Home Rise and Shine Why Is Your Period Keeping You Up At Night?

4 min.

28 February 2023

Why Is Your Period Keeping You Up At Night?

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t learn much about the menstrual cycle during my 12 years of compulsory education. It wasn’t until I became a sleep scientist that I discovered how many of our bodily processes are intimately connected with sleep – including menstruation!

It’s time that menstruators learn precisely how these two crucial functions interact, and what you can do to improve your sleep throughout the course of the menstrual cycle.

Emma Merritt

Sleep during the follicular phase

The first phase is called the follicular phase, it starts on the first day of the period and lasts until ovulation, usually around 14 days later. During the follicular phase, cells called follicles mature in the ovaries. One of those follicles will eventually develop into an egg that is released during ovulation.

The hormone estrogen goes up during this phase, which helps your body get ready for pregnancy. Estrogen also affects other things in your body, like your energy levels, mood, and other hormone production.

One of these is the “happiness hormone” serotonin. As estrogen levels increase throughout the follicular phase, so does the production of serotonin. This can make you feel more energised during the day. In the evening, serotonin is converted into melatonin in preparation for sleep; this may also make it easier to fall asleep.

At the end of the follicular phase, right before ovulation, might also cause your sex drive to increase - keeping you up later than usual!

Estrogen can lower your core body temperature. Indeed, when estrogen levels are high, you may feel cooler. A decrease in core temperature is one of the ways our body signals that it is time to prepare for sleep. You may therefore find it easier to fall asleep during the second part of the follicular phase, when estrogen levels are increasing.

Sleep during ovulation

At the end of the follicular phase, around day 14 of the cycle, estrogen levels peak and ovulation begins. This phase lasts a mere 24 hours.

During ovulation, an egg that has been developing in the ovaries is released and moves into the uterus. The uterus begins to form a lining that contains all the necessary nutrients for a fertilized egg to develop into an embryo. This lining is prepared for a potential fertilization of the egg.

During this phase, your body temperature is at its lowest, which may make for easier sleep onset. However, since serotonin and estrogen levels are still high, you may continue to feel the effects of a stronger sex drive or generally higher energy levels. Once ovulation is complete, the luteal phase begins.

Sleep during the luteal phase

The last part of the menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. During this time, the hormone estrogen goes down and the hormone progesterone goes up. Lower levels of estrogen can make it harder to fall asleep and can also lower the quality of sleep.

However, progesterone can help with memory and learning. Studies have shown that people tend to do better on memory tests during the luteal phase than the follicular phase.

At the end of the luteal phase, if you don't get pregnant, the lining of your uterus and the unfertilized egg are shed. This is when you get your period and start a new menstrual cycle. This relationship can be verified by brain activity during sleep: sleep spindles, which are a type of brain wave associated with memory and learning, increase during the luteal phase.

Research suggests that people may perform better on memory tests during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This may be because sleep becomes even more critical for memory consolidation when progesterone levels are high.

At the end of the luteal phase, if you do not become pregnant, the lining of the uterus and the unfertilized egg are shed. This is the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.

Sleep during your period

It should not come as a surprise that sleep quality, sleep efficiency, and sleep duration all decrease in the days leading up to and in the first two days of one’s period. Also unsurprising is the fact that people who suffer from severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) tend to experience more sleep disturbances than the general menstruating population. However, even without the negative effects of PMS, sleep disturbances are still common as Shark Week approaches.

One of the main contributors to these disturbances can be your choice of night-time menstrual product. Both the overall feeling of the product as well as its reliability can be sources of discomfort.

One study found that people who had greater anxiety around their chosen sanitary product (e.g. leakage or general discomfort) had reduced amounts of deep sleep during the first two nights of their period.

Once again, this is not particularly surprising –when you are uncomfortable, of course it is harder to fall asleep! As far as PMS symptoms are concerned, the same measures that you take to combat them during the day can be helpful at night, as well. Hot water bottles for cramps, a warm bath or shower, or some light yoga might be enough to let you relax.

When it comes to product choice, don’t be afraid to shop around. There are so many disposable and reusable options available on the market nowadays that you should not feel condemned to suffer every month for the rest of your fertile days. Try a different brand, a menstrual cup, a menstrual ring, cloth pads, or period underwear.

If you're worried about leakage during your period, you can invest in a mattress protector and have dedicated sheets you don't mind getting blood on. This can help ease your mind.

Sleep and contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives such as the pill work by introducing more progesterone into the body, essentially tricking it into staying in the luteal phase. There are many types of hormonal contraceptives available, which vary in the levels of hormones such as progesterone they contain. These include birth control pills, patches, injections, vaginal rings and IUDs. The specific amount of each hormone that is contained in each brand of birth control can determine the way that it impacts your sleep.

Another study found that sleep disturbances increased for people taking hormonal birth control; however, sleep duration also increased. Again, these findings likely depend heavily on the type of birth control that participants were using; researchers have found that the effect of birth control on sleep patterns varies considerably between brands.

How to manage period pain

If you have severe pain during your period, you can take over the counter or prescription medication to relieve the discomfort. Some of the most common types of drugs used for period pain management are so-called NSAIDs, which stands for “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs”, like Ibuprofen and naproxen.

NSAIDs target a type of bodily substance called prostaglandin, which is thought to be responsible for the uterine contractions that cause menstrual cramps. However, prostaglandin is a widely distributed substance with many different effects throughout the body, such as melatonin’s production and regulating changes in body temperature.

These are important for the body's natural process of winding down at night. By inhibiting prostaglandin’s effects, we also inadvertently sabotage our body’s preparations for sleep.

Of course, this presents quite a pickle: if you take painkillers, your sleep may be affected, and if you do not take painkillers, your sleep may be affected. While there is no easy solution to this conundrum, a few precautions might help you get the best of both worlds.

The most obvious one is to be cognizant of when you take your last dose of medication – the earlier, the better.

One study found that NSAID’s effects on sleep processes last for at least four hours and begin almost immediately after consumption, which may be worth keeping in mind. It's also important to consider if you really need to take another painkiller before bedtime, especially if you're feeling comfortable enough to fall asleep. Listen to your body and make the decision that is right for you.

Key Takeaway

Your menstrual cycle affects your sleep because of the changes in hormones during the month, as well as the physical effects of having your period. Informing yourself can help you take the steps necessary to increase the quality of your sleep. If you want to know more about the link between sleep and the menstrual cycle, read more here.

Emma is the Sandman's sleep consultant. Her expertise on sleep and development is the stuff dreams are made of.

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Could your insomnia be tackled through menstrual cycle mapping?

It transpires that menstrual cycle mapping may help to tackle insomnia by adapting your lifestyle around any hormonal changes you experience, which are usually the culprit in developing or causing insomnia.  Hormonal imbalances, specifically those where levels of melatonin may be lower than normal, can be common during menstruation. Hormone imbalances can cause mood swings, irritability, sleep deprivation and stress. Here we list the things you can do to combat insomnia through menstrual mapping and other lifestyle changes.

Could your insomnia be tackled through menstrual cycle mapping?

It transpires that menstrual cycle mapping may help to tackle insomnia by adapting your lifestyle around any hormonal changes you experience, which are usually the culprit in developing or causing insomnia.  Hormonal imbalances, specifically those where levels of melatonin may be lower than normal, can be common during menstruation. Hormone imbalances can cause mood swings, irritability, sleep deprivation and stress. Here we list the things you can do to combat insomnia through menstrual mapping and other lifestyle changes.

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You likely already know that sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. When the day ends, the natural course of action is to wind down and go to bed. While some have no problem falling asleep or staying asleep, others have a hard time due to a sleep disorder known as insomnia.   Insomnia is defined as the persistent difficulty to fall asleep or stay asleep despite having ample time and opportunity to do so. As a result, insomniacs may experience excessive daytime sleepiness, mental and cognitive dysfunction, impaired work performance, and health problems (i.e., diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart and lung diseases) among others.  Not all cases of insomnia are the same. This sleep disorder affects people in different ways, and distinguishing the difference between the forms of the condition can be a key in identifying the proper treatment. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of insomnia. 

Can a virus cause insomnia?

Although restrictions may have been lifted and the majority of people in the UK have been fully vaccinated, COVID-19 is still very much around. Plenty of people are still getting ill even if the severity of the disease seems to be reducing and normal life has all but resumed. We continue to learn more about what the impact of coronavirus may be on society as a whole, and on individuals who have caught the virus and are suffering from long-COVID. But as the dust begins to settle on the worst of the pandemic, more is being asked about the less common and milder symptoms of COVID-19, such as insomnia. While it is still in the early days of discussion, there has already been information gathered and published on the subject. There is now plenty to be learned about how viruses such as COVID-19 can cause insomnia and affect our sleep health.

Can a virus cause insomnia?

Although restrictions may have been lifted and the majority of people in the UK have been fully vaccinated, COVID-19 is still very much around. Plenty of people are still getting ill even if the severity of the disease seems to be reducing and normal life has all but resumed. We continue to learn more about what the impact of coronavirus may be on society as a whole, and on individuals who have caught the virus and are suffering from long-COVID. But as the dust begins to settle on the worst of the pandemic, more is being asked about the less common and milder symptoms of COVID-19, such as insomnia. While it is still in the early days of discussion, there has already been information gathered and published on the subject. There is now plenty to be learned about how viruses such as COVID-19 can cause insomnia and affect our sleep health.

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What is Paradoxical Intention and can it treat insomnia?

Insomnia is fairly common in the UK and can affect anyone at any age. There are several treatments for insomnia that you can try out. However, there’s been a trend in a type of insomnia treatment called Paradoxical Intention that is recently increasing in popularity.

What is Paradoxical Intention and can it treat insomnia?

Insomnia is fairly common in the UK and can affect anyone at any age. There are several treatments for insomnia that you can try out. However, there’s been a trend in a type of insomnia treatment called Paradoxical Intention that is recently increasing in popularity.