Sleep and PCOS: what’s the connection?

We’ve all heard sleep is important right? In fact, when you think about it we spend one-third of our lives sleeping! It’s clear we all need a good night’s sleep, but just how essential is it and what happens when we don’t get enough? And, if we have PCOS, what is the link between sleep and PCOS?

The importance of sleep

Sleep is defined as a sedentary state of mind and body. Considering the average person spends 26 years of their life sleeping (1), we should probably understand it a little better. Getting enough sleep, and high-quality sleep is essential to our survival – just as much as food and water are.

Epidemiological studies all highlight the importance of sleep, and sleep has an impact on our heart health, metabolism, hormones, respiratory system, immune system and even our thinking and memory (2).

But what link does sleep have with PCOS?

Sleep and PCOS

Studies have found sleep disturbances and disorders including obstructive sleep apnoea and excessive daytime sleepiness may be more common in people with PCOS (3). There are several, possibly bidirectional ways in which PCOS may be associated with disturbed sleep:

• Hyperandrogenemia in PCOS, a form of insulin resistance, and possible changes in cortisol and melatonin secretion may alter the HPA function – linked to stress

Anxiety and depression, in response to distressing symptoms, may also have an impact.

The specific impact of sleep disturbances on the health of individuals with PCOS is not yet clear, however, both are associated with negative effects on cardio-metabolic health(3).

So, if you have PCOS you may experience disturbed sleep, but how might this affect your (or anyone’s) day-to-day?

Sleep and appetite

There are a couple of ways sleep can affect your appetite, many of which we all experience.

Firstly, have you ever found after a poor night’s sleep you’re generally hungrier? Research has found reducing sleep from 8.5 to 4.5 hours a night increased hunger, appetite and food choices, with individuals more likely to choose more energy-dense foods when sleep-deprived despite not being physically hungry (4).

The main takeaway from this study is that you’re not alone if you’ve ever experienced this, sleep deprivation does have a real effect on your hunger, appetite and cravings.

Sleep and movement

Another way reduced sleep can have an impact is a decrease in energy expenditure. Studies have found that following sleep deprivation metabolic rates were reduced consequently reducing energy expenditure. Although this was only observed over a short period of time, it does show that disrupted sleep can affect the body’s response to conserve energy (5).

Secondly, and not surprisingly, physical activity in the form of exercise and non-structured movement generally decreases following a poor night’s sleep.

Sleep and cognitive function

There have been multiple studies investigating the impact of sleep on memory and motor function. Studies have found when individuals are deprived of sleep they can experience, a reduction in the ability to form new memories, and interestingly the memories retained are more likely to be linked to negative emotion! (6)

Further studies have found sleep is essential for remembering facts, especially those with an emotional link, as well as our ability to develop procedural memories e.g. how to do things (7).

Main takeaways

Sleep is extremely important for your physical and mental health. PCOS has been linked with an increased likelihood of sleep disturbance, as discussed this can affect your day-to-day life in multiple ways.

There are many ways you can adjust your routine to help improve your sleep. If you feel sleep is negatively impacting your day-to-day, and nothing seems to help, it is important to seek advice from a health professional. This article outlines tips to help improve sleep for people with PCOS.

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