Tired of Feeling Tired: Fatigue and Your Menstrual Cycle
At some points in your cycle, you may feel like curling up in bed, and not moving a muscle. You might even wonder, "why am I so tired before my period?" The truth is, that changes in your energy levels during your menstrual cycle are completely normal. Our bodies go through a complex series of hormonal and chemical changes that can leave us feeling extra sluggish.
However, feeling tired and rundown shouldn't be something that we just accept as the norm. In this post, we'll explore why you might be feeling tired throughout your menstrual cycle and, more importantly, what you can do about it.
What Causes Fatigue During Your Menstrual Cycle?
As you approach the menstrual phase of your cycle, your estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate, which can leave you feeling drained and depleted. On top of that, PMS symptoms in the lead-up to your period can cause a variety of symptoms that can add to your level of exhaustion, such as headaches, cramps, and mood swings. So, if you're feeling more tired than usual during your menstrual cycle, PMS might just be to blame. Although the exact cause of PMS is still up for debate, experts believe it's closely linked to the hormonal changes our bodies undergo during this time.
During our cycles, the levels of estrogen and progesterone produced by your ovaries can significantly impact your energy levels. During the first half of your cycle, known as the follicular phase, estrogen production increases. This rise in estrogen is responsible for thickening the lining of the uterus and preparing it for pregnancy. However, after ovulation, during the second half of the cycle, known as the luteal phase, estrogen production decreases while progesterone levels increase. This shift in hormones can leave us feeling more tired and fatigued than usual. In fact, low estrogen levels are known to cause sluggishness and lethargy, making ordinary tasks feel strangely difficult! So, if you find yourself feeling more tired than usual during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle, low estrogen levels might be to blame.
Did you know that your brain chemistry can also impact your energy levels during your menstrual cycle? The levels of certain chemicals in our brains, like serotonin, can play a significant role in how we feel leading up to our periods. Serotonin is one of our mood-boosting brain chemicals, and as our periods approach each month, our serotonin levels can change significantly. This is because levels of serotonin often decline in line with decreasing estrogen, leaving us feeling low on mood and energy. Without enough serotonin in our system, we may find it harder to feel motivated or energized, making even simple tasks feel like a chore.
Inadequate Iron Levels
Your period can also impact your iron levels. Periods are the most common cause of iron loss worldwide, and research shows that women of childbearing age need up to twice as much daily iron as men! That's because we lose a significant amount of iron every time we menstruate. In fact, it's estimated that we can lose anywhere between 220 to 250mg of iron per pint of blood during our periods. This iron loss can be a real problem, as iron is an essential mineral that our bodies need to produce energy and fight off fatigue. If you’re feeling more tired than usual leading up to your period, it might be worth checking your iron levels to see if you're getting enough of this vital nutrient.
If you think you might need an iron boost, consider adding a high-quality supplement to your diet, which can help contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Insomnia And Sleep Problems
Do you ever have trouble sleeping leading up to your period? You're not alone! A 2016 study found that PMS can influence stage 2 of REM sleep in women, making it more difficult for us to get the restorative sleep we need. This is because menstrual-related hormonal fluctuations can be responsible for causing more disturbed sleep in women than men. When we don't get enough quality sleep, we're more likely to feel tired, sluggish, and unfocused during the day, which can impact our productivity and mood. So, if you're feeling especially tired before your period, it might be worth looking at your sleep patterns to see if you're getting the restful sleep your body needs to recharge and energize.
Pain And Bloating
We know that many women struggle with cramping, back pain, and bloating because of their periods. But did you know that these aches and pains can also make you feel more tired and sluggish? Feeling physically unwell can increase tiredness, making it harder to find the energy to stay active and focused throughout the day. What's more, period pains and mood changes can make it difficult for us to get to sleep or stay asleep throughout the night. This lack of quality sleep can lead to tiredness and fatigue the following day, making it even harder to get through our daily routine. In the days leading up to your period or during, make sure you take extra care of yourself and give your body the rest it needs to recover.
Ways to Fight Period Fatigue
When it comes to fighting period fatigue, self-care is key. Small, simple actions can make a big difference in how you feel during your menstrual cycle. Here are some basic tips to help you fight fatigue and feel more energized.
If you’re tired before your period, it can be a sign that your body needs more rest. Adopting healthy sleep habits like going to bed and waking up at consistent times can help regulate the hormones responsible for sleep. Additionally, a woman's body temperature increases before her period by about 0.5C, which can disrupt sleep. If you're struggling to fall asleep, try lowering the temperature in your room before going to bed to improve comfort and sleep quality. Getting about eight hours of sleep each night can also help ease period symptoms like depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Make an effort to prioritize good sleep hygiene during your menstrual cycle.
Sleep and Your Cycle
Just like our cycle, our sleep also goes through different phases. You go through the same sleep cycle three to six times throughout the night. Each cycle is made up of non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of four phases:
- The falling asleep phase
- The light sleep phase
- The transition phase to deep sleep
- The deep sleep phase.
The deep sleep phase ensures physical rest and recovery. REM sleep, also called dream sleep, always follows deep sleep and becomes longer and more intense towards the end of the night. After each cycle, there is a very short wake-up moment. This is the body's way of checking that everything is still okay. If you receive stimuli such as noise or light at that moment, you are likely to wake up to “solve the problem.”
75 to 80 percent of nighttime sleep consists of non-REM sleep, which mainly occurs in the early part of the night.
REM sleep stands for Rapid Eye Movement, because the eyes are constantly moving during this phase. All muscles in your body are relaxed. Yet your brain and your eyes are fully active. When you wake up during REM sleep, you feel groggy, tired, and disoriented. It is the phase of mental and emotional recovery, processing the data that is stored in long-term memory. If you have had too little REM sleep, it will be more difficult for you to concentrate the next day.
What do our female hormones have to do with this? More than you think! More and more research shows that changes in hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can affect our sleep quality, both positively and negatively. Progesterone rises after ovulation and plays an active role during the premenstrual phase, which is good news because progesterone is good for sleep. The hormone affects the production of your sleep hormone melatonin and promotes relaxation. In the days before your period, both progesterone and estrogen drop, which can lead to sleep problems. As a result, you can wake up more often at night and dream more emotionally. That can be frustrating and disruptive, and you can feel tired and grumpy during the day.
REM sleep lasts longer in many women during the follicular phase (the first part of the menstrual cycle, prior to ovulation). That means our dreams can be more vivid and intense at this stage of our cycle, providing us with a rich source of inspiration and creativity. By the way, we can become sexually aroused during our REM sleep, several studies have found. Almost all men even get an erection several times; in women, blood flow in the vulva increases, especially in the clitoris. An intense sex dream sometimes leads to an orgasm, also in women.
Orgasms are pretty amazing. In fact, they can even help relieve period pain! Read more about it in our blog post here.
Five Tips to Sleep Better
- Have an evening routine: unwind with decaffeinated tea, read a book, take a bath, listen to a sleep meditation, have sex with your partner – whatever helps you relax. Put your phone aside and don't watch TV right before bed. The light from those screens can disrupt your melatonin production.
- Don't lie awake in bed for more than an hour: if you're staring at the ceiling, get up and sit on a chair or couch in the dark. Let go of your thoughts and then, when you feel sleepy, go back to bed.
- Make your bedroom an oasis of calm: set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature (cooler is better), keep your pets out of the bedroom, invest in a comfortable mattress and good sheets – prepare yourself for a real sleep success.
- Avoid afternoon coffee: Most people like to drink coffee in the morning to wake up. But in the afternoon or evening, coffee does more harm than good. If you do need that extra energy boost, try a ginger shot!
- Magnesium is your best friend: studies show that magnesium can help you sleep better by promoting the production of the melatonin hormone. Add magnesium-rich foods to your diet or opt for a supplement.
For more on how your sleep is impacted by your cycle, read our post called How Your Menstrual Cycle Impacts Your Sleep.
Rest & Relax
Resting and relaxing is essential in the battle against period fatigue. If your body is already running on a low battery and you burn it out with intense activity and a jam-packed schedule, it’s a recipe for trouble.
It's important to prioritise activities that help you unwind, especially if you're having trouble sleeping. Trying out different relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. Warm baths or massages can also effectively relax your body and mind, allowing you to get the restful sleep you need to feel refreshed and energized. Remember, self-care is important, and taking a little extra time to pamper yourself during your period can help ease your symptoms.
We just finished saying to relax, and now we’re saying get moving? What’s going on here?
Movement can actually help you feel more energised if you’re struggling with fatigue and tiredness related to your period. If you’re feeling too fatigued to hit the gym, don’t worry! You don't need to do a grueling workout to get the benefits of exercise. Even low-intensity exercise, like a gentle walk or yoga, can help alleviate PMS fatigue.Incorporating a bit of activity into your daily routine can also help improve your mood and energy levels, so don't be afraid to start small and work your way up.
Need more proof? A 2014 study investigated the effects of aerobic exercise on 30 young women with PMS symptoms. All of the participants received daily vitamin B6 and calcium supplements. Some also performed aerobic exercises three times a week for three months. Guess what happened? In comparison with the control group, the participants who exercised regularly showed a significant reduction in period fatigue.
It sometimes sounds too simple to be effective, but drinking water can often be a magic cure for tiredness. When you’re on our period, staying hydrated is essential for maintaining your energy levels. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration, leading to tiredness and mood swings. Drinking plenty of water can help to keep our energy levels up and our minds sharp. And if you find it hard to drink plain water, try infusing it with some lemon or cucumber for a refreshing twist. So don't forget to grab that water bottle and keep sipping throughout the day to beat period fatigue!
When Should You See A Doctor About Period Fatigue?
If you’re so tired that it is impacting your ability to go about your daily activities or if it continues even after your period has ended, it's worth speaking to your doctor. Severe or debilitating PMS symptoms can also be a cause for concern. Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, supplements or medications to help alleviate your symptoms and improve your overall well-being. It's important to take your symptoms seriously and seek professional advice if you need it.
Get The Support You Need
The bottom line is that period fatigue or a lack of energy shortly before or during your period is a common symptom of PMS. But just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s normal or that it’s something you just have to live with.
If you want a supportive place to talk to experts about your cycle or what you’re experiencing, talk to us. We’re here for you and our team of experts can help point you in the right direction. It may be as easy as adding a daily supplement to your diet and if that’s the case, we can help you pick the one that’s best for you!
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