In case you weren’t aware just yet, March 19 (today) is World Sleep Day. While you may see this and think to yourself “how many ‘days’ do there want to be?” (and you wouldn’t be wrong) chatting about sleep quality and figuring out the key to the elusive myth that is a solid snooze is kind of huge for a lot of people.
We’ve explored this area many times on Lifehacker. From theories around why you’re tired all the time, to insight into the connection between your teeth and sleep, or fitness and sleep, we’re pretty damn invested in this topic. So, today we’re tackling a new question regarding bedtime: does your period impact your sleep quality?
Sleep expert, Olivia Arezzolo, who has teamed up with Modibodi (masters of leak-proof undies) and Koala (masters of beds, mattresses, sheets, pillows and more) in honour of World Sleep Day, took some time to walk me through the science behind this issue.
Here’s what I learnt.
Oh yes, your period and sleep are definitely connected
While some folks may assume the link relates mostly to late night or early morning runs to the bathroom due to a heavy flow (something Modibodi‘s period underwear is actually great for), or even being woken by cramps, the problem actually runs much deeper than that. Your menstrual cycle doesn’t only mess up your snooze when you’re on your period, either.
“Overall, academic research shows up to 33% of women experience more sleep disruptions the weeks before and during menstruation,” Arezzolo shared over email.
“This largely stems back to oestrogen: Research shows fluctuations in 17B-estradiol (circulating oestrogen) increases light sleep (stage 2 NREM), and decreases REM sleep – critical to emotional stability.”
She also explained that oestrogen helps regulate our core body temperature, which is “a critical factor in sleepiness hormone melatonin synthesis”. Melatonin is a hormone that tells your body it’s time to turn in, so interruptions to its production are going to make it difficult to maintain a deep sleep.
This, Arezzolo highlighted, can also be linked to a shift in mood. Because who’s their best when you’ve had a shitty sleep, right?
Your dreams may seem a little whackier than usual
If you’ve ever noticed that your dreams become particularly colourful at that time of the month (or the days surrounding it) there’s a reason for that.
No, it’s not because your hormones are raging, causing you to think all kinds of strange things. Arezzolo shared that as your sleep is more likely to be lighter, causing you to wake more frequently, there’s a higher chance you’ll wake during REM sleep (which is when dreams occur). This means you’re probably going to remember more of your dreams.
There are things you can do to improve your snooze
Arezzolo shared she has a “Signature Bedtime Routine” that she highly recommends if you struggle with sleep. I’ve shared it for you below.
Step 1: Block out blue light – A recent study found bright household light delays melatonin onset by 1 hour, 3 minutes. As a result, you aren’t as tired as you should be at bedtime.
Step 2: Diffuse lavender – A clinical trial found lavender improved sleep quality by 59% and reduced anxiety by 45%.
Step 3: Have a goodnight phone alarm (an alarm to jolt you off your devices) – research shows using a phone in the last hour before bed equates to a 48% greater likelihood to take over 60 minutes fall asleep, and you have a 35% higher likelihood of losing 2 or more hours of sleep.
Step 4: Have a shower or bath – An academic review of 17 clinical trials found that both showers and baths can reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep, improve sleep quality and heighten sleep efficiency.
Step 5: Have a magnesium supplement – Scientific research notes it can reduce anxiety by 31% – a leading cause of sleeplessness.
Step 6: Meditate – A clinical study found long term meditators spend twice the amount of time in slow wave (deep) sleep – the sleep stage you need to feel rejuvenated and refreshed in the morning.
Step 7: Wear an eye mask – As noted in a recent study, just 5-10 lux – e.g. a distant exterior street light – throughout the night reduced sleep depth and impaired SWS (slow-wave sleep).
So, long story short. Not only do we need to deal with having a period and the pain and discomfort that comes with that – it also impacts your sleep which worsens your mood, messes with your cognitive function and can impact your general health in a pretty crappy way. Fun times!
However, there are things we can do to improve on all the above. It just takes time, a commitment to routine and some seriously cosy bed linens.