riverside Healthcare. For more information, visit