There are a number of things that can affect sleep quality, including your health, weight, stress levels, and lifestyle. But for women, there’s one more factor to add to the list: hormones.
“Women are more likely to suffer from certain sleep disorders or have difficulty sleeping at some point in their lives because of hormonal changes, like fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone. Even everyday hormonal changes can impact your sleep. Not only do they affect your ability to sleep, but also your sleep quality,” explains Rochelle Goldberg, MD, director of sleep medicine services at the Paoli Hospital Center for Sleep Medicine.
Women in their 50s and 60s are familiar with the effect that menopause has on their sleep quality, but it’s not the only time hormones can make sleeping difficult. During and after pregnancy can also detract from your sleep quality, as well as your monthly periods. Below, Dr. Goldberg explains how your sleep suffers and what you can do about it.
“Women will see the most hormonal changes happen to them around the start of menopause, but you don’t have to wait until menopause begins to start noticing that your sleep is suffering,” says Dr. Goldberg.
Even without hot flashes, the hormonal instability can result in more disturbed sleep with more frequent waking or less restorative sleep.
Hot flashes are a most common culprit for waking women up at night. Sleep apnea and snoring may also increase around menopause. This again relates to hormone changes, and to the potential weight gain, which is another risk factor for sleep apnea.
Set the thermostat for a low temperature in your bedroom or open a window to decrease your risk of hot flashes. Avoiding spicy foods during the day and exercising regularly can also help. For more information on menopause, including difficulty sleeping, visit the Menopause & You program website.
Difficulty sleeping during pregnancy can usually be attributed to a number of other things, in addition to hormonal changes: a growing belly that limits your sleeping positions, the constant need to use the bathroom, tender breasts…the list goes on. While there’s bound to be some discomfort, it doesn’t have to become the norm.
Dr. Goldberg recommends drinking something warm before bed, like hot herbal tea, to soothe you and prepare your body for sleep. While exercise during pregnancy is good, try to avoid exercising more than two hours before bed. Like menopause, the extra weight during pregnancy can also cause women to feel overheated, so keeping the temperature low can also help.
Not every woman will suffer from disrupted sleep during her cycle, but it’s more common than some people might realize. Menstrual cramps, bloating, and body temperature can all affect a woman’s sleep cycle for a few days every month. While some women report increased sleep difficulties, others may experience excess sleepiness at these times.
Fortunately, these hormonal fluctuations are predictable for women, so you can make efforts to combat them when you know they’re coming. When appropriate, birth control can help put your hormones in a more steady state, but mind-body therapies like yoga and relaxation and breathing techniques may also be very helpful. These are also useful during the life changes listed above.
Many of these sleep problems are temporary and should only affect women for a limited amount of time. If you’re having trouble sleeping night after night, talk to your doctor. There could be other contributors to why you’re having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested. They can refer you to a sleep medicine specialist.