Some people can tell their periods are coming by way of a few extra zits, uncomfortably tight pants or randomly crying at the sight of a kitten. For others, the harbinger could be wonky zzzs.
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Though it might seem surprising, menstruation and sleep can be closely connected.
To have a period, you must go through a series of hormonal fluctuations, explains Nilong Vyas, MD, a sleep specialist and member of the SleepFoundation.org medical review panel. "It is those hormonal fluctuations that can cause insomnia or sleep disturbances in the days leading up to menstruation."
These hormone shifts most often manifest as insomnia before your period. However, it's possible for your cycle to affect your sleep in other ways too. Here's what can happen, plus tips for snoozing more soundly.
1. You Might Have Trouble Sleeping
Difficulty falling or staying asleep is common before your period, and stronger premenstrual symptoms are typically associated with worse insomnia.
As levels of the hormone progesterone drop right before your period, so do levels of the sleep-regulating hormone GABA, Dr Vyas explains. "The decreased activation of GABA receptors impacts sleep," she adds.
Fix it: Good sleep hygiene is the best insomnia remedy.
"Healthy sleep habits are a must, since the fluctuations of the hormones are out of one's control," Dr Vyas says.
Steer clear of screens before bed, limit caffeine after lunch, keep your room dark and quiet and follow a soothing routine to help your body wind down for the night, per the Office on Women's Health.
Make it a point to choose feel-good foods like fruits and veggies over refined carbs and sweets too. "Eating a healthful diet is ideal to help keep other hormones regulated during a cyclical phase," Dr. Vyas says.
2. You May Wake Up Sweaty
The rise in progesterone that occurs right after ovulation can cause your resting body temperature to rise by up to 1 degree — and stay that way until your period comes along, according to the National Library of Medicine.
This measurable change can be helpful if you're tracking your most fertile days to try to get pregnant, but not so much if you're trying to get a good night's rest. Warmer temps can cause you to wake more often, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Fix it: Even though you can't change your body temperature, you can take steps to keep your surroundings cooler. Set your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees (the optimal temperature for sleeping), the Cleveland Clinic recommends.
Sleep in lightweight, breathable pajamas (or nothing at all) and run a fan near you if you're still warm.
3. You Could Be Really Sleepy
Sleeping a lot before your period — or at least, wishing you could sleep a lot — isn't all that unusual.
"Hormonal fluctuations are at the root cause of the fatigue," Dr. Vyas says. "In addition, the body is building up the uterine wall to ready itself for pregnancy, so a lot of energy is spent in that process as well."
And if you're not getting the best sleep at night, hey — it would make sense that you feel kind of groggy during the day.
Fix it: If you need a short rest, take one!
"If you are feeling a bit tired, then follow that urge and take a nap," Dr. Vyas advises.
Fifteen to 20 minutes of shut-eye is enough to help you feel refreshed, but not so long of a snooze that you spend the rest of the afternoon feeling groggy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. Keeping it that short shouldn't disrupt your ability to fall asleep at night, either.
4. You Might Have More Vivid Dreams or Nightmares
Again, fluctuating levels of the hormone progesterone may be to blame, Dr. Vyas says: "It impacts REM sleep, which is the dreaming stage of sleep."
While progesterone won't actually cause you to have more intense dreams, it makes your REM sleep period shorter and can cause more frequent waking throughout the night.
"Because of the wakeful states, many may remember their dreams more and it may seem as though the dreams are more vivid," Dr. Vyas explains.
Fix it: Stick with healthy sleep habits to ensure you get as much sleep as possible. Sleep deprivation can make your dreams even more intense, says Dr. Vyas.
Are You Pregnant?
Pregnancy is pretty notorious for messing with sleep, and while the disruptions tend to worsen as you get closer to your due date, they can strike early on as well.
Again, shifting hormones can play a big role, Dr. Vyas says. (Are you surprised?)
The fact that early pregnancy is so tiring might be at play too: "Exhaustion without relief can cause a paradoxical overtiredness that can make going to sleep at bedtime challenging for many pregnant women," Dr. Vyas says.
You're probably getting tired of the hearing about the importance of healthy sleep habits by now, but it really is the best defense against sleep problems, Dr. Vyas says.
If you suspect that exhaustion is actually making it harder for you to nod off, try a short midday nap or consider bumping up bedtime. (And if you haven't confirmed that you're pregnant, take a pregnancy test!)
- Office on Women's Health: "Sleep and Your Health"
- National Library of Medicine: "Physiology, Ovulation And Basal Body Temperature"
- Cleveland Clinic: "What’s the Best Temperature for Sleep?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)"