Where you are in your cycle can cause a host of discomforts and inconveniences throughout the month; bloating, cramps, mood swings, cravings, fatigue… even insomnia. The way our menstrual cycle can impact our sleep can be confusing and frustrating. Some days we need more sleep during our periods, then the next day we feel like PMS is causing insomnia and sleep disturbances.
There are various ways in which menstruation can impact the quality of sleep—and there are also a few practical tips to help manage these challenges.
The Menstrual Cycle and Sleep
Throughout all the phases of the menstrual cycle (menstruation, follicular, ovulation, and luteal) our body is affected in different ways, largely due to hormonal fluctuations. Estrogen and progesterone in particular can influence sleep patterns.
During menstruation, many women experience the discomfort and pain of menstrual cramps. These cramps can make it difficult to get comfortable, fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to sleep disturbances.
The Follicular Phase
The follicular phase begins after menstruation and is marked by increasing levels of estrogen. This rise in estrogen can lead to more vivid dreams, mood swings, and increased wakefulness during the night, affecting overall sleep quality.
It’s party time! Ovulation is the midpoint of the menstrual cycle, characterized by the release of an egg from the ovary. Some women may experience increased energy and libido during this phase, but it can also result in a lower sleep quality due to heightened alertness.
The Luteal Phase
If ovulation is party time, then the luteal phase, the phase leading up to menstruation, is sleepy time. It’s marked by a significant increase in the hormone progesterone, which can lead to drowsiness and fatigue. Can’t get out of bed in the morning? Perhaps your period is on its way. This hormonal shift can also cause mood swings, irritability and increased sensitivity to pain, making it challenging to fall—and stay—asleep.
Sleep Disruptions During Menstruation
With a better understanding of how the menstrual cycle affects sleep, let's get into specific sleep disruptions that women may experience during their period.
Menstrual discomfort, including cramps and bloating, can make it difficult for women to find a comfortable sleeping position. If your favorite position puts uncomfortable pressure on your abdomen, tossing and turning can ensue. This discomfort, combined with hormonal fluctuations, often results in insomnia during the first few days of menstruation.
Increased Sensitivity to Pain
The luteal phase of the menstrual cycle is characterized by heightened sensitivity to pain. This can make existing sleep problems, such as chronic pain conditions or discomfort, feel more intense and interfere with the ability to sleep peacefully.
Mood Swings and Anxiety
Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can lead to mood swings and increased anxiety, which can negatively impact sleep. Racing thoughts and worries may keep women awake at night, making it challenging to relax and fall asleep.
Disrupted Circadian Rhythms
The hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle can disrupt a woman's circadian rhythms, which regulate the sleep-wake cycle. This disruption can lead to erratic sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep at a consistent time and waking up feeling unrested.
Tips to Managing Sleep Disruptions During Your Period
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate the sleep disruptions caused by your cycle, there are several strategies you can employ to improve sleep quality any day of the month.
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, even during your period. A regular sleep schedule helps regulate your circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up refreshed.
Manage Pain and Discomfort
Over-the-counter pain relievers, PMS support supplements, heating pads or hot water bottles can help alleviate menstrual cramps and discomfort, making it easier to sleep. Gentle stretching exercises or yoga can also help reduce muscle tension.
Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Try to engage in calming activities before bed. Dim the lights, take a warm bath by candlelight, read a book or practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Try to limit screen use for at least an hour before bedtime and use blue light blocking glasses, which can help reduce blue light’s suppressive effect on melatonin production.
Opt for Comfortable Sleepwear and Bedding
Wearing loose, breathable pajamas and using comfortable bedding can help reduce discomfort during your period. Consider investing in quality pillows and a comfortable mattress to support better sleep.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce mood swings. Avoid caffeine, sugar, and heavy, spicy foods in the evening, as they can interfere with sleep.
Dehydration can exacerbate cramps and other menstrual symptoms. Make sure you drink enough water throughout the day, but try to limit your intake before bedtime to reduce those disruptive nighttime trips to the loo!
Regular physical activity can help reduce menstrual discomfort and improve sleep quality. The practice of cycle syncing can help you determine different types of exercise that are best for your body at different parts of your cycle. For example, during menstruation you can engage in light to moderate exercise like walking or yoga.
Try a Sleep-Tracking App
Consider using sleep-tracking apps or devices to monitor your sleep patterns. These tools can help you identify trends and areas for improvement in your sleep habits.
Our cycles can have a significant impact on sleep quality—from frustrating insomnia before your period to extreme fatigue during your period. Understanding the relationship between the menstrual cycle and sleep disturbances can empower women to take control of their sleep patterns and implement sleep strategies to help manage sleep quality throughout the month.