Feeling exhausted when your period starts? You are not alone. Lack of energy just before and during menstruation is very common. Many women feel sleepy and lethargic during that time of month. To live through this phase of the menstrual cycle more serenely it is important to understand what is happening in your body and to take good care of yourself. Finding the right solution for menstrual insomnia means solving a great contradiction: what exhausts you during the day, prevents you from sleeping at night.
Although napping may seem to be the best cure, lack of sleep is not always the cause of fatigue. Sometimes the solution is exactly the opposite—physical activity. It is also a remedy for poor nighttime sleep — not just during menstruation, but throughout the menstrual cycle.
To understand where this lack of energy comes from, remember that the menstrual cycle has different phases during which your hormone levels fluctuate. Just before ovulation hormone levels peak bringing an influx of energy and falling hormone levels as your period approaches often coincide with a drop in energy and motivation.
Falling hormone levels are also often accompanied by food cravings, but the tempting call of sugar and fat should be resisted.
When you eat sugary foods, your pancreas secretes large quantities of insulin to absorb the excess sugar in the blood and stabilize your blood sugar levels. Once its work is done, the insulin level quickly falls again and causes a state of overall fatigue.
Proteins, on the other hand, produce hormones and enzymes that prevent you from feeling tired. Eat more protein to boost your energy levels instead of binging on chocolate and french fries.
Eating lean protein can also help keep your blood sugar levels remain balanced so you don’t experience peaks and dips that may increase feelings of fatigue.
Good sources of protein are:
A combination of poor nutrition and blood loss during your period can lead to iron deficiency anemia. This is a condition where you lack sufficient healthy red blood cells to carry the oxygen required by your body tissues. Having anemia can make you feel tired and weak.
Iron deficiency anemia signs and symptoms include weakness, pale skin, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or shortness of breath, headache, dizziness or lightheadedness, cold hands and feet, inflammation or sore tongue, brittle nails, and unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances such as ice, dirt, or starch.
Women with uterine fibroids who experience heavier blood loss during menstruation and those with poor eating habits may suffer from anemia.
If you suspect this is the case with you, make an appointment to discuss other methods of contraception with your doctor.
Up to 10% of women under the age of forty-nine are anemic. Long-term anemia can have a negative impact on the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart disease. Eating iron-rich foods such as beef, legumes, lentils, and dark leafy greens helps prevent anemia.
If dietary changes do not improve your symptoms or if you feel that your periods have become more painful or abundant over time, see your doctor. Overconsumption of tea can block the absorption of iron, and digestive problems or an ulcer can cause bleeding and therefore iron deficiency.
However, iron deficiency is not always to blame for feeling tired. A lack of magnesium can also cause fatigue and stress. Magnesium facilitates neuromuscular exchange and if you don’t have enough of it, you will feel tense, irritable, anxious, and tired. Dark chocolate, beans, and lentils are some of the foods that are good sources of magnesium. Add them to your shopping list!
Having your period and feeling exhausted does not encourage physical activity. This is why many of us skip yoga classes, ditch our jogging routines, or even avoid going for a walk at this stage of the cycle. There is no medically based reason to do so, in fact there is ample evidence that exercise can be helpful during this time! Keep in mind that, while it may seem paradoxical to expend energy when you feel tired…
Practicing aerobic exercise—30 minutes on a cardio machine, spinning, running, walking, hiking, aerobics, dancing, cross country skiing, kickboxing, etc., four to six times a week will help balance your hormones, reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your lipid profiles, and improve your overall health.
Physical activity also helps reduce stress and improves the quality of your sleep. Being physically active will lessen cramps and allow you to manage any psychological discomfort you may feel during your period, as well as stimulate the production of natural endorphins in your body, which include a natural antidepressant.
It is easy to forget to drink throughout the day, especially during your period when every trip to the toilet involves additional mess and discomfort.
Even so, this simple act can be a significant aid against fatigue. The body loses about a liter and a half of water daily. If we don’t compensate for the loss, we dehydrate from the inside, our muscles contract more easily, and cellular exchange is less efficient, all of which tires the body.
Water-filled foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and soup also replenish the water your body loses throughout the day and can help you maintain your energy.
Research suggests that drinking beverages with caffeine do not cause excess fluid loss or dehydration, so enjoy these drinks in moderation. However, alcohol is not on the list of recommended fluids—drinking wine, beer, or hard liquor during the day can make you feel drowsy or lethargic.
Another myth is the idea that a little nightcap will help you sleep better. Although alcohol is a sedative and can make you feel sleepy, it has other effects that interfere with the quality of sleep. Several hours after that nightcap, the alcohol you drank raises your body’s epinephrine levels. Epinephrine is a stress hormone that increases the heart rate and generally stimulates the body, which, of course, can result in nighttime wakefulness. Alcohol also relaxes the throat muscles, which can worsen sleep-related breathing problems and contribute to sleep apnea. What’s more, alcohol can also increase the need to urinate during the night—just another way in which it can disrupt your sleep.
Despite fatigue, many women have trouble sleeping during their periods. Bloating, cramps, getting up at night to change your menstrual pad ... All these elements combine to keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. How can you get the sleep you need so you don’t feel tired during the day?
Too warm. Your body temperature increases by three to five tenths of a degree when you are menstruating. One of the main biological mechanisms that make it possible to sleep is the drop in temperature your body experiences in the evening. This difference in temperature may seem small, but it can really complicate sleepiness.
What to do: Make sure your room is between 16 and 19°C— the ideal temperature for sleeping. You can also try artificially inducing drowsiness by taking a hot bath or shower and then going into a cool room to lower your body temperature. Consider using a lighter blanket.
Too anxious. Having mood swings during menstruation is normal. Estrogen and progesterone levels fall just before the bleeding starts, making you more sensitive to negative emotions. Mood swings can also make you anxious, and that affects sleep.
What to do: Just being aware that hormones influence your mood swings can help alleviate the problem by improving the integration of your body and mind. Try tracking your cycle using an app to see if you can identify the days you are most likely to experience ups and downs.
Avoid video games, social media or other internet-related activities, and thinking about work before bedtime (or even in bed), as this provokes an increased release of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and it is also responsible for waking you up, as opposed to the hormone melatonin, which puts you to sleep. Discuss switching to oral contraceptives with your doctor. The progesterone dose in oral contraceptives can ease insomnia, regulate sleep patterns, and net you deeper sleep.
Digestive problems. Nausea, indigestion, and other digestive problems can make it difficult to sleep.
What to do: While ice cream, chocolate, or some other dessert may be a nice way to top off your evening meal, doctors suggest avoiding heavy foods before going to bed. In fact, there are many foods that have been shown to aid sleep for various reasons: Almonds contain magnesium and melatonin; tart cherry juice also has melatonin; bananas, walnuts, and turkey contain tryptophan; kiwi fruit is anti-inflammatory and contains serotonin, as do fatty fish; chamomile and passionflower tea have calming properties, and cottage cheese has high amounts of casein, which promotes overnight muscle growth and repair. Try some of these if you feel peckish at bedtime.
Cramps. Muscle contractions and cramps are common when you have your period. They are stimulated by prostaglandins that form in the lining of the uterus. For some women, this abdominal and lower back pain can be extreme. This does not make it easy to sleep!
What to do: Over-the-counter supplements such as magnesium and a B-vitamin complex often do the trick. If not, ask your doctor about using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, or if taking melatonin or another sleep aid would be appropriate. But don’t underestimate the old remedies—a hot water bottle or some good sex can go a long way towards soothing pain.
They can reduce cramps and control the flow of blood to a degree. If you suffer from period pains or are prone to leaking when sleeping, try a fetal position or sleep on your side.
Spotting on the sheets. Sometimes it is difficult to fall asleep because of the fear of soiling the sheets and mattress, especially during the first days of menstruation, when bleeding is more intense.
What to do: Use heavy-duty overnight pads made for nighttime wear. They absorb more blood so there is less chance of leaking. You might also try using a menstrual cup—it holds more blood than tampons or pads and stays in place with light suction, which also helps prevent leaking.
Some women wear two pairs of underwear to hold a pad in place while sleeping. Others wear special menstrual panties, use baby diapers instead of pads, or put towels or leakproof covers over their sheets. Another solution for use at home is to use always the same bed linen during your period.
Worrying about sleep. Sometimes it is impossible to fall asleep because of worry…worrying about not being able to fall asleep. You toss and turn in bed as the hours pass, waiting for the moment you finally will fall asleep…
What to do: Don’t just lie awake in bed worrying about not sleeping, get up for a while instead. Go to the kitchen and make some herbal tea or warm milk to drink. Sit down and think about your day. Make a list of things to do tomorrow, so you can let go of having to remember them. Whatever you do, don’t start watching TV or reading a book! After a while you will feel that you want to go back to bed and put your head on your pillow.
You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now: