Ever feel like you could sleep for weeks on end when your period is around the corner? You're not the only one. Tiredness and fatigue are some of the most common PMS symptoms that plague menstruating women today. And the fun certainly doesn't stop with PMS — The National Sleep Foundation took a poll in 2007 showing that a third of women deal with disturbed sleep patterns when they're on their period, leaving them utterly exhausted. If this sounds familiar, you know how annoying it can be to battle fatigue when you've got a million and one things to do.
Bustle spoke with Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a gynecologist in New York, assistant clinical professor OBGYN at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and author of V is for Vagina, who says women feeling tired during their period "is in general a really, really common complaint." Dr. Dweck attributes the fatigue to a number of different factors. For starters, "there are major hormonal fluctuations going on," she says, which cause the estrogen and progesterone in our bodies to plummet. Mix that up with water retention, bloating, disturbed sleep patterns, and you've got a big, fat recipe for a whole lot of tired.
You don't have to take it all lying down, though (although lying down just might be the answer sometimes). There are many different things you can do to ward off the lethargy, and none of them are complicated lifestyle overhauls. Of course, if you go through all the steps and still find that you're feeling extremely tired most of the time, there might be an underlying issue you have yet to address, like anemia or a thyroid irregularity. Speak to your doctor to find out once and for all if there's something else going on.
Here are eight things to do if your period makes you unusually tired.
1. Track Your Menstrual Cycle With A Free App
"Women who have had periods for years and years [still sometimes] don’t recognize what’s going on," Dr. Dweck tells Bustle. She says half the battle is knowing when your period is coming so you can properly prepare for the symptoms that affect your daily life the most. There are tons of apps at your fingertips that will help you keep track of when your most tiring days are coming. That way, you know what to expect and you can do things on the days leading up to menstruation that give you a boost of energy.
2. Keep A Close Eye On What You're Eating Right Before & During Your Period
You're probably used to your crazy food cravings that pop up during your period by now, but if you're not answering them correctly, you're only making yourself more tired in the long run. We tend to reach for things like pizza, ice cream, and anything else dusted in powdered sugar during this time, but awesome as all that may be while you're chewing it, that kind of nosh will cause your sugar levels to spike. In turn, your insulin levels rise and you'll have a hard crash later in the afternoon or evening. And if you end up taking a nap during that crash, it could mess up your sleep for that night.
"Diet manipulation is a really good way to manage period fatigue," Dr. Dweck says. She recommends you eat small frequent meals throughout the day, munch on plenty of protein, and curb your cravings in a healthy way. For instance, a little chunk of dark chocolate when you're on your period will never steer you wrong. All these adjustments will keep your energy up and help you sleep better.
3. Sleep A Lot — But The Right Way
It might sound like a tall order, but you really should be shooting for eight hours a night when you're on your period. Your body is going through a lot (I mean, your uterine is shedding its lining!) so you need all the rest you can get. Dr. Dweck is quick to remind us, however, that the quality of your sleep matters. Try to get yourself under the covers at the same time every night and avoid caffeine in the last half of the day.
Most importantly, get the electronics out of your bed right before you snooze. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released research proving that light-emitting devices mess with your internal circadian clock and wreck your REM cycle. All that Netflix will make you wake up feeling cloudy-headed and moody.
4. Amp Up Your Exercise Routine During The Week Leading Up To Your Period
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has officially named exercise as a treatment for unpleasant menstrual cycle-related symptoms. It can relieve menstrual cramps and improve your mood, and it definitely gives you some much needed energy when you're feeling sleepy. Dr. Dweck agrees and says you should also make time for yourself during your period to get moving every chance you get. You don't have to go so hard that you completely wipe yourself out — even the simplest of workouts or a short run will get the job done.
5. Know Your Limits When It Comes To Alcohol
When it comes to your period and booze, Dr. Dweck says "it's kind of an individual variation." Some women find it very relaxing to have a glass of wine at the end of the day, while others feel extra bloated and even more tired with any alcohol in their system. No matter who you are, though, don't overdo it with the drinks. Dr. Dweck also reminds us that alcohol is dehydrating, so drink plenty of water along with it.
There aren't that many studies out there on what alcohol does for the body during menstruation, but the few reliable ones have shown that booze isn't known increase your period pain. It does, however, increase estrogen and testosterone in your system, which could lead to certain period irregularities, including how you sleep at night. So keep that in mind next time you reach for a cocktail.
6. Get Some Acupuncture Done
I can personally attest to this. As a person who used to deal with some pretty severe PMS symptoms, part of my overall recovery included regular sessions of acupuncture. Dr. Dweck says she would "absolutely consider [acupuncture] to be complementary," and that she's seen it help many of her patients before. Studies have shown that acupuncture can successfully treat insomnia, and it's a therapy known to make you feel more energetic.
7. Apply Heat To Relax & Wind Down
When you're on your period and exhausted, a great way to prepare yourself for deep sleep is by adding some warmth to your evening. Dr. Dweck suggests you take a warm bath and grab a hot water bottle. Not only will this help your menstrual cramps and overall discomfort, but this kind of at-home therapy can do wonders for your sleep wake cycle. Researchers at the Sleep Laboratory in Basel also found that applying a hot water bottle specifically at your feet encourages your body to go to sleep. Sounds pretty good to me.
8. Speak To Your Doctor To See If There's Something More Serious Going On
If you've done everything on your checklist and you're still ultra-tired, it's time to chat with your doctor. "Some women are so fatigued because they have an underlying problem," Dr. Dweck says. It could be an irregularity with your thyroid, a gland that controls your metabolism, which can cause fatigue, irritability, depressive symptoms, and weight gain. You might be dealing with anemia, a blood disease that 3.5 million Americans have, which is linked to women who have super heavy flows. Dr. Dweck even lists off Lyme disease as a possibility, which would show up alongside joint pain and a rash.
Whatever the case may be, if your instinct is telling you to see a doctor about your ruthless fatigue, do it. You don't want to go through every period so tired you can't even get the smallest tasks done, and you definitely don't have to.
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