How your menstrual cycle affects your sleep

Struggling to sleep? It might be down to your menstrual cycle.

The lifetime risk of insomnia is 40% higher for women than men – and that is likely down to hormone fluctuations.

Award-winning private GP and menopause specialist Dr Sumi Soori, who works with sleep brand Simba, says: ‘Female sleep problems are linked heavily to hormone levels which fluctuate throughout a women’s monthly cycle and can become imbalanced.

‘By tracking our menstrual cycle it may be possible to improve our sleep just with the awareness of what is happening to our body.

‘Oestrogen, progesterone, cortisol and melatonin are the main hormones that affect sleep.

‘At different times of your cycle you are going to feel differently, both physically and emotionally, which will then impact your quality of sleep.’

Sleeping well is important for the release of these hormones too at appropriate amounts – but these hormones can disrupt sleep, too.

Dr Sumi calls this a ‘vicious cycle’, but knowing about what’s happening to your body can help you when managing sleeplessness over the month.

Top tip: Noticing the patterns

Dr Sumi advises you keep a sleep journal for three months so you can identify patterns that emerge.

She says: ‘This will give you a better understanding of what to do during the times when sleep is impacted and will enable you to regain control of variations in sleep to give you more consistent slumber throughout the month.’

There are four main parts in the menstrual cycle – here’s how each phase impacts sleep and what you can do about it.

Phase one

This is when you have your period.

She explains: ‘At the very beginning of the cycle, oestrogen and progesterone levels are low which means sleep can be difficult or challenging just before or during a period.

‘Carve out time for stress-reducing self-care – whether that’s meditation or just some alone time.

‘When we have too much stress we release too much cortisol that hinders production of oestrogen and progesterone, and balance of it which affects our sleep.’

Practical things to try:

  • Change your sleep position – you are likely to reduce the flow of blood by sleeping on one side rather than your back. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your thighs can alleviate some of the cramping, or if you have backache, sleep on your back with a pillow tucked under your knees.
  • Typically, your body temperature runs higher at this time, so avoid things that make you feel ever hotter.
  • Don’t overdo drinking water before bed. Your body releases more fluids during your period, so keep hydrated throughout the day instead of at night.

Phase two

This phases lasts up to sixteen days. Sleep generally improves at this time directly after a period.

Practical things to try:

  • Progesterone keeps us calm and relaxed. Boost it naturally with magnesium rich foods, such as dark chocolate, milk, carrots, avocados and salmon while levels are lower.
  • If you feel excessively drained or tired during or immediately after your period, consider testing your iron levels for anemia and eat iron rich foods such as red meat, spinach or kidney beans during these days. 

Phase three

This phase occurs mid-cycle, or roughly 14 days before the next period, lasting for just two to three days.

It’s triggered by high levels of luteinising hormone.

Dr Sumi says: ‘You may find you get the best sleep of the month during this stage.’

Practical things to try:

  • Enjoy staying up late and socialising if that’s what you like doing – this is the perfect time in the month for it.
  • Try a lighter duvet and pyjamas as your body temperature starts to rise.
  • For women over 40, overall levels of oestrogen are lower, so they are more likely to face insomnia around this time. Hormone therapy can help regulate these changes and improve sleep. 

Phase four

This is when people tend to experience PMS. 

Dr Sumi says: ‘With fluctuating hormone levels, you may experience night sweats or find that your sleep is fragmented or broken.

‘You may feel that it is harder to get to and stay asleep – or have restless days leading up to your period. 

‘The amount of REM sleep – which is when we have the most dreams – is less in this part of the menstrual cycle

‘Your energy slumps and you can turn inward – and can feel sleepier during the day.’

Practical things to try:

  • Resist the urge to nap – although you may feel tired, napping can be disruptive to your circadian rhythm. Maintain good sleep hygiene by waking up and going to sleep at the same time each morning and evening.
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol and stimulants to prevent your temperature from rising further.
  • Try magnesium supplements to aid sleep.

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