The symptoms of PCOS and sleep may be more closely related than you first imagine. Like most things that affect the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), poor sleep can magnify our symptoms, while good sleep can actively reduce them.
For busy Americans, the idea of eight hours of sleep each night may sound laughable. We all have a “go, go, go” mindset and boast about how we’re functioning on as little as four hours of shuteye. Not getting enough sleep, however, can have the dangerous consequence of poorly affecting our health. For those of us with PCOS, our sensitive body chemistry puts us at even great risk.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between good and bad sleep, the relationship between PCOS and sleep, as well as the simple changes we can adopt to make getting that sleep more likely.
Good Sleep Hygiene
We all have heard the term “a good night’s sleep.” But what exactly does that mean? To some of us, a good night’s sleep may translate into getting all our chores done before midnight and then collapsing into bed until waking up to the sound of our six a.m alarm. As a general guideline, however, most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Besides how long we’re sleeping for, the quality of our sleep also matters a great deal. If we need to rely on highly caffeinated drinks to make it through the day, despite sleeping for more than seven hours, then we’re most likely sleeping fitfully. Besides caffeine, alarms and lights from electronics could be interfering with our body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm manages our natural sleep/wake cycle and affects sleep quality.
Why is sleep so important? During sleep, our bodies are given the chance to rejuvenate. Damage can be repaired while we sleep and hormone levels reset. This is especially important to us if we’re already experiencing insulin resistance. While we’re sleeping, not only do our blood sugar levels lower, but also hormones controlling our metabolism and appetite are normalized. After getting a good night’s sleep, we will wake up feeling slimmer and more energized.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome symptoms often cause incidences of pain and discomfort in women. We are already suffering with inflammation because of PCOS and studies have shown that fatigue causes a surge in interleukin-6, a hormone linked to increased inflammation. With better sleep, the body is able to naturally decrease pain and inflammation levels.
The idea of “beauty sleep” isn’t a myth—we will look more radiant after a good night’s sleep. PCOS can take a toll on the skin and buying expensive creams and lotions won’t always make a notable difference in reversing the effects. Lack of sleep promotes fine lines, reduced elasticity, and uneven skin tone. During sleep our bodies release collagen-promoting hormones to keep our skin soft, supple, and youthful.
In our day to day lives we must face regular stressors, such as work and family obligations, while also contending with the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Sleep has been proven to improve mood and alter emotional responses in stressful situations. While we sleep, our body produces more serotonin—what is known as the “feel good hormone.” Without enough serotonin in the body, we won’t produce acceptable amounts of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. When we have poor sleep habits, this leads to a vicious cycle where we feel depressed, bloated, unattractive, and lack the motivation to get through the day.
7 Steps to Better Sleep
We want to tough it out and not care about PCOS and sleep, but we need to start caring. One of the first steps in getting better sleep is to make our nighttime routine a priority. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the easiest and most responsible steps we can take in a plan to naturally manage both PCOS and sleep. Here are some basic strategies for better sleep:
- Maintain a positive attitude. Try not to let the small things get us down. It’s very easy to feel cranky after not getting enough sleep. But if we lay down with good feelings about the day, we’ll sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed.
- Change up our schedules. Getting up earlier each day may actually improve our overall sleep habits. Start off by waking up 15 minutes earlier each morning. At first, we may feel a little more tired in the morning, but we’ll have consumed enough energy over the course of the day that we won’t have difficulty falling asleep later. Maintain the same sleep schedule every day of the week if possible. Although we may relish the idea of sleeping later on the weekends, we’re more likely to feel almost jet-lagged by the schedule change.
- Get outside and get moving. Exposure to sunlight during the early morning hours helps improve the body’s circadian rhythm. If we can’t get outdoors, let in as much natural sunlight into our spaces as possible. Exercise is also known to improve quality of sleep.
- Dim the lights at night. Tablets, televisions, and phones can all undermine how quickly we fall asleep at night. Skip late-night talk shows and web browsing if we want a better night’s sleep. Darken the room we’re sleeping in by turning off all the lights and using room-darkening shades. We may find sleep masks helpful if we’re having trouble blocking out all light.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Give ourselves time to wind down before lying down. Read a book, take a bath, make a cup of tea—simply find an activity that relaxes us before we turn in for the night. For true relaxation, consider adding some essential oils to the bath or take the time to practice deep rhythmic breathing.
- Address any nutritional issues. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed since they both can upset our sleep cycle. Although we shouldn’t have a big meal before bed, don’t worry about having a small snack. Fruits, nuts, and seeds may actually help us sleep better.
- Avoid sleep medications. Sleep meds take away from REM, which is the period of deep sleep that is the most beneficial to our minds and bodies. REM gives the chance for the brain to rest and for our bodies to produce more proteins needed for our overall health.
The Hidden Benefit of PCOS
It is very easy to obsess over the laundry list of unwanted symptoms PCOS has brought into our lives. In fact, if you’re suffering from hair growth, weight gain, mood swings, acne, and/or infertility, you may not have even imagined that there is a silver lining to our condition. And you can only do that when you’re ready to admit that you are special and different. So, here’s the truth.
We are special. We are different. Although everyone’s body gives them clear health clues and signals, most people tend to ignore them. In fact, most people tend not to pay attention until it is too late and they are admitted to the hospital or diagnosed with one condition or another.
A Big Win with PCOS and Sleep
PCOS does not allow us to ignore our body signals. It demands our awareness and attention. It demands healthy choices and wholesome life-long habits. When it comes to small changes with massive benefits, the message could not be any clearer for PCOS and sleep. A good night’s sleep will help us reduce our symptoms and enjoy a higher quality of life.
In the recipe for living well with polycystic ovarian syndrome, sleep is truly the secret sauce of PCOS.
PCOS and Sleep: The Secret Sauce for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome | PCOS Insulite Health