If you’re someone who menstruates, do you find that your sleeping patterns fluctuate throughout your monthly cycle? If so, it could be your hormones talking. We find out what we can do to help reduce the effects for a more restful month’s slumber
Feeling tired? From mood swings to migraines, many of us know only too well how our menstrual cycle can impact our physical and mental wellbeing throughout the month, and sleep is no exception.
Trouble sleeping can be a common sign of PMS, so if your sleeping patterns tend to change at certain points of the month, know you’re not alone. It could be your hormones talking. “Hormonal changes and fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone, can impact sleep quality through activating certain brain areas that inhibit sleep,” says sleep expert Dr Kat Lederle.
However, much like how tracking our menstrual cycle can boost our productivity, working with our cycle’s various stages can help us tune into our body’s needs. This can help us be more aware of when we might be feeling more sleepy and need some extra shut-eye, giving our bedtime routine a helping hand.
Dr Lederle stresses though that not everyone will suffer from disrupted sleep during their menstrual cycle: “There’s huge variability. Some have no problems, while some have no rhythm to their sleep disruption.” (If you’re the latter, it may be that problems outside menstruation are to blame. Visit your GP if you find your sleep problems are severe or are affecting your daily life.)
“For the many who do notice a link, however, the sleep problems tend to occur during the late luteal phase (the week leading up to your period) or early menses (at the beginning of your period).” A few may notice problems “mid-cycle” too, she adds.
How to build a healthy sleep routine
Wherever you are in your cycle, there are some bedtime rituals that can help lay the groundwork for a good night’s sleep. These include:
● Being consistent with your sleep and wake times.
● Creating a restful environment that’s dark, quiet and cool.
● Regular exercise, although not too close to bedtime.
● Writing down your worries before bed.
● Avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
These adjustments can provide a helpful starting point for improving the quality of your shut-eye.
Other things to try include avoiding lie-ins and naps and ditching tech too close to bedtime (the blue light from devices can interfere with the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone).
For top tips and recommendations to help with a restful slumber, watch the Boots Live Well Panel talk with Kathryn Pinkham, insomnia specialist and founder of The Insomnia Clinic.
But if you’ve done all of the above, and still have trouble sleeping, the next thing you could look at is your menstrual cycle. Managing its ebbs and flows – or simply being more aware of it – could help you find a more restful night’s sleep, no matter where you are in your cycle.
Can cycle tracking improve your sleep quality?
Interestingly, you may be able to identify patterns through cycle tracking: the practice of using a paper calendar or an app to track monthly changes, from physical bleeding to hormone-related changes like mood swings and body temperature (if tracking your temperature, a wearable device makes this easier, though you can still do this with just a thermometer for a month as a way of identifying a possible link).
“Once you start tracking, you may notice patterns, which could help you develop a greater level of self-awareness, compassion and smart planning,” suggests Kate Gaffey, a holistic wellbeing expert specialising in menstrual awareness.
While of course, this won’t prevent the hormonal changes themselves – it can help “set you up for success” through making lifestyle adjustments.
Dr Lederle agrees that tracking your cycle can be a useful tool to help support your sleep hygiene and routine, adding that, “knowledge is power”.
How can you track your menstrual cycle & sleep patterns?
1. A period tracking app or calendar
There are several helpful options: some prefer the ease of using a cycle tracking app, which uses an algorithm to predict times of the month you’ll be menstruating and ovulating, together with the signs you might be experiencing.
Alternatively you might, like Dr Lederle, prefer the old-school method of noting important days down in a diary or calendar: “Start with finding out the length of your cycle for a few months, then choose one ‘sign’ to track alongside it,” she recommends.
According to Dr Lederle, this could include noting down things like sleep duration, tiredness in the evening or at certain periods of the day, average bedtimes and waking times, or the number of times you wake up during the night.
Tracking your cycle can also enable you to record how your period may be affecting your sleep, such as when you’re more likely to experience period pain, when your period may be particularly heavy (and when you may need more absorbent sanitary products to see you through the night) to help you feel better prepared.
2. A health & fitness tracker
You might want to go one step further by trying some wearable tech like a FitBit, that monitors sleep length, frequency of waking up during the night and other useful metrics (depending on the model) to help you to keep a running record.
Try: Fitbit Inspire 3 Health & Fitness Tracker Midnight Zen
● Always-on wellness tracking
● Stress management score
● Active zone minutes
● Includes 6-month Fitbit Premium membership
Delve into your sleep analytics (everything from how long you spent in REM to how much restorative sleep you’ve had) with this sleek and stylish Fitbit. It also provides daily scores on how hard you can work out on a given day (depending on individual fitness levels) and how well you’re managing daily stress – think of it as a portable PT.
3. Tracking mood changes
This tracking process can help you be aware of mood changes through your cycle that could be affecting your sleeping patterns. For instance, some of Dr Lederle’s clients find their sleep isn’t as deep just before or during the first few days of their period, when they experience a greater level of alertness caused by lower progesterone levels.
“The mind uses this ‘natural’ wake period to do its thinking, sometimes leading to self-critical, anxious and negative thoughts that can cause restlessness.”
4. Tracking your temperature
Hormonal body temperature fluctuations, which typically can rise between 0.3 and 0.7 degrees celsius in your post-ovulatory luteal phase, or the days after you ovulate around day 14, may not sound like a lot, could be enough to affect sleep.
As a one-off, use a thermometer to find out how your hormone-related temperature changes throughout the month or – if you have a tracker that monitors temperature – you can keep regular track of how your temperature changes over the course of several months.
4 ways to support better sleep during your menstrual cycle
1. Build in a relaxation routine into your day
If you’ve been tracking your mood, you may notice that you experience restlessness just before or at the start of your period (due to lower progesterone levels).
If you observe this pattern, you may be able to help reduce this feeling through practising self-compassion (ie, prioritising your needs and going easy on yourself), adding more aerobic exercise into your workout routine, reducing caffeine and finding a relaxation practice that works for you. This could be a breathing exercise or activities like yoga or pilates to help you unwind.
If it’s more than restlessness that you’re experiencing and you think it could be anxiety, have a chat with your GP or try the Boots Online Doctor Depression and Anxiety Treatment service*.
Try: Primal Strength Premium Yoga Mat
● Weight: 2kg
● Length: 1.8m
Yoga, particularly yoga nidra, can help you shift from work to relax mode after a long day. Help take some of the strain off joints and knees with this mat designed with comfort and grip in mind.
2. Cool off
Help ward off the effects of a rising post-ovulation body temperature by making a few preventative lifestyle tweaks.
These include changing up your sleepwear and bedding during this time (cotton and silk can be more cooling), together with a fan or sleeping with the window open, suggests Dr Lederle.
The result: a cooler (and hopefully more restful) night’s sleep.
3. Stop cramps in their tracks
Period pain keeping you up at night? Have a pain relief kit on standby to stop it from affecting a good night’s slumber.
Consider paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, if suitable for you, to help relieve period pain, as well as having a heat pad or hot water bottle to hand. Before bed, relaxation techniques like yoga or pilates can help, as well as light exercise like swimming, walking or cycling. Treating yourself to a warm bath or shower can also help to relax you.
4. Have the right sanitary wear on standby
There’s nothing worse on heavy flow nights than to find that you’ve leaked. For those occasions, it can be handy to have higher absorbency sanitary wear to hand, to provide peace of mind for a less disturbed sleep.
Try: Always Ultra Sanitary Towels Secure Night (Size 4)
● Contains 16 pads
With a 60% larger back than the brand’s smaller size 1 pads, these sanitary towels provide the extra coverage you need to help prevent leaks during nights when your flow is heavier. They’re also surprisingly lightweight.
5. Resist the urge to over-plan
The ovulation phase – which Kate refers to as your “inner summer” – when your body releases an egg, is when you’re feeling your most “energised, turned on and sexual”. Great for your mood, social prowess and even getting a competitive urge at work, less so for your likelihood of forgoing Thursday drinks in favour of an early night.
Once again, forewarned is forearmed to overcome sleeplessness during this phase. This could be as simple as resisting the urge to over-plan your social calendar to ensure you get in a sensible bedtime or two (plus perhaps sexual fun, either solo or with a partner, to help use up some of that restless energy).
To help you feel more tired at bedtime, it can also be a good idea to weave in some high-intensity workouts like circuit training, HIIT and running into your routine. But try to avoid exercise too close to bed, as this can make you feel more alert and make it harder to get to sleep. Though remember to speak to your GP before starting any new exercise routine or if you haven’t exercised in a while.
Can a lack of sleep affect your menstrual cycle?
It’s a two-way street: while menstrual changes can affect our sleep, our sleep habits may also impact our cycle.
Dr Lederle identifies two examples: first, having a late chronotype, otherwise known as being a ‘night owl’, can lead to some people experiencing more menstrual symptoms, such as cramps and anxiety. While it might be hard to change your natural leaning towards being an evening person, it’s also been found that sleep deprivation can cause irregular cycles and may even affect fertility (according to research cited by Dr Lederle) through affecting our thyroid levels.
So, if you are worried about any of the above, it may be worth exploring a potential connection to poor sleep – particularly for those with ‘night owl’ tendencies who struggle to catch up those lost hours.
“Listen to your body and allow it to have some extra sleep. It’s hard to give a general amount, but start with trying to go to bed 30 minutes earlier,” suggests Dr Lederle.
As we’ve seen, our menstrual and sleep cycles have what Dr Lederle calls a “bidirectional relationship”.
And while most of us will be affected by poor sleep at some point in our cycles, there are steps you can take to help limit the impact it can have on your overall wellbeing.
Through tracking your patterns, you have the superpower to give your body what it needs during this time – whether it’s a lie-in, a 10-minute mindfulness meditation or simply a lighter duvet.