Sure, there are lots of reasons you can have lousy sleep, for instance, accidentally having too much caffeine late in the day, anxiety about a job interview or audition, excitement about a date or aches and pains from overexerting yourself at the gym.
But, those sleep-robbers are usually temporary and often unexpected.
When it comes to your monthly cycle, however, you can know in advance when your hormones will put you at a higher risk of insomnia and less deep sleep. That’s because there are certain cycle days when plunging estrogen interferes with your body’s sleep mechanisms–and it happens at the same points every month.
Briefly, here’s what you can expect from sleep during your cycle. Then, scroll below and read the easy two-step technique that can help you get deeper, longer sleep on any cycle day:
Week 1: Crampy start, sublime finish
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
If you get menstrual cramps, you may find that cramp pain can make it difficult to fall asleep or can rouse you out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night. However, if you use a pain remedy or don’t experience cramp discomfort, rising estrogen during this week is likely making your sleep deeper and longer. That’s because the higher this hormone climbs, the more it boosts the brain’s level of serotonin–a key neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating sleep.
Week 2: Unwinding can be tough, but sleep is deep
Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
As estrogen climbs toward its peak in your Week 2, it gives a rocket-boost to your mental and physical energy. While this is useful during the day when you want to tackle a to-do list a mile long, this same high energy can also make it difficult to turn off your thoughts and unwind at night. However, once you do drift off, your high level of estrogen is helping you get a solid night’s slumber as it continues to raise the level of sleep-promoting serotonin in the brain.
Week 3: Sleep can start off bad, then get very, very good
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days
This is a topsy-turvy week when it comes to sleep. In the first half of your Week 3, estrogen takes a steep plunge, which can trigger a bit of insomnia as it reduces levels of serotonin in the brain. However, by the second half of your Week 3, estrogen rises and is paired with rising progesterone, a sedating hormone. Together this hormonal duo can give you the deepest sleep of your whole cycle. Which is a good thing because you’re going to need it by the time Week 4 rolls around….
Week 4: Have insomnia-busters ready
Final 6 days of your cycle
In study after study, women report having their worst quality sleep during their premenstrual week. You may find it difficult to fall asleep, you may wake up in the middle of the night or you may have light sleep that leaves you feeling tired upon awakening. The problem is plunging estrogen, which strikes a one-two punch: It brings down levels of sleep-regulating serotonin in the brain while also making you more sensitive to factors that interrupt a good night sleep, such as unpleasant odors, uncomfortable room temperatures, loud noise or pajamas that pinch and bind.
TIP: WANT A BETTER NIGHT’S SLEEP THROUGHOUT YOUR CYCLE?
If you want help dodging the restless nights and insomnia that can occur during your period or in the second half of your cycle, here’s an easy two-step tip:
- Move more. Whether it’s taking brisk walks with your dog, playing with your kids or hitting the exercise bike, numerous studies (such as this, this and this) have shown that being more active during the day leads to better sleep at night for all ages and due to a wide variety of reasons, such as stress, burn-out, aches and sleep apnea. Being physically active reduces stress, improves flexibility, reduces weight and tones muscles, which help counter many causes of sleep problems that can be exacerbated during declining estrogen cycle days.
- Drink milk with dinner. Sounds like folklore, but research proves that drinking milk at night really does help you get better sleep. That’s because milk supplies the brain with the amino acid tryptophan, which helps create sleep-regulating serotonin and melatonin.
And do both. A 2014 study of 437 older adults who had difficulty falling asleep found that those who were both active and drank one cup of milk daily fell asleep faster than those who were only active or only drank milk. Turns out, when combined these methods have a synergistic effect that make each work even faster at ushering in sleep than when doing either alone.
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