accomplishI don’t know about you, but every day I wake up to a to-do list a mile long. And a “wish I could do” list that’s even longer. Too bad that there are only 24 hours in the day–and that at least seven to eight of them need to be wasted on used for sleep.

Well, I’ve figured out a way to tweak my sleep schedule throughout my monthly cycle in a way that ekes out just a bit more time for me when I need it. Here’s how I do it–and why it may work for you, too:

Week 1: Long sleep at the start, shorter at the end
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7

Week 1 starts with your period and bottomed-out estrogen–and for most women, this combo can be tiring. That’s because you’re losing energizing iron as you bleed and there’s no hormonal gas in your tank to push you along. So, during the first one to three days of my period, I focus on getting the full seven to eight hours I need to feel refreshed–or at least not dead on my feet.

But, by Day 4 I make a change: If I want to tick more tasks off my to-do list, I wake up 30 minutes earlier and stay awake 30 minutes later than my usual bedtimes–I basically stretch my day a bit at both ends so that I’m tacking on extra hour. And I can do this because by this point in my Week 1, my period is petering out (so less iron is being lost) and my estrogen has been climbing for three straight days, giving me more energy and endurance despite a little less sleep.

Week 2: Short sleep, long days
Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)

By the time your Week 2 starts, high estrogen should be giving you the most pep and stamina you’ll have all cycle long. So, when I have lots of tasks I want to complete at this point in my cycle, I purposely skimp on sleep, staying up as late as I can and waking up as early as I can–because I know that my sky-high estrogen will help keep my brain revved and propel me throughout my day despite the shortened sleep. This tweak can usually give me as much as two to four extra hours in my day, which can make all the difference in getting a project finished. If I had to, this would be the cycle week I’d pull an all-nighter–or at least a most-nighter. And I don’t mind dealing with a little sleep deprivation in this cycle week because (as you’ll read below), I know I’ll make up for it during my Week 3.

Week 3: Catch up on sleep, pounce on high-energy moments
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (which is Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)

There’s no getting around it: Rising progesterone throughout your Week 3 is like a sleeping pill that triggers fatigue, fogginess and the desire to snooze the day away. That’s because this hormone has a sedating effect, which can be strong if you’re sensitive to it (like I am). If I tried to short myself on sleep during this cycle week, I’d just end up so tired, I wouldn’t be able to tackle any of my to-dos anyway. Therefore, instead of fighting progesterone, I use it: I catch up on all that sleep I lost during my high-energy Week 2 by going to bed earlier and waking up later.

Then, I pounce on the high-energy moments in my day–for instance, I know from experience that my natural energy peaks at around 10 am to noon, so I’ll plan to take on my most important tasks then.

When I need a booster shot of energy, when possible I’ll take a nap–which is fairly easy to do since rising progesterone is pretty much lullabying me to sleep all day anyway. And when I wake up, I use that refreshed energy to complete another important task.

Week 4: No more extra zzz’s
Final 6 days of cycle

Once your premenstrual Week 4 starts, sedating progesterone plunges–and with it, the overly fatiguing feeling that makes you want to sleep, sleep, sleep. While estrogen is also plunging on these cycle days, chances are, you’re still feeling a bit more energized and have more stamina thanks to your progesterone dipping. For me, this means if I’ve got more tasks than time, I’ll curb the early-to-bed, late-to-rise habit I followed in my Week 3 and start stretching my day again by waking up about 15 minutes earlier and going to bed about 15 minutes later than my normal bedtimes.

However, I won’t knock one or more hours off my sleeptime like I did in my Week 2. That’s because research shows that sleep deprivation in your premenstrual week exacerbates moodiness, irritability, anger and frustration caused by descending estrogen–and those aren’t exactly the traits that will help me get my tasks complete. However, shaving off a little at the start and end of my day can give me an extra cushion of time that helps me get more done–without denting my mood.

[Photo: Tim Pierce]