Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormone levels, such as estrogen and progesterone, fluctuate. These hormonal changes can affect sleep, it is therefore totally normal for you to experience different sleep patterns and quality at different times in your cycle. For example, higher levels of estrogen in the first half of the cycle may contribute to improved sleep quality, while increased progesterone levels in the second half can cause drowsiness or fatigue.
Let's take a closer look at these 2 hormones to understand their link to sleep.
- Estrogen: during the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels gradually increase. Estrogen has been found to have a positive impact on sleep by promoting deeper, more restorative sleep. It may increase the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is associated with dreaming and enhanced cognitive function. This can contribute to a sense of improved sleep quality and overall well-being.
- Progesterone: In the second half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone levels rise after ovulation. Progesterone has a calming effect and can induce feelings of relaxation. While this can be beneficial for reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of calm, it may also cause drowsiness or increased fatigue, potentially leading to more daytime sleepiness.
Serotonin also plays a crucial role in sleep regulation. Serotonin and melatonin are central players in the regulation of the circadian rhythm, which governs the sleep-wake cycle. Serotonin is active during wakefulness and helps maintain a state of alertness and wakefulness. As evening approaches and light levels decrease, serotonin is converted into melatonin through a series of enzymatic reactions. The body then releases melatonin, signalling our bed time and promoting sleepiness.
Serotonin production is partially managed by estrogen, which controls the availability of tryptophan hydroxylase, the amino acid required for serotonin synthesis. Fluctuating estrogen levels can have an impact on the amount of tryptophan available for serotonin production, and therefore the amount of serotonin available for melatonin secretion at night. Disruptions in serotonin can consequently contribute to sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep fragmentation. Thankfully, you can boost tryptophan in your diet with foods such as: milk, pistachios, beans, salmon and spinach.
Physical sleep disturbances: During menstruation, some women may experience increased discomfort, such as abdominal cramps, headaches, or breast tenderness. These physical symptoms can disturb sleep and cause nighttime awakenings. Placing a hot water bottle on your abdomen can help if you experience severe cramping.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Restless leg syndrome, a condition characterised by an irresistible urge to move the legs, can be more prevalent during the menstrual cycle. Since the symptoms of RLS can worsen during menstruation, leading to difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep. Regular stretching during the day is recommended if you have RLS.
It's important to note that the impact of the menstrual cycle on sleep can vary among individuals. Factors such as stress, lifestyle, and overall health can also influence sleep during each cycle.
If you're experiencing significant sleep disruptions or have concerns about your sleep during your menstrual cycle, consulting a healthcare professional, such as a gynaecologist or sleep specialist, can provide further guidance and potential treatment options. They may recommend lifestyle modifications, relaxation techniques, or, in severe cases, medications to help manage sleep disturbances.