Women and sleep

Conditions unique to women, like the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause, can affect how well a woman sleeps. This is because the changing levels of hormones (chemicals produced by glands in the body) like estrogen and progesterone have an impact on sleep. Understanding the effects of these hormones, environmental factors, and lifestyle habits can help women enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Your Monthly Cycle

Changes in women’s bodies (and sometimes mood) occur at different times in the menstrual cycle. These changes can be linked to the rise and fall of hormone levels in the body. The hormone progesterone, which rises after ovulation, may cause some women to feel more sleepy or fatigued. However, poor quality sleep is more likely at the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Hormones, of course, are not the only factors that influence sleep. Stress, illness, diet, and lifestyle all play a part.


Pregnancy is an exciting and physically demanding time. Physical symptoms (body aches, nausea, leg cramps, fetus movement, and heartburn) as well as emotional changes (depression, anxiety, worry) can interfere with sleep. Women experience the most pregnancy-related sleep problems during the third trimester. Pregnant women who have never snored before may begin doing so. About thirty percent of pregnant women snore because of increased swelling in their nasal passages. This may partially block the airways. If the blockage is severe, sleep apnea may result.

Women Sleeping
The lack of oxygen disrupts sleep and may affect the unborn fetus. Up to fifteen percent of pregnant women develop restless leg syndrome (RLS) during the third trimester. RLS symptoms—crawling or moving feelings inside the foot, calf, or upper leg—temporarily disrupt sleep. Moving the legs can stop these symptoms temporarily, but symptoms may return when the limb is still. Fortunately, symptoms usually end after delivery of the baby. However, women who are not pregnant can also suffer from RLS. Sleep tips for pregnant women:

  • In the third trimester, sleep on your left side to allow for the best blood flow to the fetus and to your uterus and kidneys. Avoid lying flat on your back for a long period of time.
  • Drink lots of fluids during the day, but cut down before bedtime.
  • To prevent heartburn, do not eat large amounts of spicy, acidic, or fried foods. If heartburn is a problem, sleep with your head elevated on pillows.
  • Exercise regularly to help you stay healthy, improve your circulation, and reduce leg cramps.
  • Try frequent bland snacks (like crackers) throughout the day. This helps avoid nausea by keeping your stomach full.
  • Special “pregnancy” pillows and mattresses may help you sleep better or use regular pillows to support your body.
  • Naps may help.


Women report the most sleep problems during menopause. Today, more than one-third of American women are menopausal. Between 35-45% of them suffer from sleep problems, usually related to hot flashes. Hot flashes persist for an average of five years. While total sleep time may not suffer, sleep quality does. Hot flashes may interrupt sleep; frequent awakenings cause next-day fatigue.

© Copyright 2019 Sukhdev S. Grover, M.D. Associates, DBA Sleep Center of Greater Pittsburgh All Rights Reserved