Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated March 11, 2021
For some women on their periods, sleep can seem elusive (1). Premenstrual and menstrual symptoms (2) like anxiety, bloating, cramps, and headaches, can make bedtime seem challenging. Hormonal changes can also interfere with regular sleep cycles.
Reduced sleep during your period is not something to take lightly. A restless night can increase your exhaustion and lower your pain threshold (3), allowing fatigue and aches to interfere with simple tasks (4) the next day.
Understanding how your period may affect your sleep cycle can help you identify healthy habits for getting enough rest, and implement them throughout the month.
How Can Your Period Affect Your Sleep?
In general, women experience more sleep difficulties (5) than men, and being on their period might aggravate these disturbances. Premenstrual hormonal fluctuations can reduce the secretion of serotonin, a hormone that regulates the body's sleep cycle (6).
Women who suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) tend to experience more sleep challenges than women who don't. Research suggests that PMDD is associated with a woman's reduced response to melatonin (7), the hormone that prompts your body to sleep and wake up. This decreased response can disrupt a woman's circadian rhythms (8), which are the body's natural responses to light and dark that signal sleeping, waking, and other behaviors.
Besides sleep disruptions, menstrual symptoms like cramps and headaches can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. If you're wondering how to sleep while on your period, you can take measures to reclaim your slumber.
How to Sleep During Periods
Keep Your Bedroom Cool
Your body typically lowers its body temperature (9) to prepare itself for sleep. However, hormone fluctuations can interfere with this process. Consider setting your thermostat between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, which might help your body maintain a comfortable core temperature.
Many people sleep with a partner (10) at night. If you are among this majority, it still might be worth considering sleeping alone if you and your partner have different sleep schedules or one of you snores at night. The disruption can diminish your sleep quality (11) and even compromise your immune system (12).
Before you go to bed, spend a few minutes cuddling with your partner. Cuddling has some of the same effects as massage therapy, which can elevate your mood and lower your anxiety (13), helping you to relax for sleep.
Find a Comfortable Sleeping Position
Your sleeping position can affect your sleep quality, especially if you're dealing with menstrual symptoms. Experiment with different sleeping positions, such as on your back or side, to know what's most comfortable for you.
Side sleeping can help regulate breathing (14) and reduce some of the symptoms of sleep apnea. If pain makes sleeping this way more difficult, try the fetal position, which involves bending the legs and curling your body into a ball. Place a pillow between your knees to help relieve joint pressure.
Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
If you go to bed and wake up at consistent times, you're less likely to suffer from period-related disruptions to your circadian rhythms. Keeping a reliable schedule, even on weekends, trains your body to know when it's time for sleep.
Get Regular Exercise
One natural way to induce sleep is to engage in physical activity. Exercising early in the morning or afternoon can help raise your body temperature and then let it drop so that it causes drowsiness right before bedtime. Whether it's yoga, running, or swimming, pick an activity that you find enjoyable.
Eat for Better Sleep
Digestive problems (15) like diarrhea, nausea, or indigestion sometimes accompany other menstrual issues. To avoid aggravating these and other intestinal problems, avoid eating heavy meals close to bedtime. Instead, consume frequent meals throughout the day consisting mostly of lean foods.
Some foods may also make sleep easier. Tryptophan (16), or L-tryptophan, is an amino acid found in milk, turkey, chicken, eggs, and many dairy products. Not only can it increase sleep time, but tryptophan also has been linked with reduced depression. You also might consider cherries or tart cherry juice (17), which both contain high levels of melatonin. However, you should speak with your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine.
Limit your caffeine intake throughout the day, especially in the six hours before bed (18). Caffeine (19) is a stimulant and can keep you awake, as anyone who’s had a coffee too close to bed can attest. Other sources of caffeine include tea, chocolate, cocoa, soft drinks, and pain medications.
Carve Out Time for Relaxation
When you're stressed, your blood pressure and breathing rate go up. This state of hyperarousal can make it hard to relax and fall asleep.
Deep breathing techniques may be helpful for alleviating stress (20). Whether you're seated or lying down, make sure you feel your lower stomach moving as you inhale and exhale for three seconds each time.
You can try other relaxation techniques as well, such as journaling, meditating, or reading. Devoting time to self-care can help reduce stress levels.
Get the Rest You Need
Being on your period doesn't have to mean being sleep deprived. Understanding the causes of menstrual sleep issues can help you take steps to get more rest.
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