Scientific research has shown that sleep is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. When we don’t get the optimal amount or quality of sleep, our bodies will quickly tell us there’s a problem.

For women, insomnia is statistically more likely to be severe than in men. One contributing factor to this is hormone imbalances at different stages of the life cycle:

  • During pregnancy, changes in length and quality of sleep are very common, particularly in the later stages leading up to delivery. Sleep disorders can also be caused by changes in sleep posture and low back pain due the growing size and activity of the baby.
  • Postpartum, there are many changes that occur – physically, hormonally and in adjusting to life with and nursing a new baby.
  • In perimenopause, sleep problems are common, typically leveling off at around age 50. Quality of sleep can vary during the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women, and is usually more disturbed in the second half of the cycle. Women with PMS symptoms and those experiencing hot flashes or anxiety will also have more sleep difficulties.

Insomnia is considered to be a symptom of an underlying health concern. In addition to hormone imbalances, sleep problems can be a result of headaches, respiratory illnesses, arthritis, fibromyalgia and other pain, restless legs, chronic stress, psychiatric and mood disorders.

The impact of sleeplessness

It’s a vicious cycle, lack of sleep can worsen pre-existing health conditions, as well as bring on new illness and anxiety. It’s essential both to get to the underlying cause of the sleep disorder and to deal with the sleep challenges themselves early on, as experts believe the damage is cumulative.

Over time, insomnia can weaken your immune system, decrease metabolism and, blood sugar levels, impair memory and problem solving ability, decrease ability to perform certain physical tasks and worsen stress-related disorders including heart disease, stomach ulcers, mood disorders and constipation.

As well, sleep deprivation prematurely ages the body by interfering with the production of hormones, including melatonin. Melatonin works to suppress free radicals in the body, as it is a potent anti-oxidant.

Tips for a better sleep, less anxiety and greater overall health

Stress and anxiety can play a significant role in the onset and persistence of sleep disorders and should be addressed through promotion of the relaxation response. The following tips will help aid sleep naturally:

Establish routines for sleep time. This includes maintaining a regular time for getting ready and ongoing to bed (most experts agree 10 p.m. or shortly after is optimal), creating relaxation rituals such as listening to soothing music, an Epsom salts bath or meditating. Aim for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Eliminate sources of stress where you sleep. Ensure you keep your bedroom and pre-sleep period clear of work, noise, electronics, clutter and other distractions. As well, consider turning off sources of EMF overnight, such as cell phones, computers and various wireless and WiFi devices.

Reduce the chances of waking up in the middle of the night. Avoid fluids for an hour or two before bedtime. If needed have a small piece of fruit, rather than starch or processed sugar, as a pre-bedtime snack.

Encourage the production of melatonin. Sleep in a room that is as darkened as possible, and if needed wear a sleep mask to block out sources of light.

Maintain healthy lifestyle habits. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and eliminating caffeinated coffee and alcohol will promote sleep.

Enlist the help of your health practitioner. Discuss and identify sleep and underlying health concerns with your practitioner: this may include laboratory testing for hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue. Natural supplements such as melatonin, 5-hydroxytriptophan (5-HTP), magnesium, Valerian or other herbs may also be recommended.

The team at NEX Wellness health centre and IV clinic is available to help you manage sleep problems, hormonal imbalances and other women’s health issues using naturopathic approaches; proudly serving Burlington, Hamilton and Binbrook.