Research shows that the ups-and-downs of estrogen and progesterone can impact the quality of your sleep.
Luckily, by knowing how your hormones will be impacting your slumber, you can plan ahead of time to catch up on lost sleep during great-sleep days and prepare yourself with ways to beat insomnia on lousy-sleep days.
So, what can you expect from sleep each week of your cycle? In your…
Week 1: It’s a crampy start, but sublime finish
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
If you get menstrual cramps, you may find that cramp pain can make it difficult to fall asleep or it can rouse you out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night. However, if you take a painkiller or don’t experience cramp discomfort, rising estrogen during this week is likely making your sleep deeper and longer. That’s because the higher this hormone climbs, the more it helps boost the brain’s level of serotonin–a key neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep.
Week 2: Unwinding may be tough, but sleep is deep
Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
As estrogen climbs toward its peak in your Week 2, it gives a rocket-boost to your mental and physical energy. While this is useful during the day when you want to tackle a to-do list a mile long, this same high energy can also make it difficult to turn off your thoughts and unwind at night. However, once you do drift off, your high level of estrogen is helping you have a solid night’s sleep as it continues to boost the level of serotonin in the brain.
Week 3: Sleep can start off bad, then get very, very good
Starts day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
This is a topsy-turvy week when it comes to sleep. In the first half of your Week 3, estrogen takes a steep plunge, which can trigger bouts of insomnia as it reduces levels of serotonin in the brain. However, by the second half of your Week 3, estrogen rises and is paired with rising progesterone, a sedating hormone. Together this hormonal duo can give you the deepest sleep of your whole cycle. Which is a good thing because you’re going to need it by the time Week 4 rolls around….
Week 4: Have insomnia-busters ready!
Final 6 days of your cycle
In study after study, women report having their worst quality sleep during their premenstrual week. You may find it difficult to fall asleep, you may wake up in the middle of the night or you may have light sleep that leaves you feeling tired upon awakening. The problem is plunging estrogen, which strikes a one-two punch: It brings down levels of sleep-regulating serotonin in the brain while also making you more sensitive to factors that interrupt a good night sleep, such as unpleasant odors, uncomfortable room temperatures, loud noise or pajamas that pinch and bind.
Want better sleep every week of your cycle?
Now that you know when to expect bad sleep days, what can you do to overcome the hormonal hurdles and get better sleep? I recommend trying one or more of these proven techniques:
Drink chamomile tea: This sweet-flavored herbal tea contains mildly sedating compounds that can improve sleep quality. For best results, drink two hours prior to going to bed so you have time to empty your bladder. To make it, steep one tablespoon of dried chamomile or one teabag for 10 minutes with boiled water that has been allowed to cool for one minute.
Pop a little melatonin: A study out of MIT reveals that a tiny dose of the sleep-triggering hormone melatonin–0.3 mg–is more effective at lulling you to sleep than a larger dose. Take it 20 minutes to an hour before bedtime. (Don’t take melatonin for longer than two weeks at a stretch since your body can build up a tolerance to it.) Also key: Try to dim the lights around your home and in the electronics you’re using an hour or so before you turn in. Exposure to light halts your body’s natural production of melatonin.
Listen to lulling music: Several studies show that listening to soft, slow music an hour before bedtime (even if it’s on in the background as you do other tasks) results in deeper, longer sleep. The reason? The music prompts the mind and body to relax, making it easier to drift off.
Count backwards by 3s: When you can’t fall asleep due to racing thoughts or you wake up in the middle of the night and worries crowd your mind, start counting backwards from 300 by 3s, for instance, 297, 294, etc. According to sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., this activity is engaging enough to stop the barrage of negative thoughts that are triggering stress that keeps you alert, but is boring enough to lull you back to sleep. I’ve tried it on multiple premenstrual occasions and can attest that it really works.
Hope all this information helps you understand your sleep cycle better so you can clock deeper, longer zzz’s any time!