A woman in bed yawning

Can’t sleep? Here’s why your menstrual cycle could be to blame

Welcome back to Sleepless Nights, Stylist’s weekly series designed to help you swap your anxiety and worries for a good night’s sleep. This week, we’re exploring how the menstrual cycle can impact sleep.

Over the last couple of years, the number of people talking about their sleep has skyrocketed. 

From night-time anxiety and stress to teeth grinding and an irregular schedule, more and more of us are aware of the factors that could be at play when we’re struggling with our sleep, and the steps we can take to improve our chances of a good night’s rest.

But despite all of this, there’s one major factor that many women still fail to recognise could be messing with their sleep: our hormones.  

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“As with any other body function, we need perfect balance in our hormone production to sleep well,” explains Dr Rocio Salas-Whalen, an endocrinologist and medical director at the hormone tracking app, Hormona

“Women tend to have the highest levels of sleep disturbances during periods of our lives that are characterised by significant hormonal fluctuations, like puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause.”

If you’ve ever experienced sleepless nights in the run-up to your period or struggled with pregnancy-related insomnia, you’ll know what Salas-Whelen is talking about. While your hormones help your body to function, changes in your hormones – both during moments such as puberty and pregnancy and on a monthly basis due to your menstrual cycle – can play havoc with your sleep routine and quality. 

A woman struggling to sleep
The follicular stage of your menstrual cycle can impact your sleep.

“Womens sex hormones – in particular oestrogen and progesterone – have a profound effect on our sleep and its quality,” Salas-Whalen explains. “In the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle [the first stage which begins on the first day of your period and ends with ovulation] when oestrogen levels are high, our basal body temperature is low, which in turn promotes rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.”

She continues: “However, in the luteal phase [the second stage of the menstrual cycle which begins when your ovaries release an egg and ends before your period starts] oestregen levels decrease, which can consequently affect our levels of serotonin and lead to a decline in the quality of sleep. Ovulation can also lead to an increase in progesterone, which can lead to a higher basal body temperature and disrupt the production of melatonin, which is essential in regulating sleep patterns.” 

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It’s for this reason, Salas-Whalen explains, that many women report issues with their sleep in the run-up to their periods – typically at the same time as they experience other symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

“Research shows that in the luteal phase, women experience increased sleep onset [trouble falling asleep] and awakenings, as well as lower sleep efficiency and quality compared to the follicular phase,” she says.  

How to handle hormone-related sleep disruption

A woman on her phone in bed
There are some simple things you can do to help hormone-related sleep disruption.

While there’s not much you can do to remedy these kinds of sleep disruptions, Salas-Whalen does have a few tips for those struggling with hormone-related sleep issues.

“If you don’t feel your sleep disturbances are too severe and would like to try and give your hormones a helping hand when it comes to improving sleep quality, there are a few things that can be helpful, such as practicing good sleep hygiene. Doing things like going to bed at the same time, no gadgets before sleep and no caffeine in the second half of the day are a helpful way of telling your body it’s time for bed.”

Other interventions Salas-Whalen recommends include looking into sleep supplements (you can check out our guide for more information on these) as well as activities such as yoga and breathing techniques.

However, she adds, if this is a problem that’s affecting your ability to function, you should seek further help. “If there is a continuous pattern of sleep disruption, then that’s something you need to bring up with your doctor so they can investigate and recommend appropriate treatment options.” 

So, there you have it: as well as triggering mood swings and stomach cramps, your hormones can also influence your sleep – in both positive and negative ways. 

Next time you’re tossing and turning in bed, have a think about where you are in your menstrual cycle – it may not help you to sleep better, but it’s always nice to know what’s going on inside your body. 

If you are worried about your sleeping habits, low mood or anxiety, you should speak to your GP. You can also find out more information on the NHS website or visit Mind, the mental health charity. 

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