The menstrual cycle affects many aspects of health, from body temperature and energy to sleep quality. One aspect that's often missed, however, is how your menstrual cycle affects your sleep. You may not realize it, but your cycle can have a direct impact on the quality of your rest — and the monthly progression of your hormones may be responsible for sleep issues.
Experts tell Bustle that the part of the menstrual cycle that occurs just before you have a period tends to cause havoc on sleep patterns. "The end of the luteal phase following ovulation is often the worst time for sleeping during the menstrual cycle," Rachel Stone, a registered nurse and director of triage at birth control organization Pill Club, tells Bustle. The reason for this is twofold. One is that PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome, can have symptoms that affect sleep negatively. PMS occurs between seven and 14 days before periods begin, and for people who experience it, symptoms can include everything from headaches to body pain and breast tenderness. "Anyone who has experienced bloating, cramping, headaches, or mood changes knows that they don't equal a good night's rest," says Stone.
However, the second aspect of the luteal phase that can damage sleep quality isn't about symptoms. It concerns the hormones of the menstrual cycle itself. Over the course of a cycle, hormone levels in the body rise and fall — and during ovulation, progesterone levels peak, as the body prepares for possible pregnancy. If an egg isn't fertilized, progesterone levels start to fall, bringing on menstruation. Sleep quality can suffer as a result.
"We do know that the amount of restful sleep you get each night — or REM sleep — can decrease due to a drop in progesterone," nurse Emily Rymland, a clinical development lead for Nurx, tells Bustle. "If you're having difficulty sleeping before your period, this is a very normal response to hormonal changes in your body.” One major issue is that progesterone can have an impact on your body temperature. "When your progesterone levels drop, your body temperature can rise," Stone says. "This may prevent you from feeling sleepy, or cause you to wake up with night sweats."
Sound familiar? Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about the fluctuation of hormones throughout your cycle. However, experts tell Bustle that there's some value in attempting to focus on your sleep during the last point of your luteal phase. "Practicing good sleep hygiene is the most helpful thing that can be done to improve sleep quality," family nurse practitioner Joni Gunzberger of Nurx tells Bustle. If you find it difficult to sleep during your late luteal phase, she suggests avoiding caffeine, excess sugar, salt and alcohol in the daytime, and getting a lot of activity outdoors to tire you out.
Other things that might help, she says, include "exposure to sunshine during waking hours, discontinuing screen time a couple hours before bed, and maintaining a temperature of 60-67 degrees in sleeping spaces." All these techniques can improve sleep quality overall, even if your progesterone is doing its best to keep you awake.
Keep track of your own cycle and take note of the points when your sleep seems to suffer. If you're noticing a pattern — and it corresponds with the point just before your period — you're not alone, and can definitely take some action to help make sleep a bit more restful.