Lack of sleep affects not just a person’s mood, but metabolism too. Sleep has a crucial link with a woman’s menstrual cycle. Jyothi Shanbhag, a working professional in her mid-30s from Bangalore recalls her work cycle during the second wave of pandemic in 2021. Work pressure was at its peak and getting 4-5 hours of sleep was a luxury, says Jyothi. “I would wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether I missed a crucial mail,” she added.
After nearly 8 months of sleep deprivation, Jyothi noticed that her periods were irregular and she had frequent mood swings. Experts observe that there is a strong link between sleep and periods.
While work stress stole Shanbhag’s sleep, for many youngsters it is their screen distractions.
Inadequate sleep due to staying up late at night for work, partying, binge-watching shows or aimless internet surfing can hamper periods, say experts.
How are periods and insomnia interlinked?
Reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone are linked to the sleep hormone, melatonin. “Inadequate sleep reduces melatonin production. This reduces estrogen and progesterone production too. Thus, periods and insomnia are interlinked,” explains Dr Manjunath PH, pulmonologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bangalore.
Shanbhag, now 38 recalls that she was struggling to catch sleep for just about 4-5 hours a day during the pandemic. Prioritizing her health, Shanbhag took a break from work in October 2021. “It took me nearly three months to get a good night’s sleep for even after quitting my job,” she added.
Fertility and sleep: What women must know
Circadian rhythm determines the body’s biological clock — the sleep-wake cycle. “It sets the sleep pattern wherein s/he is alert and awake during the daytime and resting at night. The brain controls this rhythm,” describes Dr Srividya Guddeti, gynecologist & obstetrician at Rainbow Children’s Hospital Marathahalli, Bangalore. This further influences the monthly menstrual cycle and ovulation.
Those planning to conceive must know that fertility and sleep are interlinked too. Ovulation happens between 14-17 days of the menstrual cycle. Roughly two weeks from the date of ovulation, women develop their periods. “Disturbance in the circadian rhythm upsets periods leading to fertility issues,” explains Dr Gayatri Deshpande, senior consultant, obstetrician and gynecologist at Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai.
“Four hormones play a role in stimulating ovulation. They are pituitary hormones, follicle-stimulating hormones (FSI), Luteinizing hormone (LH) and prolactin hormone. “With lack of sleep, the balance between the hormones gets hampered. The increase in prolactin hormone level adversely affects the egg release and hampers the menstrual cycle. This affects fertility too,” says Dr Deshpande.
Megha Karan (34), an IT professional from Mumbai says, “We planned to conceive in 2019, but I struggled with my ovulation dates. My periods were mostly irregular.” Megha’s extended work hours led to delays in her household chores. “I barely slept for 5 hours during that period,” recalls Megha. Doctors advised Megha to fix her sleep routine as fertility and sleep are connected.
Poor sleep pattern in women and the risks
According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, US there is a link between working late hours at night and menstrual disorders, miscarriages and preterm births in women. Dr Manjunath explains the hormonal imbalance caused by irregular sleep patterns can increase the risk of one or more of the following symptoms:
- Delayed or early periods
- Reduced fertility rate
- Early onset of menopausal symptoms
- Severe symptoms during the menopausal transition
“Women are also at risk of developing hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” adds Dr Guddeti.
Stress and hypertension: Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels and induces stress. In most cases, it increases the risk of hypertension, explains Dr Guddeti.
Even after quitting work, Jyothi struggled to get a good night’s sleep. “It took me time to unwind from work mode. The stress prevailed,” says Jyothi. She adds that it took three months to better the sleep quality. “In no time, my periods became regular.”
Obesity: Most people who stay up late, commonly resort to eating junk food, consuming stimulants such as coffee, tea, smoking, or alcohol to stay awake. Their sugar craving increases and so does the risk of diabetes. Dr Guddeti adds that it increases the risk of obesity in the long run. Doctors caution against smoking tobacco and caffeine-based products such as coffee and energy drinks.
In Megha’s case, her inadequate sleep in the night left her lethargic in the morning. “With no exercises and constant sugar cravings especially in the night, she gained weight.
Behavioral disturbances: Poor sleep quality reduces productivity and alertness throughout the day. The feeling of sleepiness throughout the day is a common concern, warns Dr Sangeeta Raodeo, obstetrician and gynecologist at Fortis Hospital Mulund, Mumbai.
Why does one need good sleep hygiene?
The body needs a minimum of 6-8 hours of sleep every day. Dr Raodeo explains that most individuals spend long hours at night binge-watching. “Abnormal sleep patterns can affect women’s reproductive health significantly. Limiting screen time and avoiding alcohol or any caffeine-based products is key to good sleep quality,” she said.
Experts add that intervention matters. Megha took professional help and her sleep pattern improved in four months. Her periods got regular eventually and she conceived in June 2021. Likewise, Shanbhag who has been an athlete since her school days, restarted her running after quitting work along with maintaining good sleep hygiene. Since then, Jyothi says her periods are no longer delayed.
- Irregular periods and insomnia are linked. Women working late at night, partying or binge-watching TV, can risk their reproductive health.
- Limiting screen time or late-night work, and avoiding junk food, alcohol, and caffeine help enhance sleep quality.
- Adequate hydration, fiber-rich foods, regular exercise and yoga-nidra help in regulating sleep and periods.