If you’re a girl (or identify as one), you know the typical female struggles—bloating, water retention, chocolate cravings,, and probably the most uncomfortable thing we have to deal with: sleeping with menstrual cramps.
Periods are like those uninvited visitors that appear at inconvenient times, eat all your food, and are a downer on your mood.
They’re also pretty good at ruining a good night’s sleep, with up to 30% of us having disrupted sleep patterns during our periods, and, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 69% of that being due to menstrual cramps.
Thankfully, there are some things that can be done to help relax, ease the pain, and have a better night’s sleep during your period.
For the guys who may find themselves here, please keep reading! Empathy goes a long way towards helping the ladies in your life feel better during these times, and understanding a little more about how her body functions is never a bad thing.
What Is The Menstrual Cycle?
It’s surprising how many of us ladies have no idea of the mechanics behind this weird monthly phenomenon, so in order to understand why we have pain and how best to reduce it, we should learn a bit about the ins and outs of menstruation.
Basically, the menstrual cycle can be described as the phases the body goes through hormonally while preparing for ovulation (or possible pregnancy).
How Does The Menstrual Cycle Happen?
The body is an amazing machine, and it’s constantly going through processes of creation and completion. This cycle is one of those processes.
There are 4 distinct phases:
- Follicular Phase
- Luteal Phase
During the follicular phase, the body goes about creating the egg. A mature egg takes around 10 days to develop, and the ovulation phase occurs around day 14 of your cycle.
Ovulation is when the ovaries release the egg (or ovum), which is the prime time for fertilization to happen.
The luteal phase is basically the preparation of the uterus for a fertilized egg to arrive and implant itself. The lining of the uterus begins to thicken (this is known as the corpus luteum).
If pregnancy occurs, this lining will produce the necessary hormones, but if the egg goes unfertilized, it is shed in the process of menstruation.
What Happens In The Body During Menstruation?
It’s important to understand that the hormonal ups and downs of this cycle affect other bodily functions too! These effects can vary quite a bit from person to person, but it’s quite likely that you will show some other symptoms that you won’t even realize are hormone-related.
Imagine a graph showing the hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle. While you may be expecting something like this:
… chance are, it more closely resembles something like this:
Yep - there are 50 different hormones floating around in there that all have a job to do, and they don’t take turns either. All of these processes are happening simultaneously, so it’s quite a mosh pit in there.
With this in mind, it’s not difficult to understand why periods often come with pain!
When it comes to menstruation, though, we’re only going to focus on two hormones that are secreted by the ovaries and that play a big role in the cycle: estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen is probably the most well-known female hormone. It’s produced by the ovaries, and in small amounts by the adrenal glands.
You may be surprised to learn that men have estrogen in their bodies too! In women, however, it’s in much larger quantities, and is responsible for many of the noticeably different female physical characteristics—development of breasts, female physical features such as facial and body shape, and the beginning and controlling of the menstrual cycle.
This is the hormone that causes the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for the fertilized egg.
If you don’t become pregnant, this lining breaks down which lowers the body’s progesterone levels. This is the kick-off to your period—many women mistakenly think that menstrual blood is the unused egg being shed, but in truth it’s this uterine lining that’s being expelled.
What Can Cause Pain During The Menstrual Cycle?
Typically, period pain is caused by the uterus muscle contracting in order to expel the unused lining, and can sometimes be made worse by bloating.
There can be more severe causes, such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine cysts or fibroids, or structural anomalies in the uterus, but unless you have additional symptoms, chances are your pain is simply muscular contractions.
Tips To Help You Sleep During Your Period
Nothing ruins a good sleep like pain, of any kind. Girls will know, though, that the pain and discomfort that comes with your period is a special kind of annoying.
We have some tips and hacks that we’re sure will help you sleep better during menstrual cramps. Give them a try and prepare for better sleep!
Regulate Your Temperature
This one is a bit of a catch-22.
You may have heard that heat is your friend when it comes to period pain, and that’s true if you’re talking about applying it directly to the aching muscle in the form of a hot water bottle or something similar.
In terms of environment, though, being too hot can disrupt your sleep too, so you might need to put a bit of thought into how best to get this one right.
Here are our suggestions:
Apply heat directly to the sore spot
Every girl needs a hot water bottle, specifically for these moments.
It may sound backwards, but heat helps relax muscles, which will in turn reduce your pain.
Simply fill your bottle up (or use a heat pack), wrap it in something to make sure you don’t burn yourself, and place it right on the painful spot.
It should take effect pretty soon and you’ll start to feel more relaxed and less crampy.
You can use a heated blanket if you wish, but it’s a little harder to apply it directly and will also affect our next point, which is…
Make sure your room is cool
You may wonder why we talk about applying heat and then tell you to keep cool. Well, while heat works well if applied directly to the affected muscle, your body will have a much easier time falling asleep in a cool environment.
The best temperature for falling asleep will depend on you, but an environment that’s too hot is only going to aggravate your symptoms and make sleep even harder to come by.
Take An Anti-Inflammatory
When your period is happening, all the bits and pieces involved become a little inflamed. Taking an anti-inflammatory can help reduce swelling and pain by quite a bit.
If you’re the type of girl who doesn’t dig meds, we get you. Luckily, there are some natural remedies that can be used to reduce pain and inflammation too.
Ibuprofen is a great go-to anti-inflammatory for mild to moderate pain.
If you need something a little stronger, Naproxen is recommended, although use with caution and definitely don’t overdo it.
If you have a particular medication that you prefer, then go for that one! We’re all different, so what works for someone else may not work for you, and vice versa.
If you have a sensitive stomach or simply don’t want to be relying on meds too often, there are some natural remedies out there that work wonders to calm inflammation.
It’s easy to find turmeric supplements in stores or online, and it’s definitely worth a try. You can always start cooking with a bit more turmeric too—it adds a nice dash of flavor as well as being great for your health.
The super thing about taking a turmeric supplement is that you can take a capsule daily and you may even notice that by the time your next menstruation happens, the pain isn’t as bad as it was before.
Cinnamon is another sweet spice that’s known for anti-inflammatory properties. If you have a sweet tooth, this may be a better option for you than turmeric, although you can always use both for a double dose of anti-inflammation.
A super easy way to get a bit of cinnamon in you each day is to add a little shake in your daily coffee. Not only will you be getting a dash of health-promoting benefits, your coffee will be sweet and spicy and unusually delicious.
The last of the fantastic anti-inflammatory trio, ginger is amazing for reducing pain associated with inflammation. It’s also very helpful for things like bloating, so it’s a double-whammy when it comes to making you feel better during your period.
Do Some Light Exercise
This one is more of a maintenance measure than a quick and easy fix. Most of us can’t just get up at 2am and go for a stroll or a swim, so this is something best done before bed.
Light exercise during the day can help lower stress levels and fatigue muscles just slightly, to the point where it’s easier to relax them once you’re in bed. Exercise also boosts the production of sleep hormones, meaning you’re less likely to struggle to fall asleep afterwards.
Of course, if you can take a midnight stroll and you don’t mind getting out of bed if it’s going to help you fall asleep better, then go for it!
Walking is underrated. It’s a great full-body workout and also good cardio, so if you’re keen to try some exercise for helping reduce your pain, give this a try.
We recommend taking a brisk walk an hour or so before bed.
You may instinctively recoil at the thought of swimming during your period, but it can be done! It’s a brilliant exercise that’s low-impact and provides other benefits too.
The pressure of the water can help relieve pain somewhat, as well as the cooling down of the general body temperature.
As long as you’re wearing a tampon (don’t go period commando here), a moderately active swim will do wonders before you get into bed.
Avoid Sugary Snacks & Caffeine
Ah, the dreaded period cravings.
While this time of the month can bring up all sorts of burning desires for chocolate and cake and sugary things, this is basically your body trying to trick your brain into giving it a quick happy fix.
The problem with sugar is that it spikes insulin levels, which can trigger cortisol productions (the stress hormone), which can in turn play around with your estrogen and progesterone levels. The problem with caffeine is much the same in terms of messing with hormones.
It’s really best to avoid overly sugary things during this time and go for other options. While it may be a challenge, your body will thank you later.
Some things that are great to snack on during your period include:
Yes, fruit does contain sugar but it’s the non-processed kind that your body can metabolize much easier. They also give you a nice boost of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are helpful when your body is under a period attack.
Not only will protein keep you fuller for longer, it’s very nutrient-dense and will most likely satisfy that craving to just chew on something. A handful of nuts is a good option and also contains great Omega fatty acids.
Yogurt is light on the stomach, helps fight yeast infections (which are more common during menstruation), and is rich in vitamins and minerals.
If you really can’t do without something a little sweet, dark chocolate is actually a great thing to nibble on at this time of the month. It’s high in magnesium, which has been reported by some very scientific people to have a positive effect on PMS symptoms.
Change Your Sleeping Position
If you think in terms of period pain being muscle cramps, it makes perfect sense that how you position your muscles can have an effect on whether the pain is better or worse.
Sleeping position can, therefore, make more of a difference than you may think.
According to research, the fetal position is the best one to sleep in to reduce both cramps and leakage. This is because it takes pressure off the abdominal muscles, and also keeping the legs pressed together leaves little room for movement and subsequent leaking.
Of course, this one will depend on you and how you’re comfortable. If you’re lying in the fetal position and all you can think about is how uncomfortable you are, that’s not a great help for getting a good night’s rest!
Here is some insight into why the fetal position is the favorite, as well as some alternatives that could work for you:
As mentioned, this position takes all pressure off the muscles that are cramping, which can help quite a lot. Our core is activated in one way or another most of the day, so we may not even realize how tense and tight those muscles are.
Curling up like this will give them a proper rest and allow them to loosen and relieve that pain. Of course, the anti-leakage is also a bonus!
On Your Back
Sleeping on your back is the easiest position for an abdominal massage.
Some women might also feel slightly more stable and less worried about leaking in this position, but it’s up to you, as many feel this is an uncomfortable and unnatural way to fall asleep.
On Your Stomach
This is the position in which you are most likely to leak a little, as the muscles are kind of being squished.
For some, the light pressure on the muscles is actually helpful in relieving pain, so it really depends on you. If you like sleeping on your stomach during your period, a way to try and reduce the chances of leaking is simply to wear a tampon and a pad at the same time.
It shouldn't be hard to convince a loved one to give you the gift of a massage during this time, but if you're flying solo, the good news is that your abdomen is the easiest place to reach. So - you can massage yourself!
- Take a quick shower or bath
Again, this is all about the heat. A shower or bath can be great for relaxing muscles and helping you wind down before bed.
- Stay hydrated
This can make a big difference to keeping bloating to a minimum, which can help reduce pain by quite a bit.
There is no doubt that womanhood is a gift, but sometimes it can be tough. Hopefully you’re now armed with some new ideas on how to reduce pain when sleeping with menstrual cramps.
Whether you choose a hot water bottle, an anti-inflammatory, or to make lifestyle changes like adding in some light exercise and eating better, all of these will go a long way towards better period health and therefore, better sleeping patterns when you’re on your period.
Most of these are super simple to implement, and the best thing is if you start doing them now, you can save yourself a host of pain later on, as they tend to improve not only immediate pain, but general health and wellbeing too.
We hope you find something that works wonders for you!