Women, Hormones, and Sleep Problems
How to Deal With Sleep Problems During Menopause
What can you do? First, talk to your doctor to try to pinpoint the source of your sleep problems. Lack of sleep and night wakings can be caused by many factors, and hormones are only one of them. If you can’t get to sleep at all, says Ricki Pollycove, MD, FACOG, former chief of the Division of Gynecology at the California Pacific Medical Center and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bioidentical Hormones, your sleep problem may not be due to menopause.
One option is to try hormonal support. “This type of sleep disorder is often very well treated with a low dose of estrogen,” says Pollycove. In fact, a large study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in May 2010, found that menopausal women with sleep problems due to hot flashes got significant relief from estrogen therapy.
Pollycove also recommends mind-body techniques, such as guided imagery, breathing control, and yoga. “These are very effective, with no side effects, and are good for your brain,” she says.
Also, you can take steps to reduce the effect of hot flashes. “Studies have found that by having room temperatures lower, and by wearing layers to bed that you can take off or put on, women are less disturbed by hot flashes and have more restful sleep patterns,” says Wong.
Pregnant Pauses in Sleep
Women often joke that the sleep problems they have during pregnancy are just preparing them for motherhood, when they’ll be waking up countless times in the night. But sleepless nights during pregnancy, and in the postpartum period, can be very serious. Getting too little sleep can be bad for both mother and baby, leaving you irritable and vulnerable to illness.
It’s hard to tease out exactly how much of pregnancy-related sleep problems are directly due to hormonal changes. Many other things can keep you from a good night’s rest: the constant need to urinate, tender breasts, and a growing belly.
“But one thing we do know,” says Pollycove, “is that women with a lot of sleep disturbances during pregnancy are more vulnerable to postpartum depression.”
Here are some tips for a good night’s sleep during pregnancy:
- Don’t exercise within an hour or two before going to bed.
- Drink something soothing in the evening, like warm milk or a calming tea.
- Keep the bedroom temperature comfortable, perhaps a bit lower than usual (like menopausal women, pregnant women often feel overheated).
- If you’re congested, which often happens in pregnancy because women produce more mucus, try clearing your nose with a neti pot or nasal rinse to make yourself more comfortable.