If you’re reading this, you probably have a problem with sleep. I know I’ve battled with insomnia for years, simply accepting it as it is. However, it got me thinking, “what if PMS and my hormones have something to do with my sleeping patterns?” I’m older now, and my body has changed, so surely my hormones have too?
The following article covers disturbed sleep, or let’s call it what it is “insomnia,” and PMS. Hopefully after reading this, you will have more understanding as to why you’re getting up every morning at a time when most are sleeping peacefully.
PMS, PMDD and Insomnia
Many people experience insomnia, and in fact 35% of adults in America suffer from it. Unfortunately, there is a higher chance for us females to suffer with poor sleep, due to hormonal changes when our menstrual cycles come around.
When our period arrives, the days just before can seem dark, with a change in our mood, and an increase in both our sexual and regular appetite. We often experience bloat, and pimples come to the surface. There is a change in our body’s hormone production, and some of us will suffer mildly with PMS, or severely with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
When we have either PMS or PMDD in whichever form, mild or severe, we often suffer with insomnia and sleeping disorders, which just worsen the time period during our menstrual cycles. Without enough sleep, we eat more, and are tired and moody throughout the day.
Now, it’s a proven fact that sleep is one of the most important functions we have besides eating and breathing. In fact, there have been many sleep deprivation experiments where the people involved started hallucinating and cursing; and even the CIA have used sleep deprivation as torture.
Therefore, it’s really important to know all about PMS and insomnia, and how to treat sleep best when on our periods.
Menstrual Cycle 101
The length of our menstrual cycle varies. It is not the same between any two women. Usually, 28 days covers the cycle, and changes occur due to the rollercoaster of levels of hormones in our bodies which rise and fall. These hormones include estrogen, testosterone, the luteinizing hormone, progesterone, and the follicle-stimulating hormone.
The 4 Stages of Our Menstrual Cycles
Our menstrual cycles are not simple – they come in 4 stages, namely:
Menstrual Phase – This is often referred to us as our “periods.” It is the first day we see blood. What actually happens, is our bodies get rid of the uterus’ extra lining that formed as our bodies were preparing to get pregnant. This usually lasts around 5 days.
Follicular Phase – This begins in conjunction with the first day of our periods. An egg cell develops inside a follicle deep within our ovaries. This usually lasts around 13 days.
Ovulation Phase – Here, a mature egg is released by our ovary. When the cycle occurs over 28 days, it will usually happen on day 14.
Luteal Phase – This phase covers the duration of around 2 weeks right after ovulation. If we don’t fall pregnant, this phase will end with our periods, and the beginning of a brand-new cycle.
How is Sleep Affected by PMS?
When we experience PMS, we may sleep more than we usually do. We may also experience fatigue and a feeling of tiredness when we get our period (including a change in mood, such as depression). This may all lead to hypersomnia (when we sleep too much).
There are also a number of us suffering with PMDD, where these sleep problems are worse. In fact, almost 70% of us with PMDD suffer with insomnia-related problems before getting our periods, and over 80% experience lethargy.
Why is Sleep Affected by PMS?
There are a number of reasons for this, although nothing is conclusive. The potential reasons relate to a change in hormone levels which causes many among us to have trouble falling asleep, and also causes more interruptions during our sleep. Many studies show that when we experience our late-luteal phase (the time when PMS arrives), sleep actually worsens compared to other menstrual cycle phases.
We may also experience problems with sleep due to our body’s hormonal changes before and during our periods. These changes have an effect on our body’s temperature, as well as the production of melatonin. Progesterone causes our body’s temperature to increase. This all occurs after we ovulate, right up to the late luteal phase, and can cause interruptions during our sleep.
There is research that shows melatonin levels alter during our menstrual cycle. This hormone is really important, as it regulates our circadian rhythms and natural sleep patterns.
There is research indicating that some of us experiencing PMS have altered sleep architecture. This equates to abnormal stages of the sleep cycle. Some of us will experience less REM (rapid eye movement) during the late-luteal phase. What happens during REM, is our brain’s activity levels are heightened, and we often have very vivid dreams and nightmares.
Some of us will also have quicker fluctuations in hormones before menstruating, and studies have shown that this also leads to more disruptive sleep.
There are also a number of us who experience severe changes in mood, which add to sleep disorders just before getting our periods. PMS often goes together with anxiety and depression, and its even worse for those suffering with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. All of these go hand in hand with restless nights. The result is waking up not feeling rested enough, which often leads to very unproductive days.
Up to 14% of us experience heavy bleeding which forces our bodies to wake up in the middle of the night, as we have to rush off to the toilet to urinate and empty our menstrual cups, or change our tampons, or sanitary pads. If by any chance we stain our sheets, we also have to stay awake and change them, which can be highly unpleasant when all our body and mind wants to do is fall back to sleep.
Better Sleep at All Stages of Your Period
Although most of us suffering with insomnia will have it worst during our periods, there are ways of getting a much better sleep at all stages of our menstrual cycles.
Just like it’s routine for many of us to wake up in the morning and jump in the shower, brush our teeth, wash our face, and put on makeup before styling our hair, we need to keep to a sleep routine as well. Our habits and routines have to relate to a good night’s rest every day around the same time. We also need to pay attention to our environments and make sure they are calming and clean, so that we can get the sleep we need.
It’s good to use sleep apps like Calm to literally “calm” our minds and bodies down. It’s also advisable to listen to advice from sleep experts such as Dr. Michael Breus, who is an expert in sleep patterns.
We must stick to our sleep routines, and do the same thing at the same time every evening. It’s important to dim the lights, or even switch them off completely and light candles as this relaxes our bodies and minds instantly (just remember to blow them out before falling asleep!).
Avoid caffeine at least 5 hours before falling asleep, and that includes coffee, caffeinated tea, and chocolate. Rather stick to herbal teas like chamomile, lavender and Passiflora. Keep noise down, try play calm and relaxing music, and avoid watching TV, and looking at mobile phones and laptops just before sleep.
It also helps to soak ourselves in a hot bath surrounded by lavender, geranium, bergamot or chamomile-scented candles. If there isn’t a bath, a hot shower will do – but really relax in it, and allow the hot water to pour over for a while. (We can even get a better night’s sleep by placing a bar of lavender soap under the sheets, as the scent will help us fall asleep, according to Dr. Oz).
All of the above helps us to fall asleep quicker, which is what we definitely need!
It’s most common for us ladies to experience problems with our sleep during the days just before we menstruate. When we eat healthily, exercise gently and regularly, make sure we aren’t ever dehydrated, meditate, avoid coffee (as it constricts blood vessels and intensifies cramps) and relax more, PMS becomes easier to deal with.
Certain medications prescribed by our doctors, as well as natural vitamins and supplements, such as vitamins B and D, also contribute towards a better night’s rest. Light therapy works exceptionally well with those of us suffering from PMDD.
During and After Menstruation
Most of us will find that the majority of PMS symptoms fade away around day 2 of our periods. For those of us that bleed heavy and are afraid of waking up to stained sheets, a thick pair of period panties usually helps. Mattress pads or protectors are also extremely comforting.
When PMS goes away, it’s important to focus on routine sleep habits, so that when the menstrual cycle starts again and PMS eventually hits once more, our sleep will be more under control, and we can finally get a good night’s rest!
Insomnia can be painful, especially during PMS when all we want to do is rest and relax. Once the above techniques are applied, our sleep should be less disturbed and more peaceful, leading to easier PMS, a better mood and sleep that comes easily and peacefully! Have a good night’s rest and sweet dreams!