Sleep is a crucial part of the body’s restorative process and affects our overall health. However, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can find their sleep negatively impacted and are more likely to experience sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal disorder whose symptoms can start to display shortly after puberty. The condition can affect 1 in 10 women of reproductive age and is a leading cause of infertility. It often remains undiagnosed as the symptoms can be similar to other conditions, but while there is no cure it can be managed through treatment.
A prime symptom of PCOS is multiple cysts on the ovaries. There are further early signs which could indicate the condition. These are:
- irregular or abnormally heavy periods
- enlarged ovaries with follicles which surround the eggs
- high levels of androgen, a male hormone that can result in excess facial and body hair, male-pattern baldness or severe acne.
The precise cause of this hormonal disorder remains unknown, but it is thought weight and excess insulin could be contributing factors.
The Link to Poor Sleep
People with polycystic ovary disease often report experiencing poor or disturbed sleep and are also at increased risk of sleep apnea.
Insomnia is one of the sleep disorders often experienced by women with PCOS, especially in the weeks following ovulation. Insomnia sees people struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep and can have serious health implications.
This sleep disorder may often be the result of stress It can also be caused by medication or lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise or a poor diet. However, insomnia can also be a result of hormonal changes and this could be why so many women with PCOS report experiencing it.
Hormonal birth control may be recommended to help treat insomnia where hormonal changes are believed to be a contributing factor. A sleep hygiene plan may also be recommended, which could involve keeping a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding daytime naps, avoiding blue screens and reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Sleep apnea causes brief pauses in breathing as you sleep, with the resulting lack of oxygen prompting the brain to awake the body for air. These interruptions to sleep can be frequent, in some cases occurring hundreds of times in one night, resulting in excessive day time fatigue.
You may not realize these pauses are occurring, but you may wake up gasping for air -- one sign of sleep apnea.
Symptoms also include loud snoring, morning headaches, poor concentration and increased irritability.
Obesity is a major contributing factor, as is diabetes. It is these two factors which could be the link to why women with polycystic ovary disease seem to be at increased risk of developing the disorder.
For many women, weight loss is key to solving this sleep disruption pattern. Also, setting a regular bedtime schedule and improving your sleep environment can help.
Sleep apnea treatment will help
The breathing difficulties experienced with this sleep disorder are due to the blocking of the upper airways, so a mouthguard may be used to help keep the airways open while you sleep.
For moderate to severe sleep apnea, a CPAP device may be required which supplies a steady stream of pressurized air through a mask while you sleep to help keep the airways open. This may take some adjusting to, but perseverance can quite quickly see a reduction in symptoms.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can result in serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, it is important to work with your doctor to find the right treatment plan for you, one with which you will persevere, as while sleep apnea can be managed and the symptoms eliminated, they may return if you stop with the treatment.
Symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Since PCOS can impact on sleep, it can impact on your overall health and well-being. Additional symptoms include:
- weight gain, which can affect around half of women
- headaches brought on by hormonal changes
- excess hair growth
- thinning hair
- mood swings, depression and anxiety
- pelvic pain and heavy bleeding with periods
- thick, dark patches of skin forming under the breasts or arms, or possibly on the back of the neck
Lifestyle changes which bring about weight loss can be one of the first recommendations from your doctor to treat the symptoms of PCOS. This can often work well.
If lifestyle changes are not bringing the desired results medication may be prescribed by your doctor. Metformin is one such medication, used in treating type 2 diabetes by improving the ability of insulin to lower the blood sugar levels in the body. By also reducing insulin and androgen levels Metformin may help with PCOS symptoms.
Improving Your Sleep
Earlier we touched on the importance of developing good sleep hygiene to help combat insomnia. This is something anyone who is having trouble sleeping can adopt to improve their sleep and wake up feeling properly rested. Changes could include:
- ensuring a dark bedroom to promote sleep
- relaxing bedtime activities such as reading, a warm bath or meditation
- going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time each day
- no electronic screens prior to bed
- no heavy evening meals, avoiding alcohol at night and no caffeine after 2pm
It’s Time For Solutions
Sleep is an essential ingredient for better physical and mental health. Any health condition or disorder which reduces the quality of your sleep can place you at increased risk of health complications as well as accidents caused by excessive fatigue.
Diagnosis and treatment are key. If you are displaying symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome then you should talk to your gynecologist.
To improve your sleep, you can arrange a consultation with a SleepQuest Sleep Care Specialist. In just one brief phone call, you can learn if you’re at risk for sleep apnea -- and steps to take.
Your body requires restorative sleep every night to ensure good health and avoid serious disorders like heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Imagine waking up feeling great every morning, ready for the day! Take the first step and speak with a SleepQuest Sleep Care Specialist.