Poor Sleep Can Lead to Irregular Periods

In a study published in August in the Journal of Sleep Research, a team of scientists showed that how regular your period is may be related to the quality of sleep you get and how tired you feel. [1] In this post, we’ll discuss what the research means, as well as what you can do to improve the quality of your sleep and perhaps the regularity of your menstrual cycle.

Kathryn Kennedy, a PhD student at the University of Arizona, and colleagues used data that 579 menstruating people ages 22 to 60 years old reported to the Sleep and Health Activity, Diet, Environment, and Socialization study. They analyzed data about period regularity, how heavily people bled, duration of sleep, quality of sleep, insomnia symptoms, and how sleepy and fatigued participants reported being. They found that the higher quality and longer durations of sleep people got, the more likely they were to have regular periods. On the other hand, people who experienced irregular sleep and slept fewer than six hours a night had heavier bleeding and more irregular periods.

In a perspective piece published in October on The Conversation, Kennedy and coauthor Sara Nowakowski, a sleep psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, explain that it’s important to consider potential causes for poor quality sleep and insomnia—which disproportionately affects women—but that physicians and psychologists who treat sleep often don’t take menstrual cycles and associated hormonal changes into account.

They recommend that health professionals take an approach that considers menstrual cycles, as well as social factors and psychological and emotional wellness in addition to physical symptoms. “By adopting a more holistic mind-body model to treating these complaints,” Kennedy and Nowakowski write, “doctors could improve what is otherwise a monthly struggle for many women, thereby boosting quality of life and overall health.” [2]

It’s encouraging that people are doing research to better understand how menstruation affects health and vice versa. Perhaps even more positive news is that you can do things right now—based on this research and that of other groups—that may help improve your sleep and your period experience. Read on for those ideas.

First, practice good sleep hygiene. That means trying to stick to a regular bedtime and keeping bed mostly for sleeping—that is, don’t work in your bed during the day. Not using screens with blue light, such as cell phones, computers, and tablets, an hour or two before bed can also help you wind down when it’s time to sleep. If you want or need to use a screen that emits blue light close to bedtime, you can buy blue light blocking glasses that filter the wavelengths of light that disturb your sleep rhythms. Keeping your bedroom dark, having adequate covers to regulate temperature, and running a white noise machine or fan to block out sounds that might disturb your sleep are other good things to get in order.

If you’re pregnant or a new parent, many of the suggestions above may not work for you, but you can implement as many of them as possible. Even if you’re going to be up feeding or otherwise caring for a baby in the night, you can still make time to wind down without your phone before you lay down for the evening. Keeping the lights low during middle of the night feedings and not using your phone can help you fall back to sleep when you wake up with baby.

If you’re really having trouble sleeping, it also may be a good idea to seek professional help. There are psychologists who specialize in helping people get better sleep and can offer support beyond what’s possible in a blog post. Your doctor or midwife might also have good suggestions. And often poor sleep is linked with a mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. If you treat the underlying condition, you’re more likely to be able to sleep well.

  1. E.R. Kennedy et al., “Menstrual regularity and bleeding is associated with sleep duration, sleep quality and fatigue in a community sample,” Journal of Sleep Research, 2021.
  2. E.R. Kennedy and S. Nowakowski, “Short-sleepers are more likely to suffer from irregular and heavy periods,” The Conversation, 2021.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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