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Short sleepers are more likely to suffer from irregular and heavy periods

Short sleepers are more likely to suffer from irregular and heavy periods

  • October 22, 2021

from Kat Kennedy, University of Arizona and Sara Nowakowski, Baylor College of Medicine

the Research letter is a short version of interesting scientific work.

The big idea

Menstruating women who sleep less than six hours a night tend to have heavier and irregular periods. That is the result of our new study, which was recently published in Journal of Sleep Research.

We found that those who slept an average of less than six hours a night were 44% more likely to have irregular periods and 70% more likely to have heavy bleeding during a period than healthy sleepers who had seven to nine hours.

Many people know the importance of a good night’s sleep, but even myriad new therapeutics, treatments, and tracking apps are leaving women behind. We analyzed survey data from 574 menstruating women aged 24 to 40 years. They were asked about menstrual bleeding and regularity, sleep and how well they function during the day. We found that those who had heavy or irregular periods were more likely to experience short and poor sleep, fatigue, stress, and depression.

One might ask: which comes first, the chicken or the egg? If women experience mood swings, cramps, irritability, and fatigue before or during their period, they may suffer disturbed sleep. These symptoms are all characteristic of premenstrual syndrome – commonly known as PMS – or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which can cause major depression or anxiety leading up to a period.

On the other hand, the sleep loss can itself lead to worse pain, which may exacerbate the symptoms of PMS and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Females are too more likely to suffer from fear when they lose sleep, which makes falling asleep even more difficult.

Why it matters

Females are 40% more likely than men suffer from insomnia. However, the leading treatments rarely take menstrual health into account. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is recognized by the American College of Physicians as the first-line treatment for insomnia. While this behavior therapy is effective for those who are familiar with chronic pain and depression, it has not yet been tested for menstrual cramps that go up and down every month.

Doctors sometimes prescribe drugs like Valium and Ambien to help with sleep disorders, but these can too Addiction, Withdrawal symptoms and other cognitive dysfunction.

Oral birth control pills are often given for troubled times, but these come with some risks and tradeoffs: depression, Suicide, Blood clots and Breast cancer.

What is not yet known

Researchers like us who study women’s health do not yet fully understand the intricacies of the relationship between menstruation and sleep. Menstrual cramps are often not taken seriously; For example, it can sometimes take years to diagnose endometriosis – a condition in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus in places like the fallopian tubes, which are characterized by heavy periods and pain. For about 25% of women, this condition initially appears asymptomatic, which makes identification difficult.

However, we believe that menstrual cramps could be improved through better education about the effective diagnosis of these conditions. There also needs to be better awareness of the implicit bias medical providers have towards people with menstrual cramps.

What’s next

Medical providers and patients could also communicate better. For example, doctors could take a closer look at menstrual cramps and consider how important life transitions – puberty and stress factors such as the elusive work-life balance or starting a family – can worsen mental health, pain, and sleep problems. This holistic approach could serve patients better and lead to more sustainable long-term solutions.

Women can also take an active role in their menstrual health by practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation and relaxation. Every woman is different. The causes of pain vary from person to person, as do strategies to improve sleep.

A band-aid approach to solving menstrual and sleep problems is unsustainable and can cause more serious problems. By introducing a more holistic mind-body model to treat these ailments, doctors could improve the otherwise monthly struggle many women face, thereby increasing their quality of life and overall health.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The conversation

Kat Kennedy, PhD student, physiology, University of Arizona and Sara Nowakowski, Associate Professor of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine

This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.


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