Did you know that women are more prone to sleep problems? This is largely due to fluctuations in your hormones. Learning how your hormones change at different points in your life can give you some understanding as to why you’re sleeping the way you are.
- Progesterone and sleep
- Progesterone and your monthly cycle
- Progesterone and the menopause
- Stress and sleep
- Tips for good sleep
Progesterone and sleep
The sex hormone progesterone not only triggers ovulation but also promotes sleep. It does this by stimulating your brain to produce a neurotransmitter (a chemical that has an effect on your brain) called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The more progesterone you have, the more GABA you’ll produce.
GABA is an amino acid that helps your brain cells communicate with each other. One of the main roles of GABA is to lower brain activity — which helps reduce stress, balance your mood, and promote sleep. Basically, GABA helps you to ‘switch off’ and relax.
Progesterone and your monthly cycle
You might feel like some weeks your sleep quality is amazing and other weeks you can’t catch a break. You’re not alone! Many women find their sleep is more disturbed in the days leading up to their period, as well as during their period. This could be down to progesterone levels rising and falling at different points in the monthly cycle, altering your GABA production.
Day 1 - 5
Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period. This is when your progesterone levels are usually at their lowest — meaning lower GABA production and worse sleep quality.
In addition to this, the symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) leading up to your period can also impact your sleep. These symptoms include:
- stomach cramping
- muscle aches
- breast tenderness
- mood changes including anxiety and depression
Day 5 - 12
Your progesterone levels are still low at this point in your cycle. But since your menstrual symptoms have gone, you might find it easier to sleep.
Day 13 - 23
Your progesterone levels start to rise during the middle of your cycle, increasing GABA production. This can make you feel tired and relaxed. So this is the point in your cycle when you’re most likely to get some good quality sleep (wahey!).
Day 23 - 28
Your progesterone levels start to fall in the days leading up to your period, lowering your GABA production and possibly causing worse quality sleep. As mentioned, you might also be dealing with the symptoms of PMS which can impact your sleep quality.
Progesterone and the menopause
From about 35 years, your progesterone and oestrogen levels gradually decline.
Since your progesterone levels are dropping, you might find that your sleep quality gets worse. In fact, this is probably the point in your life where you might have the most trouble getting good quality sleep. Again, some common symptoms associated with the menopause, like night sweats, chills, and anxiety, can impact your sleep.
Stress and sleep
When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol — giving you a burst of new energy to help you cope with the situation. Cortisol and progesterone are made from the same building blocks (steroids) and your body will always prioritise making cortisol. So if you’re stressed a lot, you might not produce enough progesterone and your sleep quality can suffer.
Tips for good sleep
Just because your hormone levels aren’t optimal doesn’t mean you can’t get a good night’s sleep. There are lots of things in your control that can promote good sleep:
- Find your zen — lowering your stress levels is incredibly effective at improving your sleep quality
- Have a sleep routine — go to bed and wake up at the same time (even at the weekend)
- Put down the coffee — don’t worry, just try to avoid drinking it after 3-4 pm
- Drink some tea — drinking a calming tea, like chamomile or lemon balm, can help relax you before bed
- Have a bubble bath — okay, the bubbles aren’t necessary!
- Take a breath — we breathe all the time, but really try to focus on breathing deeply and being in the moment
Gottesmann, C. (2002). GABA mechanisms and sleep. Neuroscience, 111(2), 231-239.
Lancel, M. A. R. I. K. E., Faulhaber, J. O. H. A. N. N. E. S., Holsboer, F. L. O. R. I. A. N., & Rupprecht, R. A. I. N. E. R. (1996). Progesterone induces changes in sleep comparable to those of agonistic GABAA receptor modulators. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 271(4), E763-E772.
Manber, R., & Armitage, R. (1999). Sex, steroids, and sleep: a review. Sleep, 22(5), 540-541.