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Sleeping uneasy: insomnia more likely to affect women

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), April 2014 – March 2015 (n=15,289).

If the world’s health experts are to be believed, getting seven-to-eight hours’ sleep a night is as vital to our well-being as exercise and eating a balanced diet. Sounds easy enough in theory, but for the 2.1 million Australian adults who suffer from insomnia, a good night’s sleep is the stuff of dreams.

According to the latest findings from Roy Morgan Research, 12% of the population report suffering from insomnia over the last 12 months. The condition is far more common among women (16%) than men (8%), and is more likely to affect people aged 35 and older.

Even so, young women aged 18-24 and 25-34 are more than twice as likely than their male peers to experience insomnia. As incidence rises among the 35-49 age bracket, the gap narrows slightly (11% of men vs 17% of women), but then widens once more past the age of 50.

Insomnia rates among Australian men and women


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), April 2014 – March 2015 (n=15,289).

Insomnia and mental health

Modern medicine tells us that people who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible than average to a range of health issues, both physical and mental/emotional. Our data bears this out: not only are insomniacs more likely than the average Australian to have a BMI (Body Mass Index) classified as obese (33% vs 26%), but they are dramatically more prone to anxiety, depression and stress.

Whereas 16% of Aussie adults experience anxiety in any given 12-month period, this rises to 39% of insomnia sufferers — who also register elevated rates of depression (35% vs the 14% national average), and stress (54% vs 25%).

Mental health and obesity incidence among male and female insomnia sufferers


Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), April 2014 – March 2015 (n=1,471). Base: Australians 18+ who experienced insomnia in last 12 months

Again, there is a marked disparity between women and men. Female insomnia sufferers report a far higher rate of these three mental health conditions, with 42% being affected by anxiety (compared with 31% of men), 36% experiencing depression (vs 32%) and 57% feeling stressed (vs 48%).

Angela Smith, Group Account Director, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“The gender imbalance among Australian insomnia sufferers is startling: two-thirds are women! There are several reasons behind this female skew, including the nocturnal demands of new motherhood, hormonal cycles, and an increased tendency towards anxiety, stress and depression than men (particularly among young women).

“It makes sense, then, that women who experience insomnia are more likely to be affected by these three mental-health conditions than male sufferers, although the incidence of these conditions is well above average for both genders. (And why wouldn’t it be? There’s a reason that sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture, after all.)

“But there is also a chicken-or-egg dimension to this scenario, in that insomnia could conceivably be the cause OR consequence of anxiety, depression and/or stress. For example, our data reveals a higher incidence of insomnia among people who are separated or divorced. The breakdown of a marriage is usually a stressful or depressing experience, so in this case, the insomnia would almost certainly be a consequence.

“Insomnia can be a serious and complex medical condition, and healthcare professionals treating people with the disorder need to fully understand the diverse factors that may be at play in each case. Roy Morgan Research’s health data provides an insight into many variables that may contribute to insomnia – behaviourial, demographic, medical and even attitudinal.”

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