Studies show that women have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep than men.
There’s a long list of reasons why, but above all else, hormonal changes and fluctuations – especially those that occur during the menstrual cycle and menopause — have a huge impact on a woman’s sleep quality.
For example, the change in a woman’s body temperature during her menstrual cycle can lead to fluctuations in sleep patterns. Generally, body temperature is high during the day and declines around the time a person goes to bed, before hitting its lowest point overnight. According to SRI International’s Sleep Research Laboratory, many women report having a harder time sleeping the week before their period compared to at other times throughout the month.
As researchers continue to explore how hormonal changes brought upon by menstruation affect women’s ability to sleep, the same question continues to arise: “Can’t birth control pills solve all of these issues?” In theory, birth control pills would eliminate or at least lessen some of the side effects of menstruation including lessening cramps, lightening the period flow, and alleviating acne brought on by hormones. For some women, the pill can knock out bloating or even shorten their period altogether, both of which could help create a more stable sleep pattern. But on the other hand, being on the pill is similar to having an extended luteal phase — a woman’s body temperature stays elevated for the first two or three days of the placebo.
In a recent study published in the European Journal of Physiology, researchers investigated the effects of oral contraceptives on the body temperature and sleep quality of young women. It was determined that body temperature was raised over the course of 24 hours in young women that were taking oral contraceptives in the active phase. The women taking oral contraceptives in the placebo phase also experienced raised body temperatures, indicating the prolonged action of synthetic reproductive steroids on body temperature. The women taking oral contraceptives had more stage-2 non-rapid eye movement sleep during the luteal phase, as compared to the naturally cycling women in the study, who were able to reach the deepest level of non-REM sleep, slow wave sleep. Thus, the study concludes that oral contraceptives influence both body temperature and sleep patterns in young women.
Long after menstruation is over and a woman’s body has moved into peri-menopause or even menopause, it has been proven that hormonal changes and fluctuations such as hot flashes and mood disorders can continue to dictate the amount of sleep a woman gets each night.
No matter the age of the woman, it is a good idea for her to be aware that menstruation – or the lack thereof – can have lasting side effects.