Numerous studies show that you need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to feel fully rested and rejuvenated.
But, let’s face it–in real life, clocking all those zzzs can be a challenge. It could be that work, school or family responsibilities are keeping you up late and prompting you to wake up early. Or, you can’t resist going out on the town with pals or staying up late to binge-watch a favorite show. Or, maybe you simply have trouble sleeping, with insomnia keeping you from getting all the shut-eye you require.
Unfortunately, after repeated nights of too little sleep, chances are, you eventually you hit a wall and get so tired, no amount of caffeine or cat naps or loud bullhorns within a foot of where you’re standing can get you up to speed again.
The good news? Some research suggests that you can actually make up for lost sleep (called “sleep debt”) by sleeping longer on some nights–and this can refuel your pep again.
Well, if you’re a cycling woman, there’s even better news for you:
- There are certain days in your monthly cycle when you can get away with less sleep–and still feel perky. Or, at least not end up unexpectedly faceplanting into your keyboard.
- And, there are certain days in your monthly cycle when making up sleep debt is easier–which will help restore you and keep you going all the other days of your cycle.
This means you can actually know when you can get away with skimping on sleep. And, you can plan when it’s best to make up lost sleep. All by simply looking at your menstrual cycle calendar.
Sleep and your cycle
Week 1: Let the skimping begin!
Day 1 (first day of period) through Day 7
Spoiler alert: This is not the best week to make up for lost sleep. Here’s why:
For starters, menstrual cramps in the first few days of your Week 1 can keep you from falling asleep, staying asleep or getting the kind of deep sleep that makes you wake up feeling fully refreshed.
Then, once you get to the middle of your Week 1, rising estrogen is boosting your energy level higher and higher. As a result, this is the time in your cycle when you can start putting off heading to sleep a little longer and setting your alarm to wake up a little earlier to squeeze more time into your day–while experiencing less sleep-deprived tiredness the following day. That’s because you’ll have rising estrogen’s pep-boosting effect pushing you along, kind of like your own hormonal caffeine. Oh, you may not feel as perky as if you’d slept a full eight hours or actually downed a big jug of Red Bull, but you’ll likely be able to juggle all your day’s to-dos without needing toothpicks to hold up your eyelids.
Week 2: Sleep can wait!
Day 8 through ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
Working on a big project? Dying to try a new club that opens its doors at midnight? Just downloaded the latest season of your favorite sci-fi series? Want to try the 5 am interval-training class at your gym? Fit in all those late nights and early mornings during your Week 2. Thanks to high-and-rising estrogen, you have more energy and stamina–and it stays fairly high even when you skimp on sleep.
Week 3: Pay back sleep debt in the 2nd half!
Begins day after ovulation and lasts days (Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
Throughout your Week 3, you’re bound to experience greater fatigue and fogginess. And, that’s before you’ve skimped on sleep! What’s happening is that progesterone rises throughout this cycle week, and since this hormone is has a sedating effect, it drags down your energy.
Unfortunately, despite the added tiredness, during the first three days of your Week 3 (which would be Days 15, 16 and 17 in a 28-day cycle), sleep may not be all that restorative. That’s because on these days, estrogen nosedives sharply–and that drags down levels of serotonin in the brain, which is needed to help regulate sleep. As a result, you might not find that long snoozes on these nights help you wake up feeling fully refreshed.
But, there is great sleep right around the corner! During the final 5 days of your Week 3 (which would be Days 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 in a 28-day cycle), both progesterone and estrogen rise together. And, when that happens, it creates the kind of solid, long, uninterrupted deep sleep that sleeping pill companies hate!
This makes the second half of your Week 3 the best time of your cycle to get to sleep early and set the alarm clock late to make up for any sleep debt you’ve accumulated.
Haven’t been skimping on sleep in the days leading up to this phase of your cycle? I recommend fitting in a few extra zzzs on these days, anyway, because by the time your premenstrual Week 4 rolls around, well, let’s just say, you’ll wish you’d taken advantage of the good sleep while you could….
Week 4: Sleep? What sleep?
Final 6 days of your cycle
Don your eye mask, put in your ear plugs, sip some chamomile tea and tell your dog/cat/mate to go sleep on the couch. You’re going to need all the help you can mustering solid sleep during your premenstrual Week 4. That’s because estrogen drops like a rock on these days, and as it goes further and further down, it drags down serotonin with it (just as it did in the first half of your Week 3), which makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
What’s more, during this estrogen dip, it’s likely even more difficult to grab shut-eye than it was in your early Week 3 because back then at least you had sedating progesterone rising, which could help knock you out. But during your Week 4, along with estrogen, progesterone is also taking a serious dive, leaving you to the kind of restless slumber that makes it feel like someone switched your usual caffeinated beverage with some pepless herbal brew.
Fortunately, if you’ve caught up on sleep debt in the second half of your Week 3, you have a better chance at making it through your Week 4 days with more alertness since you won’t be adding to your sleep deficiency.
Skip that optimal sleep time before your Week 4 begins and you could end up needing crutches to keep yourself vertical.
I just followed my own advice
I was thinking about this sleep issue this morning. These past few weeks, I’ve been staying up later and waking up earlier as I juggled work along with the launch of my new conversation card game, Head Scratcherz. When I visited a friend yesterday to help her with her computer, I realized I was so tired, I could barely string together a cohesive sentence.
I knew it was time to catch up on my lost sleep.
And, I also knew this was the perfect time in my cycle to do it because it was my Day 20–part of the second half of my Week 3–which is a time when rising progesterone and estrogen would combine to get me to fall asleep faster and keep me asleep all night long.
So, I headed to bed at 8:30 pm and didn’t wake up till 6:30 the next morning. And, the difference in energy was amazing. It felt like I’d fully recharged my battery. My mood was higher. My stress level was lower. I could string together sentences like a capable adult. It was well worth the epic bed-head I got from all that sleep.
I hope this tip helps you arrange your schedule to take advantage of your peak energy days–when skimping on sleep won’t leave you completely depleted–and take advantage of the days when it’s easiest to make up lost sleep!
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