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Do you need more sleep during your period?

Periods 101
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Do you need more sleep during your period?

Navigating through the monthly ebb and flow of your menstrual cycle can feel like a herculean task when fatigue kicks in and it often comes with a side serving of sleep disturbances. But why does this happen, and is hitting the snooze button a few more times really the antidote you need during your period?

Understanding the intrinsic link between your hormonal ballet and sleep may illuminate why you feel more worn out during those days of the month and reinforce the importance of restful slumber for your overall well-being.

Hormonal fluctuations and sleep

The menstrual cycle isn't just a reproductive highlight reel—it's an intricate hormonal roller coaster affecting virtually every aspect of your physiology, mood, and yes, sleep patterns. 

During menstruation, hormone levels fluctuate significantly; oestrogen and progesterone dip to their lowest post-ovulation, leading to a kaleidoscope of physical and emotional changes including fatigue and mood swings.

As you progress through the follicular phase and your energy and motivation levels begin to rise, you’ll notice improved imagination, perception, memory and social abilities. However, alongside this rise in oestrogen there’s an increase in energy levels, which may cause you to find it more difficult to fall asleep.

During ovulation, the sharp increase in oestrogen levels can cause sleep disturbances such as insomnia or difficulty staying asleep.

The luteal phase is when progesterone levels rise. Progesterone has a sedating effect and can make you feel more tired than usual. However, it can also contribute to symptoms like restless legs or sleep apnea, which can disrupt your sleep quality. 

The lowdown on low hormones

Right before and during your period, both oestrogen and progesterone are on the decline. It's these hormones, particularly progesterone—a natural sleep-promoter—that can leave you feeling drained. The drop in progesterone can make falling and staying asleep more challenging and may even lead to a restless night.

The progesterone slumber

During the second half of the cycle, progesterone levels rise, which can have a sedative effect. However, this level starts to drop as your period approaches. This hormone is your natural tranquilliser; when it's reduced, you might notice trouble unwinding and drifting into deep sleep.

The alertness of oestrogen

Oestrogen, known to help regulate the sleep cycle, also takes a hit during your period. Lower oestrogen levels can make you less resilient to stress and more susceptible to sleep disturbances, hence why some women report feeling more vigilant or even insomnia during this time.

What is oestrogen?

There’s actually three different types of oestrogen, but we’ll focus on E2. This is the most active and abundant form of oestrogen and generally the one people are talking about when they refer to it. This hormone is made in the ovary during our reproductive years (after puberty and before menopause) and plays a big role in regulating our menstrual cycle.  

Oestrogen, known for its role in sexual development and reproductive function, also affects sleep quality and duration. Research has shown that high levels of oestrogen can lead to increased wakefulness and lighter sleep, making it harder to achieve deep, restorative sleep. Furthermore, fluctuations in oestrogen levels can disrupt the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.

What is progesterone?

Progesterone, on the other hand, has a calming effect on the body and can promote sleep. However, an excess of progesterone can lead to symptoms like snoring, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome, which can interfere with the quality of your sleep. Understanding these hormonal dynamics can help you implement strategies to improve your sleep during your period.

Common sleep issues during menstruation

Sleep problems during menstruation are not uncommon. Many people experience symptoms such as insomnia, fragmented sleep, or feeling unrested despite getting enough hours of sleep. These issues can be attributed to the hormonal fluctuations and changes in sleep architecture that occur during this time of the month.

Insomnia, characterised by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, can be particularly prevalent during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. The rise in progesterone levels can contribute to increased sleep disturbances and restlessness. Additionally, symptoms like bloating, cramps, and mood swings can also disrupt sleep, further exacerbating the problem.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is another common sleep issue experienced by people during their period. RLS is characterised by an irresistible urge to move the legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. This can make it challenging to relax and fall asleep, leading to sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue.

Sleep apnea, a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, can also be more prevalent during menstruation. The hormonal changes, particularly the rise in progesterone levels, can contribute to the relaxation of muscles in the throat, increasing the likelihood of airway obstruction and disrupted breathing patterns.

The importance of rest

Sleep isn't just a time-out from daily life—it's when your body launches its repair and recovery processes. Given the additional physical and emotional demands during menstruation, it's plausible and, indeed, advisable to be attentive to your body’s need for rest:

  • Physical recovery: Your period is a physically demanding process where the body needs to recover and repair. Sleep helps facilitate this.
  • Mood equilibrium: Emotional volatility is not uncommon during this time, and sleep can play a key role in maintaining mood balance.
  • Cognitive function: Ever noticed you're not quite as sharp during your period? Sleep helps to refocus and retain cognitive function.
  • Energy conservation: Your body is expending energy—it makes sense to replenish it with quality rest.

Sleep strategies for your period

While you may not need to sleep for hours on end, prioritising quality sleep can make a world of difference. Here are some tips:

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine: A calming pre-sleep ritual can signal your body that it's time to wind down.
  • Prioritise comfort: Your bed should be a sanctuary of comfort and support. Choose a mattress and pillows that suit your preferences and provide optimal comfort for your body.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark: Optimal sleep conditions include a cool room temperature and a dark environment. Use blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out any unwanted light and ensure that your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature for sleep.
  • Mindful nutrition: Be mindful of diet; reducing caffeine and sugar intake close to bedtime may improve sleep quality.
  • Stay active: Regular physical activity, even gentle yoga or walks, can help reduce symptoms and promote better sleep.
  • Minimise noise and distractions: If noise is a concern, consider using earplugs or a white noise machine to drown out any disruptive sounds. Remove electronic devices from your bedroom to minimise distractions and create a peaceful sleep environment.
  • Create a calming atmosphere: Dim the lights, play soothing music, or use essential oils like lavender to create a relaxing ambiance in your bedroom. These elements can help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Sleep tips for each phase of the menstrual cycle

Getting a good night's sleep during your period starts with understanding the different phases of your menstrual cycle and how they impact your sleep patterns. By tailoring your sleep routine to each phase, you can optimise your rest and wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Menstruation Phase

During this phase, oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and lethargy. To promote better sleep during menstruation, try the following tips:

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Establish a calming routine before bed, such as taking a warm bath or practising gentle yoga stretches. This will help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Use heat therapy: Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen can help relieve menstrual cramps and promote relaxation, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Practise good sleep hygiene: Make your sleep environment as comfortable as possible by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a supportive mattress and pillows to ensure optimal comfort.

Follicular Phase

As your body prepares to release an egg, oestrogen levels begin to rise during the follicular phase. This increase in oestrogen can have a positive impact on your sleep quality. To maximise the benefits, try the following tips:

  • Get regular exercise: Engaging in moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, can help regulate your hormones and promote better sleep during this phase. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help regulate your body's internal clock and improve your overall sleep quality. Try to stick to a routine even on weekends.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption: Both caffeine and alcohol can interfere with your sleep patterns. Avoid consuming these substances close to bedtime to ensure a restful night's sleep.

Ovulation Phase

Ovulation occurs when an egg is released from the ovary. This phase is characterised by a surge in oestrogen and a rise in progesterone levels. To optimise your sleep during ovulation, consider the following tips:

  • Practice relaxation techniques: Engaging in activities like deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle stretching before bed can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep.
  • Use blackout curtains or an eye mask: The increase in progesterone during this phase can make you more sensitive to light. Blocking out any sources of light in your bedroom can promote a deeper, more restful sleep.
  • Try a sleep-inducing tea: Certain herbal teas like chamomile, valerian root, or lavender can have calming properties that promote relaxation and aid in falling asleep. Sip on a warm cup of tea before bed to enhance your sleep quality.

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase is the final phase of the menstrual cycle before menstruation begins again. During this phase, both oestrogen and progesterone levels are at their highest, which can lead to sleep disturbances. To combat these disturbances, try the following tips:

    • Limit exposure to blue light: Electronic devices emit blue light, which can interfere with your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. Avoid using electronic devices, such as smartphones or laptops, for at least an hour before bed.
    • Practice stress management techniques: High levels of progesterone during this phase can contribute to heightened stress and anxiety, making it difficult to fall asleep. Experiment with stress-reducing activities like journaling, practising mindfulness, or listening to calming music to promote better sleep.
    • Invest in a comfortable sleepwear: Opt for loose-fitting, breathable sleepwear during the luteal phase to help regulate your body temperature and prevent night sweats, a common symptom during this phase.

    By understanding the unique sleep challenges and opportunities presented by each phase of your menstrual cycle, you can adopt strategies tailored to your specific needs, ensuring a better night's sleep throughout the month.

    If you find yourself reaching for the alarm clock with growing frequency during your period, it's not just a frivolous luxury—it's your body advocating for the restorative sleep it needs. Listening and responding to this biological cue isn’t a sign of weakness; it's about empowering yourself with the rest required to face your days with vigour, regardless of the time of the month.

    During menstruation, don't ignore the symbiotic relationship between sleep and your hormonal health. Grant yourself permission to rest as an act of self-care, and remember, in the great symphony of your menstrual cycle, sleep isn’t just an interlude—it's a necessary rest note.

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