Healthy Living

Can’t Sleep When You Have Your Period? Here’s Why.

It's not your imagination.
03/08/2016 04:49pm ET | Updated March 10, 2016
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The Question: Why Is It Harder To Sleep During My Period?

It's one of the great ironies of menstruation that the same thing that makes you so tired during the day can make it tough to sleep at night.

Lest you think you're alone in your sleepless period nights, the National Sleep Foundation found that 23 percent of women report disrupted sleep in the week before their periods, and a full 30 percent report disrupted sleep during them.

We spoke with New York gynecologist Dr. Karen Duncan about six of the main culprits of period-related sleep loss, and the best ways to address them.

1. Your body temperature rises over the course of your menstrual cycle

Your core body temperature rises between a half and a whole degree during your period. This can be a problem because an evening drop in body temperature is one of the main biological triggers that makes you feel sleepy. "It seems like a small amount, but it can definitely make it hard to sleep," says Dr. Duncan.

How to fix it: Make sure your bedroom is cooled to optimal sleeping temperature: about 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Duncan also suggests tricking your body into drowsiness with a warm bath or shower, because moving from warm water to your cool bedroom will make your body temperature drop. And consider sleeping with fewer covers.

2. Mood swings make you feel anxious or depressed

Period-related mood swings are very normal; hormones like estrogen and progesterone drop right before your period, making you experience negative emotions more strongly. And anxiety and depression make it tough to fall asleep at night.

How to fix it: First, just being aware that some of your mood swings can be attributed to hormones can help ease the problem, by untangling your mind-body matrix. So consider tracking your period with an app or on a calendar. During your period itself, you can try deep breathing, meditation or yoga to relax and unwind before bedtime.

3. Nausea, indigestion, and other stomach issues make it tough to fall or stay asleep.

You may have noticed digestive upsets during menstruation such as indigestion, nausea or diarrhea, all of which can disrupt sleep.

How to fix it: Although you may be tempted by ice cream, chocolate or other comfort foods, Dr. Duncan suggests avoiding heavy meals before bedtime. Instead, try one of these snacks that can actually help you sleep, like toast, trail mix or plain rice.

4. Cramps, headaches and muscle pain can make it hard to get comfortable.

This one's a no-brainer: For many women, periods = pain, whether that's through cramps or generalized muscle pain. Left untreated, this pain can make it hard to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.

How to fix it: Try changing your sleep position, adding or subtracting pillows, or using a heating pad to relieve pressure. You can also pop a mild painkiller like Tylenol or Advil to relieve discomfort. But, Dr. Duncan cautions, don't overdo it: If you regularly take Advil or other painkillers, you can actually experience withdrawal when you quit, which can make the problem worse. "Know your own body," Duncan says.

When it comes to headaches, a small amount of caffeine can be helpful, but overdoing it can have the opposite effect. To make sure you're tired enough to fall asleep, Duncan recommends cutting caffeine out altogether in the afternoon.

5. Your cycle actually causes insomnia

During your period, your body's levels of the hormone progesterone drop dramatically. This can make it hard to sleep because progesterone is a "soporific" hormone, meaning it has a mild sedative effect. (Higher-than-usual progesterone is also why you may feel sleepy the week before your period, during PMS.)

The fix: Again, Duncan recommends avoiding caffeine for several hours before bed because it will exacerbate the issue. And the week before your period, recognize the fact that increased progesterone increases your need for sleep, and try going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Or take a 20 minute power nap, suggests Duncan. You can also keep a sleep log or make a sleep schedule to regularize your bedtime, and note any fluctuations in sleep behavior for next month.

Duncan suggests one thing that can blunt many of these symptoms: any type of hormonal birth control (like the pill or a certain IUDs). "Any hormonal birth control decreases the fluctuation in estrogen and progesterone that is responsible for nearly all of these symptoms," says Duncan. "So an added benefit of these forms of contraception can be better sleep!"

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