Breece, a Hormonology newsletter subscriber, writes: “Hi, I’m having a hard time sleeping through the night and I suspect it has to do with something related to my cycle rhythm. Are there certain weeks where the changes in hormones will affect sleep patterns? Mainly racing mind I can’t slow down and I’m falling asleep but waking around 2-3am and not being able to fall back asleep. This has happened the last two nights and I’m finishing up my first week.”
My answer: There are, indeed, certain times in your cycle when sleep is harder to come by. During rising estrogen Week 1 and Week 2, you could end up having a hard time falling asleep due to racing thoughts or you may wake up out of a sound sleep with racing thoughts due to a higher level of stress or anxiety triggered by this climbing hormone. In the first half of Week 3, plunging estrogen can trigger insomnia by disrupting sleep-regulating serotonin. And this problem pops up again throughout premenstrual Week 4. Week 4 is also when you’re more sensitive to aches and pains, which also makes it harder to reach the deepest stages of sleep.
Now this doesn’t mean you’ll lose sleep during each of these times of your cycle. You may have more of a sensitivity to rising estrogen or falling estrogen. Or you may be more prone to sleeplessness during just a couple of days out of the month or when hormonal effects are coupled with other factors in your life.
So, let’s talk about your specific problem—waking up and not being able to fall asleep due to racing thoughts. I just wrote an article for a magazine where I interviewed one of the America’s leading sleep experts—Michael Breus, Ph.D.—about this very topic. His advice: When you wake up and can’t fall asleep due to racing thoughts, start counting backwards from 300 by 3s, for instance, 297, 294, etc. This activity is engaging enough to stop your thoughts from racing and triggering stress that keeps you alert, but is boring enough to lull you back to sleep. I’ve actually tried this tactic twice already with great success. I hope it works for you, too!