By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Disordered sleep seems to be a common symptom for women with PCOS. Be it sleep apnea, trouble falling asleep, trouble staying that way, or just an inability to prioritize it, sleep is on many of our minds. That isn’t shocking since women with PCOS are prone to stress, anxiety, and low levels of magnesium.
The effects on the brain and nervous system from lack of sleep are profound. Sleep is as important as food and exercise in managing PCOS.
Here are twelve Diva-approved tips to get more ZZZ’s.
#1 Get up early – That just sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Trust me. Try to get your body to shift its sleeping schedule by slowly getting up earlier. I tell my clients to be up by 6 am if possible. Try 15 minutes earlier than normal for a week, then another 15 minutes. If you get up earlier, you’ll be a bit tired during the day, and when it comes time to go to sleep, you’ll enjoy the rest. Try exercising early in the day too. Even better, try to get outside for exposure to natural light early in the day. This reinforces a normal circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle.
#2 Regular sleep and wake times – Anything that disrupts your natural circadian rhythm disturbs the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. If your sleep has been disrupted such as with jet lag, you might try 1-2 grams of melatonin to reset it.
#3 Establish a bedtime ritual – It takes time to unwind the body and mind. At least an hour before bedtime, start slowing down. Turn off the computer and all screens, take a warm bath, floss & brush your teeth. Put on some 100% natural fiber bedclothes. Lay down and read a book. Put on some white noise. (There are some nice apps for this.) This kind of ritual helps establish in your mind that it’s time to sleep, and your body takes this cue and begins to prepare itself.
#4 Wear a sleep mask – Light is a powerful signal to your brain to be awake. Light “pollution” makes it hard to sleep well. Even the glow from your smartphone may pass through your closed eyelids and into your hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls sleep. This delays your brain’s release of melatonin. Put away your devices, use room darkening shades and use a sleep mask, and you’ll sleep better.
#5 Detox bath – Add essential oils to an Epsom Salt bath. Scents like lavender, chamomile, and yang-ylang activate the alpha wave activity in the back of your brain which leads to relaxation and helps you sleep more soundly. The magnesium in the Epsom salts helps the body relax. The warm bath also keeps your body temp warmer to get to sleep better. Here is my Detox Bath recipe
#6 Cut back the caffeine – Don’t consume caffeine 4-6 hours before bed. This includes dark chocolate!
#7 Avoid alcohol – Don’t drink alcohol for several hours before sleep. If you have a glass of wine to help you sleep, it will initially act as a sedative, but it actually disrupts REM sleep, and you’ll wake up in the middle of the night when the alcoholic drink is being metabolized. Stick with a drink at dinner if you must, three hours or so before bedtime.
#8 Have something to eat if you are hungry – If blood sugar drops below 50 at night, it can increase levels of adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone all of which can stimulate the brain. But eating a big meal before sleep is not a good idea either. Your body will be too busy digesting to focus on the restorative aspects of sleep like detoxifying, regenerating cells, and reviving. The best snacks contain both carbohydrates and the amino acid tryptophan. Legumes, nuts, and seeds are all good choices. Apples and nut butter or a little gluten-free oat-based granola with nuts and coconut milk are my go-to choices for a before-bed snack.
#9 Nutrient deficiencies – Lack of B vitamins, protein, and magnesium can affect sleep. B12 (which many women with PCOS have deficiencies) is essential for healthy sleep. without adequate levels, the body can’t make melatonin.
Melatonin is made with precursors to DHA. In a sleep and PCOS lecture I attended, the speaker actually mentioned that people who eat more than 5 servings of veggies a day sleep better. If you aren’t getting enough antioxidants, melatonin takes care of the inflammatory and oxidative processes. Melatonin is like your brain’s scrubbing bubble; it is scrubbing up inflammation, so make sure you are getting enough fruits and veggies. Researchers have discovered that tart cherries, grapes and walnuts contain melatonin.
Magnesium helps calm anxiety and promote sleep – leafy green veggies, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds black beans and almonds are all good sources of magnesium.
#10 Breath deeply – This practice helps reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, releases endorphins, and relaxes your body, getting you ready for sleep. Try the Box Breath – Inhale for 4 counts, hold for four counts, exhale for 4 counts, rest for 4 counts and repeat 4 times.
#11 Sleep-inducing herbs – Valerian root is one of the most studied- it increases receptors for GABA a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulating normal sleep. Chaste tree or Vitex may increase the body’s production of melatonin during the night. Lemon balm tea can calm a restless mind and is effective for easing anxiety. Nighty Night Tea from Traditional Medicinals or Sleep and Relax Tea from Gaia Herbs both contain relaxing sleep-inducing herbs.
Amy Medling, the best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help them gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.