Wondering why I sometimes I’m not able to sleep very well some nights right before I’m getting my period, led me to ask The Google. Apparently, menstrual insomnia really is a thing. And there is something you can do about it. In this post, I tell you all about what’s going on inside your body and what you need to understand about your cycle. Restless nights no more!
Painful breasts, headaches, weird sleeping patterns… Us women, we know that every month our hormones go up and down, and up and down. And… up and down again… We don’t really have a say in it. About 67% of women have disrupted nights right before of during their period. This is caused by progesterone levels dropping rapidly. The faster it goes down, the worse your night of sleep will be. But not only will you have more trouble falling asleep, the quality of your sleep will also be lower.
In these nights, you will go into REM sleep sooner. Where it will normally take you about 90 minutes to reach it, right before that time of the month it will only take about an hour. REM sleep is the part of the night where you dream. While sleeping, you go through stages that are REM and non REM (NREM), or ‘deep sleep’. Each of these is normally about 90 minutes long.
And it is exactly in the NREM sleep, which during these nights is shorter, where your body will repair itself. Your immune system, cells and metabolic functions all start to fire up and make sure you can start the next day all healthy and fresh. A big part of that are our growth hormones. These are not just meant to make kids grow, even though they may sound like they are. Us grown ups need them too: they heal our bodies.
According to dr. Carmel Harrington (The sleep diet and The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep), there is another reason why you might have trouble falling asleep and staying there: a rise in body temperature causesd by a sudden drop of estrogen levels. After ovulation, your body temperature rises. The rise is super small: only about 0,5 degrees Celsius, but your body notices the difference for sure. Since we tend to sleep better when our body temperatures are lower, you might get some trouble from being only half a degree warmer.
After estrogen goes down, progesterone takes over. While these levels go up, our sleep needs rise with it, since this is a soporific hormone. Soporific hormones (for example: melatonin is a soporific hormone) makes you more sleepy, which is why you need more sleep. And if you don’t get it, this sleep deprivation will haunt you for the rest of your period, resulting in a classic case of PMS (premenstrual mood syndrome): bad moods, low energy levels and sometimes even mild depressions.
Tips for better sleep
Fortunately, you can help your body a bit by giving it some extra attention and time. There are some basic things you can do to get a better night of sleep. But while you’re menstruating you might need some extra help. Some tips for that bloody time of the month (pun intended):
- My first tip is the classic ‘go to bed earlier’. Schedule in an extra 30 to 45 minutes in the second half of you menstrual cycle to deal with the higher levels of progesterone. This will help with all PMS symptoms. You might even want to consider taking a short power nap halfway through the day or earlier (not later!).
- Ever heard of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)? Me neither, but it exists. It’s maybe a bit annoying, but can be easily treated. You might just need some extra iron and/or folate. Just give your doctor a call.
- Do you have a lot of pain in your lower belly while you’re mensturating? Especially in the first few days of your period, we all know, the cramps can be excruciating. Don’t be afraid to take a pain killer, but first try to see if a warm water bottle helps.
- Talking about pain killers, what you might not know, is that a lot pain killers contain small amounts of caffeine to boost the effects of the drug. Not good for sleeping!
- And talking about caffeine, this is something you should always be careful with. But in between ovulating and menstruating you should be extra careful. Set a no-caffeine-past-this-point in your day and stick to it. You might need to experiment a bit with what time of day works for you.
- Take a warm or hot shower about an hour before you to go bed. The difference in temperature when you get out of the shower can help with the changes in your body temperature during this time of month.
- If you have a medical condition, you might be exeriencing more sleepiness during your period than others. And because of the changes in hormones or blood volume during these days, it might be necessary to change the doses of your medication while you’re menstruating. Always consult your doctor about this.