It’s not just cortisol and adrenaline that play a role in sleep quality. Progesterone, for example, has a mildly sedative effect, so its fluctuations can affect women’s sleep. This hormone tends to drop right before menstruation each month, and according to the Sleep Foundation, women diagnosed with PMS are at least twice as likely to experience disrupted sleep before and during their period.
Phyllis Zee, PhD, a Northwestern University circadian-health researcher and insomnia specialist says sleep changes and disturbances are common during pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. “Alterations between estrogen and progesterone ratios lead to higher prevalence of insomnia at these times,” she explains. About two-thirds of perimenopausal women experience hot flashes, which can be especially disruptive during the first hours of sleep.
Hormones can also affect the development of seemingly unrelated sleep disorders. “Estrogen is protective against sleep apnea and breathing disturbances in the night,” says sleep-medicine specialist W. Chris Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution. “Men tend to have more sleep apnea, but after menopause the prevalence in men and women starts to even out.” (Note: Testosterone doesn’t affect sleep quantity or quality, but a lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep will lower testosterone levels, because the body produces the majority of this hormone during REM sleep.)
Thyroid hormones can affect sleep too, adds Zee. Hyperthyroidism — the overproduction of the hormone — can be particularly insidious, leading to anxiety, rapid heart rate, and insomnia.
Working with an integrative hormone specialist can help solve the issue before it becomes chronic. “It’s so much easier to address the precipitating factors early on,” says Zee.
This was excerpted from “Good Night, Insomnia” which was published in Experience Life magazine.