60% of UK women suffer Covid-19 related sleep problems

19 October 2020

Six in ten women have suffered issues with sleep during the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown in the UK, according to research from Spire Healthcare1, a leading private healthcare provider.

The number of women suffering from sleep problems is most prevalent amongst those aged 18-34, jumping to two thirds (64%). This is followed by women aged 35-54 at 60% and women over 55 at 56%.

The figures are significantly lower for men, affecting 30% of those aged between 18-34, 47% aged 35-54 and 43% aged 55+. See below table.

Age Percentage of women
with sleep problems
Percentage of men
with sleep problems
18 - 34 64% 30%
35 - 54 60% 47%
55+ 56% 43%
Total 60% 40%

Table 1: The percentage of respondents who ticked ‘yes, they have experienced sleep problems during the Coronavirus pandemic and/or lockdown’, broken down by gender and age.

Dr Ari Manuel is one of Spire Healthcare’s leading respiratory and sleep specialists, based in the North West of England. He believes these results directly correlate with the heightened impact of the economic fallout from the pandemic on women and younger people and the associated lifestyle changes to the way we work and live. Recent studies show:

  • Jobs in sectors heavily reliant on female employees are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic fallout than sectors mainly employing men2.
  • Women are taking on the majority of increased ‘invisible labour’ at home as the primary caregivers3.
  • One-third of 18-24-year-old employees (excluding students) have lost jobs or been furloughed, compared to one-in six adults aged 25-544. Those graduating from university this year have also faced reduced job opportunities.

Dr Ari Manuel, Respiratory, Sleep and Ventilation Consultant at Spire Healthcare, comments: "Sleep problems can manifest in a number of ways, whether it’s struggling to get to sleep, waking up in the night, general poor-quality sleep or fatigue. There are a vast range of causes for these problems, but a common cause I have found amongst female patients is anxiety. These findings reinforce the correlation between anxiety and sleep issues, which have no doubt become more severe at a time like this. 

"The pandemic has disproportionately impacted the industries where women and young people make up the majority of the workforce. The continued uncertainty with COVID-19 as we enter into the winter period is likely to exacerbate anxieties among female patients.”

Dr Manuel also points to a number of historical trends in sleep problems found in women, which have largely been unexplored by the medical community. He explains:

"The majority of my patients are women, and many of them young too. There are several unique drivers behind their sleep problems, some biological and others behavioural – but all relatively unexplored by the medical community, so they are often misunderstood. As a result, many women end up suffering with sleep problems for years without receiving the right treatment, if any.

"For instance, we have found that women have a lower threshold to staying asleep and tend to wake up more easily than men. Likewise, the menstrual cycle can directly impact quality of sleep throughout each month, as can becoming a mother and menopause. However, many women either try self-help, get the wrong help or simply accept it, which isn't right."

With the pandemic far from over, Dr Manuel is keen to raise awareness of the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and seeking help, with its link to wider physical and mental wellbeing. At Spire’s hospital in Wirral, where Dr Manuel carries out much of his private work, he offers a multi-channel sleep study to fully understand the issue and best course of action.

The study involves fitting a small device on a patient to wear overnight, assessing breathing patterns and movement while the patient sleeps. Following analysis of the sleep data, Dr Manuel is able to confirm a diagnosis and identify the right treatment, whether that be nutritional advice, visiting a psychologist or sleep apnoea specialist to name a few.

1 The poll was undertaken by research firm Opinium on behalf of Spire Healthcare on 6 October. The omnibus surveyed 2,000 UK adults.

2 https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects

3 The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS), along with University College London (UCL), published a report in May after interviewing 3,500 families. It showed that women were doing more housework and childcare during lockdown, both in homes where there are two working parents, and where both had been put on furlough or out of work: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14860

4 https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2020/05/Young-workers-in-the-coronavirus-crisis.pdf