Pillow Talk

A change in hormone levels could be disrupting your sleep. Here’s how to take control and turn sleepless nights into a restful, restorative experience.

By Mel Jones

Nearly 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, and in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2007 Sleep in America poll, approximately two-thirds of all women reported experiencing a sleep problem at least a few nights a week. Because of biological conditions unique to us—periods, pregnancy, menopause —sleep can be frequently disrupted and serious problems, like insomnia, can develop. 

Levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone change monthly, as well as over the course of our lifetimes, and combined with other lifestyle habits and environmental factors, sleep can become more of a dream than reality. Often, sleepless nights begin due to menstruation, pregnancy or menopause, and those poor sleep habits become seemingly impossible to break. 

We all know that a lack of sleep means daytime tiredness, problems concentrating and an increased risk of car accidents, but an extended period of poor sleep can lead to being sick more, weight gain, depression, increased stress levels and anxiety, to name a few. Of course, with these issues come more potential for insomnia and other sleep problems. 

How to break the cycle? Making a variety of lifestyle and behavioral changes can mean vast improvements in both quality and quantity of sleep. The NSF offers a variety of helpful tips specifically for women, included below. However, if your sleep doesn’t improve or, in fact, worsens, you may have an underlying and treatable health issue that could be ruining your sleep. Talk to your doctor—she may prescribe medication to help you sleep and to address the root cause of your insomnia.  


Sleep: A How-To Guide: Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Maintain a Cool Bedroom Environment
A cool bedroom is conducive to better sleep. Room temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit are optimal. Given increases in core body temperature during menstruation, it can be even more important to maintain a cool bedroom environment during that time.  

Try a Warm Bath or Shower before Bed
We begin to feel sleepy when our body temperature drops. You can enhance this effect by taking a warm bath or shower before bed. The contrast between the warm bath or shower and your cool bedroom environment will help with sleep onset. 

Avoid Stimulating Substances
Close to Bedtime Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Depending on how your body absorbs caffeine, it can be helpful to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon/evening. 

Limit Noise in the Bedroom
Noise can disrupt sleep and lead to less refreshing sleep. Limit bedroom noises as much as possible. An alternative to eliminating sounds is to mask them using a “white noise” device such as a sound machine. 

Light Exposure Affects Sleep
Exposure to bright light during the daytime helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycle. Nighttime light exposure, however, even a dim light can be disruptive to sleep. Limit outdoor light through the use of blackout curtains, and avoid the use of electronic devices in the bedroom. 

Engage in Relaxation or Other Coping Exercises
Many women report increased anxious and depressive symptoms before and during menstruation. Engaging in activities to alleviate these symptoms will help with sleep. Relaxation, deep breathing or other ways of coping with stress such as keeping a “worry log” can help to decrease feelings of anxiety and depression that may disrupt sleep. 

Avoid Heavy Meals Before Bed
Indigestion, nausea and diarrhea can be present during menstruation and can result in disrupted sleep. Eating a light snack and avoiding heavy meals before bedtime can help to avoid some of these digestion difficulties. 

Maintain Consistent Bedtimes/Wake Times and Routines
Going to bed at a similar time each night allows the body to anticipate and prepare for bedtime. As a result, you will feel sleepier at bedtime and fall asleep quicker. Similarly, engaging in a bedtime routine will help your body (and mind) to relax and transition into sleep. Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime and engage in calming, relaxing rituals. 

Choose a Comfortable Sleeping Position
Just before and during menstruation, women can experience cramping, nausea and muscle aches. Selecting a sleeping position to minimize pressure on tender areas, such as sleeping on your side and back, can help to minimize the impact of these symptoms on your sleep. 

Visit sleepfoundation.org for more tips and information. 

 Here are a few of our favorite sleep aids...

Overtired and can’t sleep? Nighttime nerves causing a racing mind? A warm soak — think 15 to 20 minutes — before bed can help regulate your body temperature and make it easier to drift off to dreamland. Add a dose of Kneipp’s Valerian & Hops Sweet Dreams herbal bath for extra relaxation. kneippus.com.

Waking up every couple of hours to flip your pillow to the cold side because you’re overheating is no way to get a good night’s sleep. Try Viscosoft’s Arctic Gel Contour Pillow for coolness and relief. It uses a special gel formula that enhances circulation and is specially designed for those who suffer from overheating and want to balance their temperature. The memory foam pillow also provides support and relaxation by contouring to your neck and shoulders. viscosoft.com.

There are loads of devices and apps created to help track our sleep — or lack thereof — and the Aura from Withings is especially intriguing. The uniquely designed system uses a discreet sensor that goes under your mattress and works in tandem with the bedside device to record and monitor a variety of factors to help you understand how you sleep. The sensor focuses on movement, breathing patterns and heart rate, while the bedside device screens your bedside environment — think noise, temperature and light levels. The bedside device also provides sound programs and light technology to help relax you while falling asleep and stimulate you upon waking. A corresponding mobile app gives you access to your data. withings.com for stores.

As anyone with sensitive skin knows, laundry detergent is often a major irritant, and this goes doubly for what you use to wash your bedding. Look for a “free and clear” detergent, like this one from The Honest Company. Made without perfumes, dyes and other harsh chemicals and synthetics, this safe-for-baby detergent is also perfect for those with sensitive skin thanks to coconut-based cleaners and plant extracts. Target stores statewide; honest.com.

Just like sensitive skin, allergies and asthma can affect your sleep, so make sure your bedding is as healthy as possible. In addition to offering a wealth of tips and information, the Asthma & Allergy Association of America also certifies products as “Allergy & Asthma Friendly.” Only one set of sheets — the Brookstone Tech Advanced set — holds the certification. The 500 thread count, 100-percent cotton-sateen sheets are resistant to dust mites, help reduce allergens and are made with Intellatex, a permanent infusion of negative ions that bond to the molecular structure of the cotton to accelerate breathability and moisture absorption. brookstone.com; asthmaandallergyfriendly.com.

Whether you’re worrying about looming deadlines or pondering over the next day’s to-do list, few things will keep you wide awake like an overactive brain. Instead of letting those thoughts spiral out of control, take some time to write them down. The I Can’t Sleep Inner-Truth journal from Knock Knock is full of candid quotes and provocative prompts to help you creatively clear your mind — because sometimes a plain-ol’ diary just won’t do. knockknockstuff.com.

Trust us when we say that we’ve tried almost every “top rated” and “best-seller” sleep mask that the internet has to offer, and this is the only one that hasn’t gone into the recycle bin after a couple of weeks. From Alaska Bear, this oversized black mask is made of incredibly soft and lightweight mulberry silk, and blocks out every last bit of light. The adjustable band offers a perfect fit that stays in place all night (no Velcro straps to fiddle with!), and the smooth silk is breathable and won’t leave a maze of lines across your face in the morning. All this for just 10 bucks! amazon.com.