Some sleep problems are unique to women.
Menstrual cycles, pregnancy and motherhood commonly disturb sleep in young women, while the physical and hormonal changes of aging become common as you grow older. Women of all ages often experience emotions and stress that can affect sleep. If a sleep problem persists, talk to your doctor. She may refer you to a sleep specialist for evaluation.
Women & Sleep
The Menstrual Cycle
Distinct changes in sleep patterns accompany the changing phases of your menstrual cycle. During the premenstrual period you’re likely to experience more awakenings and sleep disturbances throughout the night. Dreams are more frequent and more vivid, and some women report excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and longer sleeping hours. These sleep problems generally disappear a few days after menstruation begins.
If you experience menstrual-related sleep disorders, pay careful attention to your sleep needs, maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule, eat a healthy diet, and try to reduce your stress. If sleep problems are interfering with your daily life, talk to your doctor.
Sleep During Pregnancy
Early in pregnancy, it’s common to feel fatigued during the day and sleep longer at night. This is likely due to increasing levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy.
Later in pregnancy, particularly during the last trimester, women often have poor sleep quality. Studies have confirmed that pregnant women experience less deep sleep, and wake more often during the night. Leg cramps, backache, heartburn, movements of the fetus, general discomforts of pregnancy, and an increased need to urinate can all disrupt your sleep.
Throughout your pregnancy, it’s important that you get enough sleep, maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule, and avoid as much stress as you can. If you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid sleeping pills and alcohol and use other measures to help you rest. For example, muscle relaxation techniques may help you sleep better, and may reduce the general discomforts of pregnancy. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding heavy meals and spicy foods within 2 or 3 hours of your bedtime will help avoid heartburn.
Getting as much rest as possible after your baby is born is also very important. Severely disturbed sleep has been tied to postpartum depression and child abuse.
In the years surrounding menopause, women experience more frequent sleep disturbances. Hot flashes and night sweats due to decreased levels of estrogen may cause you to wake repeatedly throughout the night.
Although hot flashes usually last only a few minutes, in severe cases you may wake up hundreds of times a night. The sleep disturbance and resulting sleep deprivation may cause you to feel tired during the day, irritable and depressed. To help ease these sleep disturbances:
- Control the temperature in your bedroom and use lightweight, comfortable (preferably cotton) bed linen.
- Eliminate caffeine, sugar and alcohol from your diet. Eat more foods high in vitamin E, or take a vitamin E supplement.
- Consider estrogen replacement therapy. It can help relieve severe hot flashes.
In the years following menopause, your sleep becomes lighter. It becomes harder to stay asleep for long periods at night, and to stay awake for long periods during the day. Some sleep disorders become more common during this period of your life, including sleep apnea. Falling progesterone levels, higher body weight and less physical therapy can contribute to this condition. To get a better night’s rest:
- Keep your bedroom comfortable, safe quiet and at a comfortable temperature.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Don’t stay in bed late in the morning to make up for a restless night.
- Get up early in the morning and keep a daily routine.
- Consider taking an afternoon nap at a regular time.
- Stay away from fatty, spicy foods that are likely to cause indigestion or heartburn.
- Talk to your doctor if these steps don’t relieve your excessive daytime sleepiness.
Nocturnal Eating Syndrome
Some women wake up in the middle of the night and feel they can’t to go back to sleep until they eat. This is often due to dieting during the day, though sometimes there is an underlying medical cause, such as an ulcer.