- Improving our sleep is one step we can take to improve our hormone regulation and our menstrual symptoms
We’ve all heard how important 8 hours of quality shuteye is for our physical, mental, and overall health, but many of us don’t realize the connection between sleep and our menstrual health. Our sleep is regulated by our circadian rhythm, the dynamic dance dictating our sleep and wake cycles through the timed release of different hormones, largely regulated by our hypothalamus - known as the master gland of hormones - which also kicks off the harmonious hormonal cascade needed for a smooth menstrual cycle. So we need a healthy sleep cycle to make sure our hypothalamus is operating at full capacity.
Sleep is a time of unconsciousness where our body is in a state of deep repair, filtering out waste and toxins and literally rebuilding our body. If we’re not getting quality sleep it doesn’t matter how much sleep we’re getting, because without quality sleep our body isn’t able to accomplish the cellular repair and filtration needed for optimal wellness and hormone health. By making a conscious effort to improve our sleep hygiene we can improve the quality of our sleep and in effect the smooth rhythm of our menstrual cycle.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view nighttime is dominated by our Yin energy, which is cooling, nourishing, and restful in nature. This is a time of recovery that needs nurturing, because we can’t be fully present and active in the world without sufficient Yin energy.
Here are 10 tips to holistically support your body (and Yin energy) for better quality sleep:
- Morning exposure to sunlight - Improving the quality of our sleep starts right after we wake up through exposure to the sun's powerful UVB rays which promote the production of our daytime, energizing, Yang natured hormones like serotonin and cortisol. These hormones keep us happy and alert, ready for the day ahead.
- According to the Chinese clock, 5-7AM is the best time to wake-up and start your day with some light movement (preferably outdoors in the sunlight)
- Caffeine Closing Time - Studies have shown the negative effects caffeine consumption too late in the day can have on the quality of our sleep, so do your best to close down caffeine consumption by 2 pm or even noon if you are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Studies have also shown that caffeine clearance is slowed down when taking oral contraceptives highlighting the need for an earlier caffeine closing time.
- Rethink the Nightcap - While alcohol may seem to help us sleep by pulling us into slumber, it can negatively impact the quantity and quality of our sleep, with studies showing more of an effect on women. If you do plan to imbibe try to finish any alcohol at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Movement - Our bodies are made to move throughout the day, with moderate physical activity correlating to better sleep outcomes. Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement a day, breaking up into shorter intervals if need be.
- Screen Curfew - Exposure to the blue light from our electronic devices disrupts our sleep cycle by suppressing the release of melatonin, the hormone that tells our body it's time to rest and recharge, which is naturally secreted when it's dark. Aim for a screen curfew 90 minutes before bedtime.
- Consistency - Our bodies like routine, studies show better quality sleep through a more regulated biological clock when we have consistent sleep and wake times (within 20 minutes)
- Optimal Bedtime - Try to be asleep by 11p, so you’re sleeping deeply during the height activity of the Liver organ system, based on the Chinese Clock, which plays a large role in our body’s ability to detox and repair our cells. Studies have shown that the sleep during the earlier night hours (10p-2p) seem to be the most restorative.
- Environment - We sleep the best in a cool (60-68 ℉), dark, quiet, and relaxing environment. Do your best to make your bedroom as dark as you can by covering all sources of light or use an eye mask.
- Calming Bedtime Ritual - A calming bedtime ritual (sans screens) started an hour before bedtime can help get our bodies and minds ready for a quality night of sleep. This can look like taking a warm shower, drinking a cup of herbal tea, stretching, meditation, or reading.
- Stress Release Find ways to proactively respond to the inevitable daily stressors that can affect our sleep. Breathing exercises, movement, talk therapy, journaling, and getting out in nature are just a few stress metabolizing tips. Our wellness formulation, Daily Harmony, includes adaptogens that help us respond to stress more efficiently, helping to improve sleep quality.
Improving our sleep is one step we can take to improve our hormone regulation and our menstrual symptoms. Start by choosing one of the above tips and focus on implementing it using small attainable steps. For example, if you are a night owl and want to get to bed earlier, start small by moving your bedtime up by 15 minute increments until you get to your desired goal. Change is a journey, so focus on progress instead of perfection!
13 Shahram Nikbakhtian, Angus B Reed, Bernard Dillon Obika, Davide Morelli, Adam C Cunningham, Mert Aral, David Plans, Accelerometer-derived sleep onset timing and cardiovascular disease incidence: a UK Biobank cohort study, European Heart Journal - Digital Health, Volume 2, Issue 4, December 2021, Pages 658–666, https://doi.org/10.1093/ehjdh/ztab088