April 18, 2016
Of Periods, Pregnancy & Menopause: Sleep during Different Stages of a Woman’s Life
Sleep disorders affect men and women differently. Whereas men apparently suffer more from sleep apnea, women are more likely to report spending their nights tossing and turning.
Researchers aren't sure why women seem to have more trouble sleeping than men, but they have noticed that women have the most difficulty when hormone levels change.
In other words, women are most likely to have problems sleeping soundly during pregnancy, early motherhood, menopause and, at certain times, during the menstrual cycle.
Whether or not fluctuations in hormone levels are directly linked to sleep is yet to be determined. Several studies are underway.
Your Period & Sleep
Researchers know that the hormone progesterone causes sleepiness. They also know that a woman's progesterone level rises during midmonth ovulation and then drops dramatically at the onset of a menstrual period. That drop also is the time when many women report having sleep problems.
To improve sleep during your period:
- Take a warm bath a couple of hours before bedtime. The warmth should help you relax.
- Schedule more time for sleep. Either go to bed earlier or take a nap in the afternoon.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day. Drink your last cup of coffee by 4 p.m.
- For a relaxing evening drink, try a glass of milk.
- Don't do anything energizing close to bedtime. Exercising, paying the bills or anything that causes you to be alert may keep you awake.
- Avoid sleeping pills. Changing your behavior works better and is less dangerous in the long run.
Pregnancy & Sleep
As any woman who has ever been pregnant can confirm, the body goes through intense changes during pregnancy. It's probably not surprising that your quality of sleep suffers too.
In the first trimester, a woman’s body is adjusting to abnormally high hormone levels. Women often will feel sleepier than usual, but they also may wake more frequently.
Nearly all women experience disturbed sleep by the third trimester. This often is related to the physical discomfort of carrying a baby.
Sleep disorders also can emerge with pregnancy, like restless legs syndrome, snoring and insomnia.
Most women have difficulty with sleep during the postpartum period, but begin sleeping better after baby’s first year.
To improve sleep during and after pregnancy:
- Make an effort to get more sleep. Take naps and go to bed earlier. Your body needs more sleep during this time. If you work and can't nap, put your feet up and rest.
- Sleep on your left side. Many women find sleeping on their left side – and often putting a pillow under their legs – relieves physical discomfort. It's also best for the baby. Don't sleep on your back, as this could compress the uterus and make it hard for the baby to get oxygen.
- Take naps when the baby takes naps. You’re going to need the shut-eye to cope with the around-the-clock feedings that your new baby will demand.
Menopause & Sleep
Once women reach menopause, most report difficulties sleeping.
Much of the reason for this may be physiological. Women often experience hot flashes, a sensation of heat spreading from the chest to the neck and face. But while a hot flash might awaken a sleeper, life changes and the worries that come with older age also may be a source of wakefulness.
To improve sleep during menopause:
- Practice slow, deep, meditative breathing. Rhythmic belly breathing can reduce hot flashes and help promote sleep.
- Keep the bedroom temperature cooler than the rest of the house to lessen the effect of late-night hot flashes. A dual-control electric blanket helps, too.
- Avoid alcohol before going to bed. Many people mistakenly believe that alcohol will cause better sleep. In fact, it disrupts the body's ability to reach deep sleep and causes you to wake up only a few hours after falling asleep.