Andrea, a Hormonology newsletter subscriber, sent me this question, wanting to know why she seems to always have two to three bad days each month where she’s wide awake from 2-5 am and ends up with racing, obsessive thoughts.
Insomnia due to your hormones is most likely to occur during Week 4 of your cycle, which is the premenstrual week. That’s due to several reasons: Plunging estrogen lowers your brain’s level of sleep-regulating serotonin, making it more difficult to get deep, restorative zzz’s. Plus, it’s making you more sensitive to physical sensations that can wake you up in the middle of the night, such as noise, scratchy sheets, a tight waistband on your pajamas, a room that’s too hot, cold or smelly or too much light from, say, a nightlight or alarm clock. Then, on top of all that, because plunging estrogen can also bring down your mood, you can end up with negative thoughts racing through your mind, making it even harder to get back to sleep.
There are other times in your cycle when you may notice it’s a tad more difficult to get the deep sleep you want: At the start of Week 1, if you’re bothered by menstrual cramps, the pain can keep you up. At the end of Week 2, it may be difficult to drift off since high estrogen and testosterone are amping up your nervous energy, which can make your thoughts race. And the first half of Week 3 can be challenging as estrogen drops in what I call the “pre-PMS” phase, which has many similarities to Week 4.
Now what can you do about it? Longtime Hormonology fans know I’m a big proponent of study-proven, natural remedies (it comes from my many years as a women’s health journalist for national magazines). So, let me list a few I like the most:
* Nix the sleep-robbers: First, try eliminating the problems that could be keeping you awake, for instance, moving the smelly laundry basket from your bedroom or taking a painkiller 30 minutes prior to bedtime to quell menstrual cramps. Then, if you’re still having problems.
* Say “thank you”: Recent research shows that counting your blessings can help lull you to sleep or get you back to sleep by reducing stress and focusing your mind on positive thoughts. I have tried this on many, many, many sleepless nights and am always surprised by how effectively it works for me. You can say thanks for anything–your family, your health, your dog, the weather, whatever you like–and it will have the same soothing effect.
* Picture a beautiful scene: For instance, think about a waterfall, a snow-topped mountain or a field of grass. This technique works in a similar way as the gratitude tip above: It reduces stress and focuses your mind on uplifting thoughts. Be sure to think about as many details in your image as possible. Researchers found that folks who imagine more fine details fall asleep faster probably because it helps you focus on the image more easily.
* Use progressive muscle relaxation: This is where you tense each group of muscles then relax them starting with your toes and working all the way up to your face. This helps calm the body and mind, helping you get to sleep faster.
* Sip chamomile tea: This slightly sweet herbal tea contains compounds that have a relaxing effect. Just be sure to sip it about three hours before bedtime so you’re not awakened by a full bladder.
* Try melatonin: While you should not take melatonin–a hormone that regulates sleep–every night since you can build up a tolerance to it, if you know which nights you will be having the worst sleep (for instance, if you know for sure Week 4 is your insomnia week) and you want to experiment with this over-the-counter supplement, then take a small dose; a recent study found that a tiny 0.3 mg. dose worked more effectively at getting insomniacs to sleep than the larger 3 mg. dose that’s usually prescribed. If you’re not a fan of taking supplements, try nibbling a few walnuts, which are a rich source of melatonin.
Have a question of your own? For instance, how Hormonology works, which is the best week of your cycle to do an activity or how your hormones impact you in a certain way? Ask me! Send your question to gabrielle [at] hormonehoroscope.com. It could end up in the next Hormonology post!
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