Women, Hormones, and Sleep Problems

From the WebMD Archives


Postpartum Sleep and Mental Health

Another huge shift in hormones happens after the baby is born -- so this is another time when you may find yourself struggling with sleep.

Postpartum sleep disorders, combined with caring for a newborn and learning new things like breastfeeding, can be a killer,” says Pollycove. “It’s the most demanding job a woman has ever done.”

Because lack of sleep puts you at greater risk for postpartum depression, antidepressant medications can help. Low-dose estrogen may also help, and the hormone doesn’t interfere with lactation and breastfeeding, Pollycove says.

“The low estrogen levels that create sleep disorders in postpartum women are also very much associated with depression. It sometimes takes a very small dose to help with that. It’s an infrequent problem, but one we’re really good at fixing,” says Pollycove.

Menstrual Cycles and Sleep

What about your menstrual cycle itself? Can you have trouble sleeping at “that time of the month?” It’s much less common than in menopause and pregnancy, but it does happen.

“Menstrual cycles for the vast majority of us are regular, in terms of a predictable hormonal sequence of events,” says Pollycove. “In young women, it’s pretty rare that the regular rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone disrupts sleep. But there are women with premenstrual syndrome for whom sleep disruption can be a symptom.”

If you’re one of them, and if sleep issues are really wreaking havoc in your life every 28 days or so, then one possible solution is hormonal birth control.

“If you’re not trying to conceive a baby, birth control pills can put your hormones in more of a steady state,” says Wong. “Most patients aren’t going to want to go on the pill because of a couple of nights of lost sleep, but that’s one way of doing it.”

You can also try the mind-body therapies such as yoga, guided imagery, and breathing techniques, as well as the “good sleep hygiene” strategies recommended for women having sleep problems at other life stages.

If menstrual pain is keeping you up at night, you can try one of the available medications that combines a pain reliever with a sleep aid.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 27, 2011



Tristi Muir, MD, director, Pelvic Health and Continence Center; associate professor, obstetrics and gynecology, the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston.

Sharon Wong, MD, FACOG, chairman, perinatal department, Adventist Medical Center, Portland.

Ricki Pollycove, MD, FACOG, former chief, Division of Gynecology, California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco; author, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bioidentical Hormones.

National Sleep Foundation.

Clinical Meeting of the American Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, San Francisco, May 2010.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

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