Sleep is a basic human need as vital for good health as diet and exercise. The right amount of sleep is critical for optimum health but quality of sleep is equally important. For women, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause can all dramatically influence a woman's quality of sleep.
Dr. Meir Kryger, author of Can't Sleep, Can't Stay Awake: A Woman's Guide to Sleep Disorders joined Balance Television host Dr. Marla Shapiro with tips for getting a good night's sleep.
"It (woman's hormonal cycle) has a huge impact on sleep," Kryger said. "The reason is that most of the hormonal changes affect many things including the control of temperature, and these in turn affect the ability to sleep. The turmoil that occurs with the huge changes in levels of estrogen and progesterone during the normal menstrual cycle, and later on with pregnancy, and later on even further with the perimenopause period, can cause huge problems with sleep."
It's very common for a woman to suffer insomnia when she's pre-menstrual, Kryger said. Sometimes women are bloated, sometimes they have cramps, and sometimes their temperature regulation is off. As well, when the hormone levels change, they may also suffer through irritability. All of these can affect sleep, he said.
So what to do?
"Basically what they need to do is first of all understand that it's going to get better," Kryger said. "They may not have to do anything. Once they've (menstruated)...for three or four days, the problem is going to go away on its own."
However, if cramps become a huge problem or the woman is very bloated and feels uncomfortable at night, she may require one of the following medications to treat the symptoms. (This is not the time to take a sleeping pill, he noted.)
Menstrual Cycle - Medications to Help Sleep
• Anti-prostaglandins (e.g. Advil)
• Mild diuretics
• Oral contraceptives (to regulate cycle)
As during the pre-menstrual cycle, Kryger said, disturbed sleep patterns during pregnancy will most likely go back to normal after childbirth.
"During pregnancy, about 70-80 per cent of women have a lot of problems with their sleep," he said. "The most common complaint that women have is getting up to go to the bathroom."
During the middle part of pregnancy, many women start to have different complaints related to the enlarging uterus. Many begin to have heartburn or reflux because the uterus is pressing against the abdomen and the stomach and acid is going to rise into the esophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach). Use Tums for this problem, or some other acid-fighting product, but avoid medications that are absorbed.
Pregnancy: Tips to help Sleep
• Short naps
• Learn to sleep on your side
• Watch medication intake
For pre-pregnancy tips, including fitness and diet advice, read Pre-Pregnancy Precautions.
"This is of course a matter or tremendous debate right now of what should a woman do who is perimenopausal," Kryger said. " (It's) because there's a lot of controversy about hormone replacements making things worse...the woman needs to talk to her doctor about her own personal risk of taking hormones.
For more about this life stage, read Perimenopause vs. menopause.
Menopause Factors Affecting Sleep
• Hormonal imbalance
• Hot flashes
• Emotional effects
The key to handling sleeping problems during these life stages is to not necessarily medicate the insomnia, which is the symptom, but instead medicate the underlying problem.