How your menstrual cycle impacts your sleep?
Morgane Leten - Nutrition & Fertility Coach
There is nothing better than a good night’s sleep, am I right? When you wake up feeling refreshed and rested, it feels like you can take on the world.
But how often do you find yourself lying awake tossing and turning? You can drink all the chamomile tea you like, but sometimes, sleep is impossible. And the worst part is that sleepless nights make for rubbish days (cue: irritability, lack of focus, headaches and fatigue).
Did you know that your cycle can affect your sleep patterns? It’s different for everyone and It's important to remember that every woman is unique, and our bodies all respond differently to the changes in hormone levels that occur during the menstrual cycle.
So, what’s the secret to a guud night’s sleep, you ask?
We’re going to break it down for you…
Sleep and Your Hormones
The relationship between sleep and the menstrual cycle is a fascinating and complex one. Hormones play a crucial role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle, and the menstrual cycle is no exception. In fact, research has shown that changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle can affect our sleep in significant ways.
First, let's take a look at the hormone melatonin. This hormone is produced by the body and is responsible for helping us feel sleepy at night. As the sun sets and darkness falls, levels of melatonin rise in the body, signalling to our brain that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep. In the morning, as the sun rises and light floods our environment, levels of melatonin decrease, helping us to wake up and start our day.
During the menstrual cycle, changes in hormone levels can also affect our sleep. In the days leading up to your period, levels of the hormone progesterone drop, which can lead to insomnia and other sleep disturbances. This can be frustrating and disruptive, leaving us feeling tired and grumpy during the day.
But it's not all bad news. Research has shown that the menstrual cycle can have a positive effect on our sleep in some ways. For example, during the follicular phase (the first part of the menstrual cycle, leading up to ovulation), women tend to have more REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming. This means that our dreams may be more vivid and intense during this time, providing us with a rich source of inspiration and creativity.
During the luteal phase (the second part of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation), women tend to have more non-REM sleep, which is associated with deeper, more restful sleep. This can help us feel refreshed and rejuvenated in the morning, making us better equipped to tackle the day ahead.
Then, as your period approaches, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This is when many women have trouble sleeping. You might notice that you wake up more often during the night and dream more emotionally. Maybe you also suffer from hot flashes… sound familiar?
Of course, not every woman experiences these changes in the same way. Some women may not notice any differences in their sleep during their menstrual cycle, while others may find that their sleep is affected depending on where they’re at in their cycle. Most issues begin after ovulation, which is when cortisol levels rise and melatonin (= sleep hormone) levels decrease. Your body temperature is also slightly higher* after ovulation.
*About 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, your body temperature rises from 0.3 to 0.5 degrees Celsius (under the influence of the hormone progesterone). Sometimes the temperature rise can also happen a little later.
Your temperature then remains high and drops back to the level of the first day of your cycle, right before the next menstrual period.
By taking steps to improve our sleep hygiene and create a relaxing sleep environment, we can take control of our sleep and ensure that we get the restful, rejuvenating sleep that we need.
Here’s what to expect during each phase of your cycle:
Follicular Phase (spring)
During this phase, there is a rise in estrogen. You may feel overstimulated because of new energy and new ideas and as a result, because of this you maybe notice it’s more difficult to fall asleep.
On top of that, you might notice that you have more light or poor-quality sleep at the end of the night, which may be why you hit the snooze button a couple (hundred!) of times in the morning.
So, in this phase it could be hard to fall asleep and wake up in the morning.
Ovulation Phase (summer)
Women have more sex dreams during ovulation! Say What?? Yes, seriously! In this phase of your cycle, you are the most fertile. You will also feel more attractive and self-confident. Because estrogen and testosterone are high during this phase of your cycle, your libido will be too, which means more erotic dreams. No need to feel guilty if you wake up in the morning next to your partner, having just experienced an intense orgasm with someone else in your dreams! Blame the hormones.
Luteal or Pre-menstrual Phase (Autumn)
During the premenstrual phase, progesterone plays an active role and that’s guud news because progesterone is good for sleep. Progesterone impacts the production of your sleep hormone melatonin. If you don’t make enough progesterone (because of estrogen dominance*) in that phase of your cycle, you may experience sleep problems.
*estrogen dominance = when you have too much estrogen relative to progesterone, you can experience PMS symptoms, including decreased sleep quality. Estrogen dominance is triggered by a long list of common factors, including stress, lack of self-care, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to environmental toxins. So make sure to keep your liver healthy so that excess estrogen can leave your body in a guud way. (read Happy Gut - Happy Hormones)
During this part of your cycle, there is more non-REM sleep, and many women report poorer sleep quality in the three days leading up to the start of their period. So, you may spend lots of time in bed with your eyes closed but wake up feeling like you just pulled an all-nighter.
You could also experience other PMS symptoms such as sore breasts, headaches, anxiety or moodiness, bloating and cramps which also influence your sleep quality.
Menstruatl Phase (winter)
Just a few days before the start of your next period, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. And this is when many women have trouble sleeping.
And also, when you’re bleeding, you may feel sleepier than usual. Be kind to your body. Avoid things like super strenuous exercise and if you can, go to bed at a consistent time each night, aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep.
One thing to note: if you are on the pill, know that it will block some natural hormonal patterns, which means you won’t experience the four phases of a natural cycle.
How to sleep better
One of the main ways of reducing the impact of hormonal changes throughout your cycle is to better understand your own body and your sleep patterns. We suggest keeping a sleep diary which can help you track and anticipate changes throughout the month. Knowledge is power and when you understand the inner workings of your body, you can work with it instead of fighting against it!
So what can you do to get a better night’s sleep if you’re struggling with period-related sleep problems? Well, the guud news is that the answer is the same for anyone dealing with sleep problems.
Here are a few ideas:
- Have a consistent bedtime routine: Wind down with a decaf tea, read a book, have a bath, listen to a sleep meditation, have sex with your partner – whatever helps you relax. And remember to avoid using your phone or watching TV right before bed. The light from the screen can mess with your circadian rhythm
- Don’t stay awake in bed for more than an hour: If you find yourself lying awake and staring at the ceiling (or fuming as you listen to your partner snoozing away next to you!), get up and sit in a chair in the dark. Let your mind race in the chair and then, when you’re feeling sleepy, go back to bed.
- Make your bedroom a sleep oasis: Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature (cooler is better), keep pets outside the bedroom, invest in a comfortable mattress and good sheets – basically, set yourself up for success
- Avoid coffee in the afternoon: Most people drink coffee in the morning to help them wake up, but caffeine consumed after 2pm or in the evening can cause more harm than good. Try a ginger shot to get energised if you’re struggling mid-day.
- Get regular exercise: Exercise can help improve sleep quality. We know that exercising when you feel tired might seem counter intuitive, but give it a try. It doesn’t need to be a 10 mile run. A yoga class or walk in nature can do wonders to improve your sleep quality.
- Manage your stress levels: Stress makes it hard to sleep. That’s because cortisol is coursing through your body and it keeps you awake. If possible, reduce stress. Have a bath before bed. Meditate or journal. Whatever will help ease your mind as you get ready for sleepy time.
- Avoid alcohol before bed: Winding down in the evening with a glass of wine may sound like a good idea, but it can negatively impact your natural sleep cycle. Try some soothing tea or a kombucha instead.
- Don't go to bed too full: Eating a super late dinner can cause havoc for your sleep! If Try to eat a few hours before bed time so your body has time to digest. And, if you’re feeling hungry before bed, opt for light snacks instead of a full stomach. It can cause indigestion and make it hard to sleep.
Magnesium is your BFF: Studies show that magnesium contributes
to normal functioning of the nervous system and it promotes the production of melatonin (= sleep hormone).
Still have questions about your menstrual cycle? Get in touch. We can help!