Women and Sleep Problems
In a way, your body goes on “auto-pilot” while you sleep. Your brain regulates automatic functions for you, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. The average adult needs about eight hours of healthy sleep. Although sleep is a complex process that is not fully understood, it is known that a good night’s sleep is important for optimal health and functioning.
Hormonal changes can contribute to insomnia, a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep or remain asleep. The incidence of insomnia may increase with premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. Hot flashes during perimenopause or menopause may compound the issue.
Women that are overweight, obese, or pregnant may develop sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes a person to stop breathing during the night and then gasp for air. Women with sleep apnea may awaken several hundred times during the night and not realize it. Sleep apnea can lead to daytime drowsiness and serious medical consequences, including stroke, heart attack, or death.
Some women develop restless legs syndrome while they are pregnant or if they have anemia or low levels of iron in their blood. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is defined as an unpleasant sensation, primarily in the legs, that occurs during rest and is typically the worst in the evening. Those who suffer from RLS feel an urgent need to move the legs and find that movement relieves the unpleasant sensations. RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep. For many women that develop the condition during pregnancy, RLS usually disappears after childbirth. Pregnancy may also cause frequent urination during the night, which can temporarily disrupt sleep until childbirth.
SymptomsSleep problems may cause you to have difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep. You may wake too early in the morning. The lack of sleep may cause you to feel tired during the day, moody, and irritable. You may have a harder time concentrating, performing your usual tasks, solving problems, and remembering things.
DiagnosisYou should talk to your doctor if you experience trouble sleeping at night. Your doctor will review your medical history, medication list, and conduct evaluations as necessary. Lab tests may be used to test your hormone levels and thyroid function. Depending on the suspected cause of your sleep problem, you may be referred to other specialists, such as a sleep medicine doctor, gynecologist, or psychiatrist.
Prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids may not be suitable for pregnant women because they may pose a risk to a developing baby. The same is true for prescription medication for restless legs syndrome. Fortunately, sleep disorders that develop during pregnancy usually improve or resolve after childbirth.
In the past, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was used to treat symptoms of menopause and prevent osteoporosis. However, a major research study by the Women’s Health Initiative found that the risks of HRT greatly outweighed the benefits. HRT was found to increase the risk of heart attack, strokes, breast cancer, and blood clots. You should carefully discuss the appropriateness of HRT with your doctor. In some cases, low dose HRT is used for the shortest time possible. It is also important to discuss the vast array of herbal supplements on the market and their safety and efficacy before you take them.
Am I at Risk
Common risk factors for sleep problems in women:
_____ Hormone changes related to premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause could contribute to sleep problems.
_____ Pregnancy and obesity can contribute to sleep apnea, a type of sleep disorder.
_____ Pregnancy can increase the need to urinate during the night, resulting in frequent awakenings that disrupt sleep.
_____ Restless legs syndrome is a condition that can impair sleep. Some women develop it during pregnancy or it may occur with aging.
_____ Hot flashes can cause night sweats and awakening at night. Women may experience hot flashes during perimenopause and menopause.
_____ Certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain from arthritis, thyroid conditions, or acid reflux increase the risk of sleep problems.
_____ Short-term stressful events increase the risk of sleep problems.
_____ Depression, anxiety, and long-term stress can contribute to sleep problems.
_____ Alcoholism or substance abuse increases the risk of sleep disorders.
_____ Caffeine products, such as coffee, tea, and soda pop, are stimulants and may make it difficult to fall asleep if you drink them too close to bedtime.
_____ Smoking cigarettes and using tobacco products can interfere with sleep because these products are stimulants and may increase alertness.
ComplicationsOver time, sleep loss can lead to daytime drowsiness and decreased functioning. Recent research suggests that sleep loss may contribute to a more prolonged labor during childbirth. Research has also linked sleep loss with an increase in car crashes, injuries, and accidents.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.