Conference Coverage

Lack of time is damaging women’s health


Lack of time for self-care and rest are particularly harmful to women’s health. Various speakers at the VII National Conference of the Onda Foundation, Italy’s National Observatory for Women and Gender’s Health, focused on this topic. The conference was dedicated to the social factors that determine health within the context of gender medicine.

In our society, housework and raising a family are responsibilities placed predominantly on the shoulders of women. These responsibilities contribute significantly to women’s daily workload. The most overburdened women are working mothers (according to ISTAT, Italy’s Office for National Statistics, 2019), who are forced to combine their professional responsibilities with family life, dedicating 8 hours and 20 minutes per day to paid and unpaid work overall, compared with the 7 hours and 29 minutes spent by working fathers. Working mothers between ages 25 and 44 years have on average 2 hours and 35 minutes of free time per day.

Stress and sleep deprivation

“Under these conditions, the risk of chronic stress is raised, and stress leads to depression. The rate of depression in the female population is double that of the male population,” said Claudio Mencacci, MD, chair of the Italian Society of Neuropsychopharmacology and the Onda Foundation. “What’s more, stress increases the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases.”

The one thing that is especially damaging to physical and mental health is sleep deprivation, and working mothers get less sleep than do working fathers. “This is partially due to biological factors: hormonal changes that take place toward the end of adolescence in women during the premenstrual period are responsible for an increased rate of sleep disturbance and insomnia,” said Dr. Mencacci. “During pregnancy and the postpartum period, female sex hormones make sleep lighter, reducing time spent in the REM sleep stage. Then there’s the social aspect that plays a decisive role: by and large, it’s mothers who take care of the youngest children at night.”

According to a 2019 German study, during the first 6 years of life of the first child, a mother loses on average 44 minutes sleep per night, compared with the average time spent sleeping before pregnancy; a father loses 14 minutes.

“Another aspect to bear in mind is that, for cultural reasons, women tend to overlook the issue and not seek help, deeming sleep deprivation normal,” said Dr. Mencacci.

Caregivers at greatest risk

The negative effects of stress are evident in people continuously caring for a dependent older or disabled family member, so-called caregivers. This is, “A group predominantly made up of women aged between 45 and 55 years,” said Marina Petrini, PhD, of the Italian Health Institute’s Gender Medicine Center of Excellence. Dr. Petrini coordinated a study on stress and health in family caregivers.

“The results obtained reveal a high level of stress, especially among female caregivers, who are more exposed to the risk of severe symptoms of depression, physical disorders, especially those affecting the nervous and immune systems, and who tend to adopt irregular eating patterns and sedentary habits,” said Dr. Petrini.


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