Growing up, ads for sanitary protection promised us we’d be skydiving and riding horses down the beach, laughing as we went. But then you get your period, and you’re more interested in a five-hour nap than a day by the ocean.
Periods are a pretty under-researched phenomenon, so not all of the exhaustion we feel around that time of the month is fully understood. But there are a few factors that seem to make matters worse. Here are some of the most common – and what to do about them:
Insomnia is common around this time, with around 30% of women struggling to sleep during and just before their periods.
It’s not clear exactly why, but it seems to be connected to hormone fluctuations. Two of the most significant are the drop in progesterone before a period, which makes it harder to sleep deeply, and a rise in cortisol, the stress hormone.
If you’re often pale, breathless, have heavy periods and experience at least one day before your period when you’re magnetically attracted to your bed, you might have iron-deficiency anemia. Even if you don’t, your stores might still be low, which can make it hard to function at this time.
See your doctor for a blood test, and if you do need to supplement your natural supply, avoid stomach upsets by using a spray or liquid form of iron as they’re more easily absorbed.
Also known as an underactive thyroid, if you have this, you’ll feel wiped out the rest of the time, too, but it’s likely to be worse around your period, with heavy, more painful periods that leave you lacking in energy. (Other symptoms include weight gain, hair loss, muscle pain and depression.)
Again, see your doctor for a test and if you are diagnosed, medication should help.
It’s thought that over 90% of people who have periods find them painful – whether it’s a few twinges or like an elephant’s stomping on your abdomen. That wears us down, and one study found that it makes sleep quality worse.
If you’ve been checked for any underlying conditions like endometriosis and fibroids, over-the-counter pain meds might help, or ask your doctor for prescription anti-inflammatories. You might also want to try holistic pain relief remedies like acupuncture and yoga, which could help you sleep better, too.
Sadly, our eating habits can sometimes make matters worse. It’s so much easier to reach for a candy bar or a ready meal for a quick energy boost than to cook up quinoa, salmon and kale. But regular meals with protein, green veg and wholegrains help your body to release energy more slowly, to make it easier to get through the day.
If you lean on caffeine, sugar, and simple carbs like white bread and pasta, you’ll have an energy boost for a little while, but crash hard later. If nothing else, eat protein alongside your candy, so your blood sugar doesn’t spike quite so high.
What else can help?
More research is needed to find the best treatments for sleep around your periods, but there’s some evidence that light therapy (particularly bright light in the morning and going to bed before 10pm) can help, especially if you have PMDD.
- Exercise throughout the month, as much as you can, including at the start of your period. Even a short walk is better than nothing.
- Avoid alcohol, as although you might pass out easily, you’re more likely to wake in the night and feel unrested in the morning.
- We all need the mineral magnesium for a good night’s sleep – and to have energy the next day – but we have lower levels at the start of a period. Supplementation can help, especially in an easy-to-absorb format.
It’s understandable if you want to keep going at your usual pace, and of course there are times when it’s just not possible to slow down. But if you’re able to use this time to chill out, to put those non-essential emails on the back burner, and to give in to the natural rhythms of your body, you might find that taking life a little slower for a few days isn’t all bad.