17 February 2021
Having a hard time catching 💤? Your cycle could be the culprit.
Like most things in your body, your cycle influences the way that you sleep. According to a 2018 study, poorer quality sleep is found in people who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or painful cramps. It also cited that people with periods most often report sleep difficulties the days leading up to their period and the first couple days of menstruation. However, it is important to note that everyone has different sensitivities to our reproductive hormones and may experience different sleep problems, if any.
If you’re tossing and turning, take solace in the fact that you are not alone. In fact, thirty percent of people with periods said they experienced sleep problems during menstruation. With the right tools, we can get through this together. Below we’re breaking down how your sleep may be impacted during different spans of your life and each phase of your cycle, and then giving you some major 🔑🔑🔑 to help you get good sleep every day.
How sleep changes throughout the years
Female reproductive hormones (a.k.a. estrogen and progesterone) have been shown to modulate sleep across adulthood. People tend to suffer from sleep issues more when they’re going through big hormonal changes, including puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Beginning at puberty, girls report more sleep complaints than boys, which is maintained throughout the reproductive life stage. Many people experience greater daytime sleepiness and nap slow-wave sleep (SWS) duration during the luteal phase of their cycle. More on how the different phases of the cycle affects sleep below ⏬
If you take exogenous hormones such as the birth control pill, here’s a fun fact: they’ve been shown to increase REM sleep and stage 2 sleep, which is the spindle-rich stage of sleep where the higher levels of memory consolidation is happening. So, if you find yourself becoming sharper and having an easier time remembering things while on the pill, that might be why!
Pregnancy has been shown to be a time of high levels of sleep change and disruption, though it’s hard to differentiate whether it’s because of hormonal change or from physiological changes due to growth and development of the fetus (you are growing a baby, afterall!). Changes in the levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and oxytocin may contribute to disruption in sleep, particularly during the third trimester when many pregnant people experience lower REM sleep times.
People also report sleep disruption in the perimenopausal period. Studies have shown that people self-report to have subjectively better sleep after they used hormone replacement therapies to combat sleep disruption. It’s likely that hormones do play an objectively important role in consolidating sleep at night.
How sleep changes through a typical cycle
With reproductive hormones impacting sleep, you may also experience sleep changes throughout your 21-35 day cycle.
The follicular phase of your cycle starts the first day of your period until ovulation starts up. Most people will experience this phase over the course of about 14 days.
The good news here? Right after your period ends, estrogen increases throughout the follicular phase, and you may experience a few comfy nights of sleep as a result of your body’s response to the secretion of melatonin, a sleep hormone prevalent during this phase of the cycle.
As estrogen continues to increase, you may also experience a natural mood boost by the increasing serotonin levels in the brain. As a result, there is an increased likelihood of heightened libido as well. It’s widely known that estrogen induces biological excitement, partially so the body can become pregnant. This excitement or increased level of energy in the body may naturally lead to insomnia the nights leading up to, and the night of ovulation.
Ovulation marks the beginning of the increase in progesterone. Known as the “relaxing hormone,” progesterone has a mildly sedative effect.
However, your sleep might also be affected due to changes in body temperature. Leading up to the release of the egg from the ovary, you’ll probably feel a little chilly as the body temperature is likely to decrease.
The luteal phase is also known as the second half of the cycle, from after ovulation until the first day of your period. When the egg is not fertilized, estrogen and progesterone both drop, and REM sleep commonly decreases along with that drop. The lack of these hormones will affect your body temperature, among other things that will interrupt your usual sleep cycle. Typically, it’s during this time that people with periods report decreased quality of sleep.
While everyone’s experience with sleep is different, people with PMS tend to experience more daytime sleepiness. People with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more serious case of PMS, unfortunately have a decreased response to the body’s secretion of melatonin during the luteal phase. This decreased response will, you guessed it, lead to poorer sleep quality, which can contribute to worsened mood. We know—the cycle can sometimes feel vicious.
In most healthy period-having people, the majority of sleep disruptions are found in the later half of the luteal phase, right before menstruation. The uncomfy reasons for poor sleep quality are no secret—increased cramps, headaches, breast tenderness, gassiness, bloating, etc. You may, as a result, experience lighter sleep and wake up more in the middle of the night.
What to do:
Okay, now that we know the havoc that our cycles can wreak over our sleepy time, it’s time to give you all the tools to turn those nightmares into dreams. The good news is that control over your sleep cycle isn’t rocket science. Try a few of the tips below for a more restful cycle.
📓 Keep a diary (or use our Aavia App!) to track your period : The more you know! Every body is different. While we can share a common road map, only you know your body. Jot down your symptoms for three months so you can best understand your body’s patterns. Once you understand your body’s habits, you can come up with solutions that work for you.
🤳 Avoid screens 30 minutes before bedtime: Seriously, stop the scroll. It’s said that blue light can significantly affect sleep quality. Turn off the TV, take a break from TikTok. Open a book or simply sit with yourself. We promise, it’ll help.
🧘 Meditation: Nothing says sleep like getting your mind right! Try a quick meditation to connect your mind + body. Sink out of your every day stress and into REM.
☕ Avoid caffeine: This one feels self-explanatory BUT it had to be said. If you’re big on the caffeine, try to take a break from it as early as possible. If you can, avoid it altogether. We want you to get that good shut eye.
🚰 Drink water: Last, but never least, stay hydrated my friends. Our bodies are made up of water. When we give the body what it needs, all our systems are fueled a little bit better.
🛏️ Sleep consistently: Sleep an average of at least 7 hours a day. The key to sleep hygiene is to set a sleep schedule and prioritize sleep.
Sweet dreams 😉💤