sleepwomanSometimes, I pick the day’s Hormonology Tip topic based on new research that’s come out. Sometimes, it’s based on what topic I haven’t covered in awhile. Other times, I pick it based on the problems I’m encountering in my own cycle–which then reminds me you probably encounter the same problems, too.

So, since I just finished my premenstrual week (Day 1–yee-ha!) and sleeping through the night had been a real challenge as the result of plunging estrogen (which drags down sleep-regulating serotonin in the brain and makes you more sensitive to things that can wake you up, like noise and dogs walking right across your sore premenstrual breasts), I figured I’d round up a few more sleep-boosting studies that you (and I) can try to help clock longer, deeper sleep in our premenstrual week–and any week of our cycle–when we need better zzzzs.

1. Use an electric blanket or warm your pajamas to nod off quick: Hate how long it takes for you to drift off? In a new study in the journal Sleep Medicine, sleepers who used an electric blanket fell asleep about seven minutes faster.
How it works: Mild warming increases skin temperature–triggering soothing relaxation–without altering your body’s inner cool-down mechanism needed to get to sleep. If you don’t use an electric blanket (personally, I’m a worrywart who’s convinced I’ll electrocute myself with one), you can probably get the same effect by simply throwing your pajamas in the dryer on low for 10 minutes right before climbing into bed.

2. Turn off premenstrual aches with self-Shiatsu: If pre-period cramps, back aches or other pain is stopping you from falling asleep, applying gentle pressure with your thumb to specific points on your hand–a technique called self-Shiatsu–can ease the discomfort and help you nod off faster, report researchers from the University of Alberta and Toronto Western Hospital in Canada.
How it works: In line with Shiatsu practices, pressing certain points on the hand is believed to activate nerves along energy pathways–called “meridians”–that relax you and rev your mood, which helps blunt the pain that’s keeping you awake. If that’s a bit too New Agey for you to swallow, the researchers concede there could be other possible reasons this method works: It may be engaging enough to distract you from pain that keeps you awake without making you more alert. Or, it may give you a sense of control over your aches, which helps reduce them. No matter why it works, you can try it for yourself by checking out this easy video instruction featuring one of the study’s authors.

3. Wind down faster by tweaking your dinner: Premenstrual hormones may be pushing you to load up on fatty foods (like French fries and ice cream), but a 2011 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows eating less fat before bedtime can lead to higher-quality sleep. And, the same study found that eating the last bite of your dinner, dessert or evening snack at least 60 minutes prior to turning in can also help you clock better zzz’s.
How it works: Fat takes more effort for your body to digest, so your body is working longer throughout the night, preventing you from fully relaxing. As for nixing late-night noshes, it’s because you digest food more slowly when you sleep, which can create uncomfortable bloating and indigestion that keeps you up at night.

4. Get more restful sleep with hypnosis: Listening to a soothing, hypnotic voice encouraging you to get a good night’s sleep triggers a 66% decrease in “micro-arousals”–the mini wake-ups that happen without you knowing it, preventing truly sound sleep. Plus, it results in 80% more “slow-wave sleep”–the deep sleep that makes you feel fully refreshed in the morning, reports the journal SLEEP.
How it works: Our sleep patterns are sensitive to what happens to us subconsciously, says the study’s lead author. As a result, hypnotic suggestions have the potential to influence the subconscious mind in a way that results in longer, deeper sleep. One big caveat: This technique works best on women who are “highly suggestible”. To listen to sleep hypnosis audio for free, try liberationinmind.com/insomnia-relief.

Not highly suggestible? Numerous studies show that listening to an hour of relaxing, slow-tempo tunes before bedtime can help you nod off significantly faster and enjoy higher-quality sleep by reducing physical tension.

I hope these tips help you get better sleep during your premenstrual week–and every day of your cycle!

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[Photo: Timothy Krause]