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Sleep and Women

Sleep and the menstrual cycle
Sleep during pregnancy
Sleep during menopause
Sleep and the menstrual cycle
During the menstrual cycle a woman’s body undergoes a number of changes that can influence sleep quality. These are caused by cyclic changes in the hormones progesterone and estrogen. Progesterone production increases after ovulation and can cause women to feel sleepy and tired. At the start of the menstruation many women sleep more poorly and feel tired. Some women suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome the week before menstruation begins. Headache, irritation and stomach cramps may occur and this often leads to disturbed sleep - including insomnia as well as hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
Sleep during pregnancy
Pregnancy and the period after the baby is born are often wonderful times. However, these periods are commonly associated with sleep problems. Nausea, bladder pressure, cramps, and the movements of the baby in the womb can disturb sleep. In addition, women are emotionally less stable and do not always experience pregnancy as a time of great joy.

During the first trimester of pregnancy, women have high progesterone levels, which may lead to sleepiness. As a consequence, the sleep rhythm can get disturbed. Also, the pressure of the growing fetus on the bladder may cause you to wake up more often at night to urinate. However, this problem often diminishes after the third month of pregnancy, as the pressure of the fetus on the bladder reduces.

As you might expect, most sleep problems arise during the last three months of pregnancy. Finding a comfortable sleeping position may be difficult. In addition, movements of the baby may be disturbing, and the bladder pressure increases again. The expectant mother may suffer from heartburn or cramps.

The first couple of months after delivery, the usual problems associated with early motherhood arise. Feeding the baby at night causes fragmentation of the sleep of the mother and a higher chance of insomnia. Fortunately, this is a temporary situation. However, sometimes, this period can give rise to a long-lasting sleep problem.

What can you do to reduce sleep problems?
  • To reduce nausea, eating some biscuits or crackers throughout the day may help. This will keep your stomach full and the food will not cause nausea.
  • Drink enough, but avoid drinking shortly before bedtime.
  • To reduce heartburn, avoid fried food, and food containing large amounts of spices or acid (e.g. tomatoes).
  • During the last couple of months, try to sleep on your (left) side as this provides a better blood flow to your lower body. A special pregnancy pillow may help. Avoid lying on your back for a long time.
  • A nap in the afternoon can work miracles.
  • Sleeping aids should not be used during pregnancy. Beware of herbal substances if it is not clear that using them is save during pregnancy.
  • When the baby is born and your sleep is disturbed during the night, try to take naps during the day when the baby is sleeping.
Sleep during menopause
During menopause, many changes occur in a woman’s body. During the course of a number of years, your ovaries continually produce fewer progesterone and estrogen hormones until menstruation stops entirely. This period is referred to as peri-menopause. The day that the last menstrual period has stopped is called ‘menopause’. 12 months after the menstrual periods stopped you have reached post-menopause. On average, this happens around age 50.

Most sleep problems arise in the period before post-menopause. Mainly, hot flashes and sweating may cause you to wake up, but also insomnia, snoring and apnea may occur. Furthermore, these problems may be accompanied by symptoms of depression and anxiety. Also after reaching menopause, women are less satisfied with their sleep than before. More than 60% of women report insomnia symptoms after reaching menopause.

Be careful with drugs for menopause symptoms. Many of these drugs have side effects. Always discuss any medication with your physician first.

Sleeping advices during menopause
  • Avoid heavy meals before going to bed and try to maintain or reach a normal body weight. Avoid spicy and acidic food, as that may cause hot flashes. Soy products may reduce hot flashes.
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol before going to bed.
  • Wear light night wear. Do not use heavy, insulating blankets. It is good to use a separate light bed sheet, so that you can remove warmer sheets or blankets if you are feeling hot.
  • Relax and exercise regularly.




More information?
Here, you can read more about cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
Also, check out our information on sleep disorders, slaap aids, sleep and children, sleep and aging and shift work/jet lag.