Hormones and Sleep Disturbance

Plus My Top 10 Tips for Better Sleep!

Hormones and Sleep Disturbance

I’ve always been a finicky sleeper.  I have to be in my own bed at home, it has to be dead silent, and all the stars have to align just right for me to get a proper night of shut-eye.  I’ve never been able to sleep on a friend’s couch, on an airplane, in a car, or even in a perfectly comfortable hotel bed without a major struggle.  

Ironically, I love sleep.  I’m one of those people who needs a full 8 hours or I feel irritable and fatigued the following day.  That’s why it’s such a downer that on top of everything, my cycle dramatically affects my ability to sleep.

During the first 2 weeks of my cycle (the follicular phase), everything is bliss.  My hormones are on my side as estrogen is rising, and I don’t take a single night of sleep for granted.  Then, mid-cycle hits, ovulation, and my shifting hormones give me terrible insomnia.  As hormones shift again for the second 2 weeks (the luteal phase), my body is pushed into insomnia round 2, where I struggle to sleep restfully right up until my period begins.

So essentially, for half of every month, I’m not sleeping well.  It’s apparently a very common reaction to hormonal changes.  It’s no wonder my skin suffers, I have so little energy, and I’m just plain cranky.  The trouble is that it’s getting good quality sleep that helps keep our hormone levels in check.  Yet, for me, my hormones prevent this from being possible.  It’s a vicious pattern that I’m working very hard to get to the bottom of.

For those with similar struggles, I’d like to share my top 10 tips and tricks for getting the best possible sleep you can when your hormones are battling against you:

1) Cut Back on Alcohol 

Whether you are a regular drinker or are like me and enjoy a glass or 2 of wine once in a while, alcohol is really harmful to restful sleep.  Though people commonly report that drinking makes them feel sleepy or fall asleep faster, it actually reduces your REM sleep (rapid eye movement).  Not only that, but it can suppress melatonin, which helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycles.

I personally experience the opposite of the masses when it comes to alcohol and falling asleep.  For me, drinking alcohol produces an effect akin to caffeine where I feel wired and my mind races.  If I have even 1 drink, I can mentally prepare myself that I likely won’t be getting a restful night.  So, hormone troubles or no hormone troubles, ditch the alcohol, or at least cut back.

2) Try Melatonin

I have found that taking it as a supplement during the second and more problematic half of my cycle really does improve my ability to fall and stay asleep.  I take 1.5 milligrams right before bedtime and it seems to do the trick. 

3) Listen to Your Food Cravings

This is kind of an odd one, but throughout our cycle, our bodies are going through so many chemical changes.  In my experience, I feel as though it’s always trying to balance itself out.  As an example, have you ever wondered why you often crave carbs and sugar during your PMS days?  Our serotonin, that “happiness” hormone, can fall very low in the body during this time due to hormonal shifts.  Eating carbohydrates can up your levels of serotonin, evening out your mood.  Learn to listen to your body, it’s trying to help you out!

4) No Blue Light Before Bed

Blue light throws off your circadian rhythms and suppresses your production of melatonin.  Luckily, this one is an easy fix! If you must be looking at a screen in the evening, turn your device to night mode, or get yourself a pair of blue light blocking glasses.  They’re inexpensive and I guarantee they will help you sleep more restfully.  

5) Avoid Late Night Work if Possible

While making your own work hours can be great, if you’re a night owl like me, you might find yourself working into the wee hours.  The biggest downside to this is that you’re all fired up when you get into bed, likely still thinking about the work you were just doing.  If you’re able to conclude your work earlier in the evening, it allows you to choose an activity like reading a book before bed that will help your mind to quiet down.

6) Cut Back on Late Night Snacks and Water

When you eat close to bedtime, it can make it challenging to sleep on a full stomach, especially if you suffer from any acid reflux issues like I do.  Similarly, too much water right before bed will have you getting up for bathroom breaks all night.  If possible to cut back on your intake before bedtime, it will keep you asleep for longer stretches.

7) Keep it Cool

If you have control over your room temperature, keeping it cooler can actually help induce sleep more easily.  You should be able to fall asleep quicker and have better quality sleep overall.

8) Exercise!

On the days when I’m sitting at a desk all day, I notice a major difference in my ability to fall asleep.  I’m fidgety and restless.  On days when I exercise, even if it’s something as simple as going for a walk, my nights are so much more restful.

9) No Caffeine Late in the Day

Did you know that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours?  I don’t consume caffeine, but if you do, keep this in mind when you’re craving that afternoon cup of joe.  I’ve even witnessed people eating a moderate amount of chocolate in the evening and then having poor sleep because of it.  So consider your desserts too!

10) Find Solutions to Quiet Your Mind

I am a classic over-thinker.  I’m that gal whose mind is running running running, be it useful information or not.  I’m the one who lies in bed at night going over conversations I’ve had, worrying, planning, dwelling, and it is NOT good for sleep!  If this rings a well with you, try to focus on your breathing while falling asleep.  It will distract your mind from whatever it is preoccupied with.

Of course I am still working on bigger picture solutions when it comes to my actual hormone levels, and I will follow up on that after some more experimentation.  However, these changes have made a huge difference for me in the meantime.  Our bodies do so much important work while we’re asleep, and poor sleep is not something to be overlooked!

I do find it interesting how different we all are as individuals when it comes to sleep.  I come from a family of those who NEED their sleep to function and sleep very heavily.  By contrast, my husband and his family can actually function on very little, and even thrive on getting a bit less than average.  Hopefully, whatever your ideal night looks like, whether it’s 9 hours or 6, you’re able to find a way to make that happen!  

Caffeine and Acne

Why I Don’t Drink Coffee

Caffeine & Acne_3

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the taste of coffee.  I started drinking it at age 14 and couldn’t let go until I was in my mid-twenties.  However, the older I got, and the more hormonal issues I began to deal with, the more it became overwhelmingly apparent that caffeine was hugely triggering my acne.

Why I Don't Drink Caffeine

If you’re acne-prone like me, you likely get both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.  Caffeine usually causes the inflammatory type, which for me displays as the cystic pimples which appear around my mouth, jawline, and lower half of my face.  They take weeks to subside, and often leave a red mark that doesn’t fade for months!  Those of us with pale skin scar very easily, and I happened to get the skin of my Irish relatives, not the Italian side of the family!

Caffeine is a major trigger for cortisol, our stress hormone.  It is what surges during that fight or flight response deeply built into us as humans.  Stress can be a significant acne trigger.  Most people think of stress as pressure at our jobs, a difficult relationship situation, or studying for a big exam.  However that cup of joe can cause the body an equal amount of stress in sensitive individuals.

I do recognize that there are different degrees of caffeine sensitivity.  If I drink one cup of coffee, I feel the unpleasant jitters almost instantly!  My family is the exact same way.  My husband and his family, on the other hand, could all drink a gallon of coffee at midnight and fall peacefully asleep within minutes.  So it seems plausible that you’re more likely to have the acne-caffeine connection if you are sensitive to the stimulating drug in general!

The solution?  Try cutting it out!  You have nothing to lose if you are struggling with your skin.  Yes, you will get the withdrawal headaches for a few days, but you can try weaning off it slowly to ease these.  Even replacing your daily coffee with a beverage containing less caffeine is a great start.  I saw dramatic results from switching my coffee to black tea for a few years.  It has about half the caffeine.

Another source of caffeine, as painful as it may be, is chocolate (particularly dark chocolate).  Granted, it contains very small amounts.  100 grams of dark chocolate has 43mg of caffeine, which is even lower than the amount in most black teas.  However for some of us, it’s still too much.  The last time I used a minuscule 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a recipe, I broke out terribly.  It’s really difficult as someone who is a serious chocolate girl.  Chocolate was my go-to flavor for any dessert growing up.  If you can snag some carob powder to sub into your recipes, it really helps with the craving.

So give it a try!  You can make it less difficult by stocking up on some really tasty herbal or decaffeinated teas so that you don’t have to give up any of your rituals.  An extra perk: You won’t have to rely on coffee for your energy source anymore.  You’ll be fueled by an intake of nutritious foods and better sleep 🙂