We all have trouble sleeping once in a while. But if you struggle to fall asleep frequently and find yourself anxiously staring at the clock counting down the hours, you could have insomnia. A 2005 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that women experienced insomnia more often than men. And, only 7 percent actually sought treatment. Insomnia doesn’t just leave you feeling tired and irritable; it can also affect concentration, cause daytime sleepiness and up your chances of having high blood pressure and other serious issues.
Insomnia can be caused by many factors, but there can be more specific reasons for women. Pregnancy is one. About 78 percent of women experience insomnia during pregnancy, and it could be due to a number of reasons. A spike in progesterone levels in the first trimester can cause snoring, sleep interruptions and sleep apnea. Vomiting, nausea, and discomfort like gastroesophageal reflux(GERD) can also spoil your sleep.
Sleep difficulties worsen in the second trimester as nighttime GERD becomes more prominent. In the third trimester, your total sleep time normalizes even though there’s an increased wake time after the onset of sleep. This disturbance is mainly because of discomfort caused by fetal movement, urinary frequency, and backaches.
For many women, mood swings, cravings, and irritability are some of the signs that they’re about to get their period. Insomnia is another. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation showed that 33 percent of women have sleep problems during their menstrual cycles. They’re caused by hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Waking up at odd hours is common too and returning to sleep can be challenging.
PMDD is a more severe form of PMS. It begins about 7 to 10 days before menses and continues for a few days more. Women who have PMDD have the same symptoms as those with PMS including bloating and changes in sleep. But, they also experience other symptoms like extreme moodiness, sadness, and hopelessness. They may also feel anxious and angry.
As with PMS, sleep problems like sleep onset insomnia are common in women with PMDD. Nighttime awakenings and difficulty falling back to sleep are also common. This could be because there’s a decreased response to melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.
Every woman goes through menopause though not all experience symptoms in the same way. As a woman nears this stage in her life, her ovaries start producing less estrogen and progesterone. This can cause insomnia and sleep disruptions. Hot flashes and night sweats are common too and can make it tough to go back to sleep. Daytime fatigue and sleepiness occur as a result. The lack of quality sleep can lead to other issues like irritability, stress, headaches, difficulty concentrating and gastrointestinal problems.
About 5-10 percent of women of childbearing age have PCOS, a hormonal disorder that manifests itself in several ways. Irregular or prolonged periods, hirsutism (because of higher levels of the male hormone, androgen), and enlarged ovaries are some of the symptoms. Along with these signs, sleep disorders including insomnia are common.
Here’s how it works – women with PCOS can have insulin resistance which makes the body work extra hard to normalize glucose levels. The glucose fluctuations can cause the production of epinephrine or norepinephrine, which puts the body into overdrive prompting a flight or fight response. With all this going on, falling asleep can be tougher.
If hot flashes and night sweats prevent you from sleeping, keep your room cool by setting your thermostat to between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also stay hydrated. Keep a glass of water by your bedside to lower your body temperature if you get hot at night. Consider using a cooling mattress like Nuvanna too. Its top layer is made up of phase-changing gel particles that keep your body cool by absorbing and dispersing heat.
As pregnancy progresses, getting into a comfortable position at night can be tricky. If you’re expecting and are facing the same problem, you can use pillows to provide extra support to your body. Sleeping on the left side is the best position as more nutrients reach the placenta and the baby. You can place a pillow between your legs and another under your arms. You can also put a pillow at your back for more comfort.
Along with pillows, a good mattress can make bedtime a lot more comfortable. It supports different parts of your body and aligns your spine to reduce strain on your neck, shoulders, back, and hips.
It’s no secret that alcohol and caffeine can hamper sleep but if you’re undergoing perimenopause or menopause, they can also trigger hot flashes and night sweats. You should also make it a point to have dinner at least two hours before bed to allow your body enough time to digest it. Consider following the Mediterranean too, which is believed to be linked to better sleep quality.
Insomnia is a pain to deal with and the next day fatigue and sleepiness sometimes even more so. If you’ve been having trouble sleeping and can’t blame it on stress, depression, trauma or even too much caffeine, there’s a chance it could be caused by one of these conditions. You should speak to your doctor who can prescribe tests and pinpoint the exact cause of your insomnia. You can then take back control of your sleep and make insomnia a thing of the past.