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Women Experience Sleep Disruption in the Days Before Menstruation

A woman sleeping.
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Understanding the intricate dance between women's menstrual cycles, emotions and sleep patterns is an important focus for women’s health research. Scientists from the University of East Anglia recently published a study in the Journal of Sleep Research investigating how these factors interplay to impact women's wellbeing.

Menstrual cycles may increase the risk of sleep disorders

Previous research has demonstrated menstrual cycle disruptions can have a large impact on sleep behavior. In the 2007 National Sleep in America Poll, at least one third of women reported sleep disruptions specifically related to their menstrual cycle.

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Many studies have primarily focused on women in the later reproductive stage menopausal rather than healthy, reproductive-aged adults. Considering the established relationship between sleep conditions, such as insomnia and depression, co-author Dr. Jo Bower, lecturer in the school of psychology, is calling for further research in this area.

“By understanding how these factors interact, we can better address the unique needs of women in terms of sleep health and emotional well-being,” said Bower.

Women experience sleep disruptions during the peri-menstrual phase

Bower and team analyzed data from 51 healthy participants, aged 18–35 years old, who had regular periods and were not on any form of hormonal contraception. The participants recorded daily self-reports on their sleep and emotional well-being for two menstrual cycles. They also wore devices that tracked their sleep and wake patterns.

Women experienced disruptions in their sleep patterns during the peri-menstrual phase of their cycle. In the days leading up to and during their period, participants spent more time awake at night, compared to other stages in their cycle, and had a lower proportion of time in bed asleep.

During this phase, women also reported heightened feelings of anger and reduced positive emotions such as calmness and enthusiasm, correlating with the sleep disturbances.

Understanding the impact of hormonal fluctuations on sleep

“The findings underscore the importance of considering hormonal fluctuations when addressing sleep disorders and emotional distress in women. The implications of this research reach further than just the controlled setting, providing potential pathways for interventions and treatments aimed at enhancing sleep quality and emotional resilience in women,” said Bower.

The study outlines important associations between the menstrual cycle and sleep health. However, the researchers note their findings may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The data was collected between May 2020 and January 2021, and although there were no strong effects of pandemic stress on outcome variables identified, Bower and colleagues cannot discount the likely impact on the participants’ emotional well-being.

Reference: Meers JM, Bower J, Nowakowski S, Alfano C. Interaction of sleep and emotion across the menstrual cycle. J Sleep Res. 2024:e14185. doi: 10.1111/jsr.14185

This article is a rework of a press release issued by the University of East Anglia. Material has been edited for length and content.