Why Women Experience PMS Insomnia
If you have trouble sleeping before your menstrual cycle, know you are not alone. Learn how to identify and treat your PMS-related insomnia.
Jul 1st, 2022 •
Expert Insights from Dr. Brooke Dulka, a medical writer and neuroscientist who received her Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of Tennessee, and she is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she studies the neurobiology of memory.
Do you toss and turn in the nights leading up to the start of your monthly cycle? It’s more common than you might think.
Recent studies reported by the National Sleep Foundation found that women often report experiencing insomnia and sleep-related issues more often than men. Their research also noted that many women report having difficulties sleeping specifically in accordance with their menstrual cycle.
In the days leading up to a woman’s period, she is likely to feel restless and have trouble falling and staying asleep. But why is this?
Read on to learn how your cycle may be disrupting your sleep.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of physical and emotional symptoms women can experience in the time period after ovulation and before the start of the menstrual cycle. PMS is extremely common for women to face, and it can be treated to avoid severe cases.
The common side effects of PMS include moodiness, tender breasts, fatigue, irritability, and food cravings. The cause of PMS is not entirely understood, but it is most likely connected to the hormonal shifts that occur in a woman’s body during her cycle.
These hormonal changes can also be connected to the sleep troubles that women face when affected by PMS insomnia.
PMS and Sleep Problems
“If you’re frequently experiencing difficulties staying asleep, hot flashes, or restlessness in the days leading up to your menstruation cycle, you may be experiencing PMS Insomnia,” says Dr. Dulka.
It’s not surprising to learn that PMS leads to sleep disturbances when you understand how women suffer from cramps and other uncomfortable PMS symptoms during this time, but the main cause for sleep disruptions related to PMS is the on-going hormone shifts. The main hormones responsible for this are estradiol (the primary estrogen) and progesterone.
The menstrual cycle can be understood in two main phases: follicular (start of menstruation to ovulation) and luteal (after ovulation). During the follicular phase, the body builds up estrogen until ovulation, then at ovulation, estrogen production increases even more. Estrogen leads to high energy, hence the common issues with restlessness during ovulation.
Once ovulation ends, progesterone levels rise. This hormone is associated with making one feel drowsy. Then, in the few days before the start of menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This is when many women face issues with PMS insomnia.
In the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, women can also experience a reduction in REM sleep, also known as deep sleep. REM sleep generally occurs when the body temperature is lowest during the night. When progesterone levels rise, this typically causes an increase in body temperature and can have an impact on the reduction of REM sleep.
The hormonal shifts in the body are extremely complex and researchers have yet to fully understand all of the connections leading to PMS insomnia. Along with the hormonal changes occurring inside the body, there are also other symptoms of PMS that lead to sleep disruptions including increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and bodily discomfort from cramping or other aches.
Recognizing the Symptoms of PMS Insomnia
“PMS Insomnia is common in women and can be caused by the general issues seen with PMS such as fatigue and irritability,” says Dr. Dulka.
If you’re having trouble sleeping in the days leading up to the beginning of menstruation, you could be experiencing PMS insomnia. These symptoms can include:
- Trouble falling asleep or restlessness
- Difficulties staying asleep
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
While the hormonal changes that occur in the body can not necessarily be avoided, there are certain ways you can help reduce the symptoms of PMS and insomnia.
Treatment for PMS-Related Insomnia
“It is wise to speak with your physician about the root cause of your PMS Insomnia as treating the root of the issue is usually the most effective treatment,” says Dr. Dulka. “Other treatments for PMS Insomnia include turning down your room’s temperature or practicing good sleep hygiene. Pharmacological treatments are also used to treat PMS-related symptoms, such as selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors.”
Symptoms and severity vary by the individual, but one of these treatment options could be the solution for helping you avoid the long nights of restlessness leading up to menstruation.
Keep a Sleep Diary
A key method for reducing any PMS-related insomnia symptoms is identifying when and how you are experiencing issues with your sleep schedule. During the month, record what types of symptoms you are experiencing, their severity, and any sleep-related issues. This can be beneficial in many ways. For one, you will become more aware of any patterns and know what to expect, but it also is a great tool to take to a physician if you need to seek professional help.
Try a Natural Remedy
Natural remedies and pain relievers can help to both reduce symptoms of PMS and insomnia. A warm glass of milk or a warm cup of herbal tea are great remedies for a good night’s sleep. You may also consider CBD as its anti-inflammatory properties help relieve PMS pain and it may help modulate hormones related to sleep-wake cycles through the endocannabinoid system.
Consider Light Therapy
Light therapy is an effective treatment for regulating menstrual cycles and reducing symptoms of PMS and insomnia. This requires sitting near a special light box each day that mimics outdoor light and helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles.
Turn Down the Temperature
With the hormonal shifts occurring in your body, your body temperature may be higher than usual and interrupt your sleep. Turn down the temperature to an optimal 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit for a comfortable night’s sleep.
Practice Proper Sleep Hygiene
As always, addressing and improving your sleep hygiene can be an effective solution for better sleeping habits. Be sure you consistently maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise habits. You should also avoid blue light technologies late at night and allow yourself to wind down before bed with relaxing activities such as a warm bath, meditation, or reading a book.
Learn All Your Treatment Options
After speaking with a physician, you may learn that the most effective treatment for your insomnia requires addressing other roots of the issue such as anxiety or depression. Being overweight can also worsen PMS symptoms and losing weight may help decrease the severity of your condition. Discuss all treatment options available to find which works best for you.
Dr. Brooke Dulka is a medical writer and neuroscientist. She recieved her Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of Tennessee, and she is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she studies the neurobiology of memory.
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