Periods aren't always exactly joyful things. Yes, they generally show that you've become an adult, and if you're not looking to become pregnant, your period's arrival can be an immense relief; but for many of us, periods are also sources of inconvenience, annoyance, and genuinely unpleasant physical symptoms ranging from the irritating to the debilitating. All periods are unique, but one particular symptom may be causing you concern: exhaustion so severe that you want to fall asleep and wake up in 2020. If this is you, the good news is that it doesn't necessarily mean anything untoward is happening — it can be easy to deal with, if you and your doctor can locate the cause.
The main lesson to take away from this article is that everybody's period is different. Menstrual cycles involve a complex interplay of hormones and bodily processes, plus various underlying conditions that may be causing variation, so you can't draw any conclusions just because your friend Lizzie's cousin's boss got tired during her period, and shortly thereafter her womb exploded. (Or something to that effect.) Exhaustion during menstruation is annoying, but it can be dealt with, and medical professionals won't find it puzzling or shocking.
Either way, if your exhaustion is giving you particular worries, there are certain things that you can focus on, from sleep cycles to hydration levels and iron in your diet. It's all going to be fine. And yes, you can have that nap.
1. Don't Panic
It seems as if hormonal levels may be at least partially to blame for increased fatigue at the start of your period, because of the impact that estrogen and progesterone have on your body's energy levels. At the point before the menstrual cycle enters its "shedding" phase (i.e. when the womb sheds its lining, creating a period), levels of estrogen and progesterone lower, which means that energy may be at a low ebb. It's been suggested that low estrogen levels in particular are responsible for creating more waste products in the body when we ingest carbs, contributing to fatigue; this may also be behind the fatigue common in early menopause. We're not entirely sure that this is the case for all women, but natural hormonal fluctuations seem to be at least part of the problem — so it's likely that that is the cause behind you drooping eyelids, not some wild, undiscovered disease.
2. Get Checked For Anemia
One of the most common reasons for abnormal tiredness during your period? Anemia, or lack of iron. This makes perfect sense; a loss of blood represents even more of a blow to your body's already-depressed iron levels, which can result in deeper fatigue. Fortunately, anemia is relatively easily diagnosed: a doctor will take a sample of your blood to check the number of red blood cells, and also possibly examine their size or shape. Blood loss and its impact on iron levels are a particular risk factor for fatigue if you have a heavy flow.
3. Try To Fix Your Sleep Cycle
Fatigue during your period may actually not be about blood cells; it might be related to sleep disturbance due to menstrual needs. Professor of obstetrics and gynecology Lauren Streicher explained to YouBeauty that disturbed sleep may be the culprit in many cases of period-related exhaustion. If you're waking up to take pain-managing medication, change your menstrual protection, or just waking up because you're in such agony that you can't stay asleep, it's a recipe for more tiredness the next day (particularly if this continues throughout your entire period). If that sounds like you, try to minimize the amount of times you get up in the night, by regulating your pain medication to let you sleep through, or getting thicker night-time pads. This may not be possible, of course; but if it is, it may help.
4. Make Sure You're Hydrated
It turns out that low levels of estrogen may be contributing to dehydration in your body during your period, and causing a knock-on effect for your energy levels. Estrogen, it seems, is actually associated with the body's ability to retain water. The lower it is, the less your body holds onto; and this fluctuation may result in an increased risk of dehydration. The loss of fluid for women with heavy blood flows may also be sufficient to risk dehydration without any extra contribution from meddling hormones, so when you're on your period, it's important to drink a lot of water and keep an eye on your hydration levels.
5. Keep An Eye On Your Diet
Along with water, it seems that you need to watch your diet during the more fatiguing parts of your period, to try and counteract the exhaustion. Good sources of iron are particularly useful, to counteract any tiredness-triggering iron loss; get yourself some red meat, spinach or sardines. You may also want to stay away from carbohydrates and load up on healthy fats and vitamins, to help you process nutrients and give you maximum energy.
6. Track Your Flow
One of the biggest causes of menstrual fatigue is an intensely heavy flow, and it's important that you know if that's the case for you. You may have assumed that everybody goes through several tampons in a few hours, but the average level of blood loss during a period is 35mL, and anything above 80mL is regarded as abnormal (in case you're not measuring your period in a test tube, the average pad or tampon holds 5mL of blood in it). The technical term for a heavy period is menorrhagia, and it can show up in several ways: going through many menstrual products in a short time, bleeding for longer than a week, or having blood clots appear in your flow beyond a 24-hour period. If you believe your flow is abnormal, talk to a doctor to look into potential causes, and see what can be done to give you more energy.
7. Look Out For Other Symptoms
Fatigue during periods can actually be a sign of other, more serious conditions, so it's important that you keep on top of it and get checked out if it appears alongside other things. For instance, endometriosis can cause serious exhaustion during periods, because of the nature of the disorder: it happens when cells that make up the inner lining of the womb migrate to other areas of the body and "shed" during a period, causing blood build-up and serious pain. And fatigue as a part of your period may also be an indication of a folic acid deficiency, where a low level of vitamin B12 causes the production of abnormally large red blood cells that can't function effectively.
Both of these conditions come with other symptoms, though, so don't take the first pang of tiredness during your period as a signal to panic and diagnose yourself with something deadly. Just keep a note of anything that feels concerning and take your worries to a doctor if you believe it needs more attention.
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