For a lot of menstruators, Mother Nature makes her presence known before the onset of their period. Symptoms from cramping to breakouts, seemingly unexplainable mood swings, and a boost in libido, while not the norm, are typical telltale signs of PMS. Some ailments are subdued once the bleeding starts. Others, like how your sleep cycle changes during your period, can last throughout the week.
Feeling tired and experiencing sleep issues (either clocking in too little or too much shut-eye) are listed as two of the most common emotional or mental symptoms of PMS by the U.S. Government's Office on Women's Health. According to a 2016 survey issued by the period tracking app Clue, 40% of the 4,000 participants reported feelings of fatigue during their menstrual cycle. The reason, it turns out, is partially due to hormone fluctuations.
How your sleep cycle changes before your period.
Your sleep cycle is likely to shift a few times throughout your period, and these changes come as a direct result of the hormonal dips and peaks occurring during this time.
"Right after ovulation, progesterone levels rise, regulating body temperature, calming you down, and slowing you down," Paige Lindgren, who received her hormone specialist certification at the Nutritional Coaching Institute, tells mbg. On top of that, she adds, estrogen levels, which are responsible for your mood and energy, drop. "With progesterone's calming effect and not enough lively estrogen, PMS fatigue can hit."
Pre-period fatigue can also be caused by low blood sugar levels if you find yourself craving sugary snacks before your flow. According to Alyssa Dweck, M.D., chief medical officer at Bonafide, spikes in your blood sugar from sweets lead to insulin surges and subsequent low blood sugar. In other words, a mocha frappuccino with extra whip might curb your craving, but you're likely to crash after consumption.
How your sleep cycle changes during your period.
Dweck tells mbg that those who experience heavy menses might feel fatigued during their period due to blood loss. Potential anemia (low blood count) may also be the culprit, adds James A. Gohar, M.D., CEO and OB/GYN at Viva Eve, as heavy bleeding can lead to a specific type of anemia called chronic iron deficiency anemia, during which the body's oxygen-carrying capacity can be significantly reduced.
"No matter how much we breathe, the body is often not getting enough oxygen due to the body's reduced ability to transport oxygenated blood from the lungs to the rest of the body," Gohar tells mbg. "This, in turn, will often cause fatigue among other symptoms like weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and/or palpitations."
Conversely, another shift in hormone levels might cause some menstruators to experience poor sleep and/or bouts of insomnia.
"At the beginning of your period, there is a sudden drop in that progesterone and estrogen, which affects the body's temperature control," as low estrogen can lead to hot flashes and even night sweats, Lindgren explains. But then at some point during your period, progesterone levels shoot back up, causing your body temperature to rise a whole degree. This, along with cramps and period headaches, can greatly affect sleep quality, Lindgren says, adding, in some cases, it can also "contribute to period insomnia."
Tips to improve your sleep quality during your period:
If you've noticed you're a hot sleeper during your period, your first line of defense is to stay cool. To do this, Lindgren suggests keeping your bedroom temperature under 69 degrees at bedtime and sleeping only under sheets (bonus if they're lightweight and cooling).
Be mindful of late-night meals and snacks.
Here at mbg, we're all for balance and everything in moderation, but the saying "you are what you eat" rings especially true during your period. Some foods can ease period symptoms, such as leafy greens, dairy alternatives (coconut yogurt over Greek yogurt), and warming sips like bone broth and tea. Foods you want to steer clear from include alcohol, heavy or large meals close to bedtime, and caffeine before bed, Dweck warns.
When you have an idea of when your period is coming, you'll be able to better prepare for (and work to mitigate) the onset of symptoms. Dweck tells mbg that period tracking apps can be a great tool to help you anticipate both the timing of your menses and the symptoms you most commonly experience.
Keep your stress in check.
Many PMS symptoms can be exacerbated by stress, making self-care even more essential around your period. Try taking a warm bath, doing a calming meditation, or smelling some relaxing essential oils to ease excess anxiousness before you snooze.
The bottom line.
Changes in your sleep cycle are common before and during your period, due to the natural fluctuation of your hormones. Luckily, there are things you can do to combat feelings of fatigue and insomnia, ensuring your body gets the rest it needs at this time of the month.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.