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Sleep problems

Almost half the adults in Australia say they have sleep-related problems. Common problems include finding it hard to fall asleep, waking many times in the night, snoring and waking up feeling unrefreshed. If you often feel sleepy, tired or irritable during the day you may also have a sleep problem.

Learn more about what can cause sleep problems, how poor sleep can affect your health and when to see your doctor.

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What can cause sleep problems?

Common causes of sleep disturbance include stress, anxiety, depression, illness, pain, shift work and snoring. Some sleep problems improve over time but serious sleep problems (sleep disorders) need treatment.

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a common sleep disorder where your breathing stops and starts many times while you’re asleep. Most of the time, you won’t know this is happening.

The risk of sleep apnoea increases with age. While it’s more common in men, it is underdiagnosed in women. This may be because some women believe poor sleep is a hormonal problem related to their periods, pregnancy or menopause.

Once a woman reaches menopausal age, the risk of sleep apnoea is similar to that of men.

The most common symptom of sleep apnoea is feeling very sleepy in the waking hours (e.g. nodding off unintentionally).

Women with sleep apnoea experience different symptoms to men. Men usually snore or stop breathing at night, whereas women may have insomnia, nightmares, fatigue, low energy, morning headaches and mood changes related to sleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea can have a serious impact on your health. It’s associated with:

  • heart disease
  • obesity
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
  • problems with attention, learning and memory
  • depression.

Treatments for sleep apnoea include losing weight, mouth splints and a mask known as a CPAP (worn during sleep to ensure you don’t stop breathing).

If you have symptoms of sleep apnoea, talk to your doctor about treatment options.


Insomnia is when you find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep. You may also regularly wake too early.

Insomnia is more common in older people and women.

Insomnia can be caused by different things. For example, stress, anxiety, chronic pain, illness, other sleep problems and some medicines. Treatment for insomnia will depend on its cause.

Learn more about insomnia. Visit the Sleep Health Foundation website.


Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. But if you worry a lot about things like health, work, money or family problems, you may find it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Poor sleep can also make anxiety worse.

You can break this vicious cycle by trying not to worry about sleep, and developing good sleep habits.

The most helpful and healthy sleep habits are simple, but not always easy. For example, try to have:

  • consistent sleep and wake times
  • morning light in your eyes once you’re awake
  • a consistent daytime routine
  • regular exercise during the day
  • enough time and space in your life for sleep.

If you have a bad night’s sleep, try to let it go and avoid thinking that the day ahead will be worse. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, your body knows what to do and you’re likely to have a good sleep soon.
If anxiety or stress is keeping you up at night, talk to your doctor.

Learn more about anxiety.


It’s common for your sleep patterns to change during perimenopause and after menopause. About 25% of women aged 50 to 64 years have sleep problems. Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

This can be a challenging time, especially if you have dependent children, elderly parents and work to juggle. This increased stress is associated with increased sleep problems.

Women who have a sudden onset of menopause symptoms (e.g. due to premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), surgery or chemotherapy) are more likely to have severe symptoms that impact their sleep.

Learn more about menopause.

Persistent pelvic pain

There is a strong link between persistent pelvic pain (PPP) and sleep problems. PPP can affect the quality and length of your sleep, and poor sleep can increase your sensitivity to pain. This can be a vicious cycle.

People with PPP may also have anxiety, which can cause sleep problems.

When you manage sleep problems, it can improve your mood, pain and quality of life.

Learn more about persistent pelvic pain.

Read this Jean Hailes fact sheet about persistent pelvic pain and sleep.

Different types of sleep problems

There are many different types of sleep problems, but they don’t always need treatment – they just happen from time to time. For example, parasomnia (nightmares, sleepwalking, teeth grinding).

Visit the Sleep Health Foundation website for information on a range of sleep topics.

How poor sleep can affect your health

Research suggests that people who don’t get enough sleep have poorer physical and mental health. Evidence shows that sleep problems can increase the risk of developing conditions such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • stroke
  • poor mental health.

Sleep problems are also linked to risk factors for long-term health conditions. The risk factors include obesity, smoking, low physical activity, poor diet and increased alcohol use.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you’ve had sleep problems for more than a couple of months and it’s affecting your work and relationships.

Note that sleeping tablets may help for a short time but they aren’t a recommended long-term solution to sleep problems. Sleeping tablets can cause side effects and become less effective over time. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks before deciding.

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Sleep problems as a risk factor for chronic conditions. Cat. no. PHE 296. Canberra: AIHW.
Geer JH, Hilbert J. Gender Issues in Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Yale J Biol Med. 2021;94(3):487-496. Published 2021 Sep 30.
Lee J, Han Y, Cho HH, Kim MR. Sleep Disorders and Menopause [published correction appears in J Menopausal Med. 2019 Dec;25(3):172]. J Menopausal Med. 2019;25(2):83-87. doi:10.6118/jmm.19192
Polo-Kantola P. Sleep problems in midlife and beyond. Maturitas. 2011;68(3):224-232. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.12.009
Last updated: 
17 January 2024
Last reviewed: 
27 November 2023

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