Dr Bernadette Carr answers your questions on sleep disturbance and heavy periods

Q. Recently I have noticed my sleep is disturbed. I am waking up early and several times throughout the night. What can I do?

A. Sleep disturbance may be a sign of an underlying condition such as stress. 

Low mood or anxiety disorders may also manifest as sleep disturbance. 

It is important to consult your doctor if you feel anxiety or low mood are an issue for you.

Many natural strategies can be employed to help you improve the quality of the sleep you are getting. 

To begin, it may be helpful to take a look at your intake of caffeine in the form of coffee/tea/soft drinks. 

Avoid these drinks from the evening onwards to ensure the body is sufficiently “wound down” to help you get a relaxing sleep.

Good sleep routines are important. If possible it can be useful to set a time for bed and adhere to this as much as possible. This will help establish a sleep pattern.

Avoiding use of technology immediately before going to bed is also a good idea. Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom. 

Ensuring the bedroom is in darkness will also help the body to produce melatonin — one of the hormones which regulates your sleep-wake cycle.

A hot milky drink before bed may also help sleep. The enzyme tryptophan, which is found in milk, is believed to help induce sleep. 

Also, steer clear of alcohol before bed. While alcohol may initially help you sleep it will ultimately reduce the quality of this sleep. 

And it’s a good idea to avoid large meals before bed as this can contribute to heartburn and indigestion which may in turn disturb your sleep.

Exercise is important in contributing to the quality of sleep a person gets. 

Thirty minutes daily — which can come in the form of climbing stairs, walking, doing daily activity — should also contribute to good sleep. 

The timing of this exercise can also be important. Exercising too late in the evening can stimulate the body which may make it harder to wind down and get a satisfying night’s sleep.

Relaxation strategies such as deep-breathing or mindfulness techniques before bed are also useful in helping the body to switch off and contribute to restful sleep.

Q. I am 24 years old and have been suffering from very heavy periods since my teens. Is this normal and what can I do to help improve it?

A. Many women suffer from regular heavy periods and, for the majority of them, this will be normal and have no underlying cause. 

In other cases, it may be due to another condition such as endometriosis or fibroids. 

Problems with your thyroid as well as certain medications may also be the cause. 

Some women use the oral contraceptive pill on a regular basis; this will often shorten the duration of monthly period and reduce blood flow. 

If blood flow is very heavy your doctor may also prescribe a course of progesterone tablets to help manage your bleeding. The tablets are typically taken for a course of 10 days during the menstrual cycle. 

Some women will chose the option of a coil containing progesterone which is inserted into the womb providing contraception and reducing menstrual blood flow.

Other options for painful periods with heavy flow where contraception is not required include Mefanamic or Tranexamic acid which you would take during the days of heavy bleeding to reduce your symptoms.

It is important to ensure you are getting adequate iron in your diet if you suffer from heavy periods, as prolonged blood loss may result in anaemia. 

This can be found in the diet in red meat, leafy green vegetables, pulses and many beans as well as fortified cereals and milks.

All women between the ages of 25 and 60 in Ireland are invited to register for the cervical check free cervical screening programme. 

The aim is to detect changes in the cells of the neck of the womb at an early stage which, if untreated, may lead to cervical cancer. 

It is important to visit your GP if you notice any new changes in your bleeding pattern including bleeding between periods or after sex, or any new discharge which may indicate an infection.


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