PCOS and Sleep Disturbances

Hormal imbalances can lead to insomnia and apnea

Woman in bed in the dark
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Sleep is a crucial part of health and wellness. Without adequate restful sleep, you can feel irritable, foggy, hungry and unable to function. Women with PCOS are much more likely to suffer from a variety of sleep disturbances including insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.

Scientists are still trying to learn exactly why people need sleep, but animal studies show it is necessary for our nervous systems to work properly.

Without it, neurological functioning actually starts to decline, making us feel moody or unable to concentrate, and as if our memory was impaired as well.

Sleep Cycles

Our sleep cycle is organized in five stages. The first four are classified as non-REM (rapid eye movement), and the last is REM sleep.

During each stage of non-REM sleep, we fall progressively deeper into sleep, until we reach REM sleep. The cycle lasts around 90 to 110 minutes, then starts over again at stage one, repeating several times through the night under normal circumstances.

However, for the roughly 60 million Americans with sleep disorders, these cycles do not complete or repeat for a variety of reasons.

Insomnia

Insomnia is the difficulty falling or staying asleep, and can be a very serious problem for sufferers. Insomnia can range from a mild, occasional problem falling asleep, to chronic lack of sleep.

While there are many different causes of insomnia, including stress, lack of exercise, certain drugs or medications, and poor diet, hormonal changes can also be a contributing factor.

As a result, many women with PCOS report having difficulty sleeping, particularly in the luteal phase of their menstrual cycles (the weeks following ovulation).

To combat insomnia, your doctor may recommend following a sleep hygiene plan. In addition, taking hormonal birth control can help regulate the hormones of the menstrual cycle, preventing premenstrual insomnia.

There are also several insomnia medications on the market. Be sure to speak with your doctor about the risks and benefits of different medications, as some may be addictive.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the cessation of breathing once or multiple times during sleep. Sleep apnea often leads to snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, morning headaches and irritability.

Risk factors include certain physical characteristics (such as large neck), smoking, alcohol use, obesity and diabetes — the last two which may account for the connection to PCOS.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include excessive daytime sleepiness, episodes where you stop breathing while asleep, waking with a dry mouth or sore throat, headaches in the morning and insomnia. If you think you may have apnea, check with your doctor who may order a more involved sleep study.

Treatments for sleep apnea depend on the severity of the condition. For mild cases, the doctor may recommend implementing good sleep hygiene or suggest a mouth guard to keep the throat open.

Weight loss can also be helpful, as it removes some of the excess fat and tissue from around the throat.

For more serious cases, a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, is the standard treatment. A CPAP machine administers pressurized air through a mask that is placed over your nose and mouth. The pressure keeps the airways open, preventing apneic episodes.

While very effective, this therapy can be uncomfortable, especially as you adjust to sleeping with the mask on. It is important to communicate with your physician so that the medical treatment is used appropriately. If you can’t tolerate the CPAP, talk to your doctor to find something that works. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to prevent life-threatening sleep apnea.

Fixing Sleep Issues

Focusing on sleep hygiene, that is good sleep habits, can also help you sleep better. Here are a few important habits to consider:

  • Don't have any caffeine after 2 p.m.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages in the evenings
  • Don't eat heavy meals or snacks late in the evening
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a bubble bath or reading a book before bed
  • Making sure your bedroom is completely dark when you go to sleep
  • Turn off all electronics when you get in bed
  • Try drinking chamomile tea or warm milk before bed

Source:

Brain basics: Understanding sleep.  NIH website http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm. Updated July 25, 2014. Accessed January 31, 2016

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