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How to Sleep on Your Period: Positions, Pain, and Protection

Get better sleep on your period by improving your sleep hygiene, managing your anxiety and pain, and choosing the right position and protection for you.
Published
2023-02-13
Updated
15 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
woman sleeping on her period in the fetal position, which helps her get enough sleep

With cramps, leakage, and hormones going wild, getting a good night’s sleep on your period can feel almost impossible. 

But sleep is essential for your health at any time of the month, and perhaps even more important on your period as sleep deprivation can make pain and poor mood worse — two things you may already be dealing with.  

Below, we’ll dive into the best tips, positions, and protection to help you sleep well on your period. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you get the sleep you need every night of the month. 

Disclaimer: The scientific literature uses gendered language when talking about periods. We have used the term “women” in this article, but this advice is for anyone who has periods.

How Does Your Period Affect Your Sleep?

Women report more sleep disturbances during the week leading up to menstruation and during the period itself than any other time of the month. But what’s keeping them up? 

Hormones 

In the luteal phase before your period, your levels of the hormone progesterone increase and estrogen decreases. This can cause more anxiety and an increase in body temperature, both of which can make it harder to drift off. 

Both hormones drop to their lowest levels just before your period, though, and these low levels can stop your body from releasing melatonin effectively. Melatonin primes your body for sleep, so lower levels of it may make it harder to get the sleep you need. More research needs to be done to confirm this, however. 

If you’re on birth control, your reproductive hormones will be suppressed to prevent ovulation and pregnancy. But research shows women taking oral contraceptives have a higher body temperature, less deep sleep, and more light sleep. 

Pain 

Menstrual cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, migraines, lower back pain — the list of period-related pain goes on and on. And all these menstrual symptoms can keep you up or wake you up during the night. 

To make matters worse, you feel pain more intensely when you’re sleep deprived, creating a vicious circle of more pain and more sleep loss. 

You can learn more about the relationship between sleep and pain here.

Anxiety 

Mood swings, irritability, and anxiety are common during your period. And these symptoms don’t make it any easier to fall asleep. 

You may also have added anxiety about your period itself. Perhaps you’re worried about leakage during the night or how you’ll get through a workday with painful cramps.

If you’re worried about leakage, sleep loss, unfortunately, may make things worse. A 2022 study found short sleep duration — defined in this study as six hours or less — was associated with heavier bleeding and more irregular cycles.

PMS and PMDD 

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and its more severe cousin premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are the names for the symptoms you can experience in the run-up to and during your period. 

PMS symptoms include: 

  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Food cravings
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Bloating 
  • Migraines 

PMDD symptoms include: 

  • Sleep onset insomnia, or trouble falling asleep 
  • Waking up often during the night 
  • Sleepiness 
  • Irritability and anger 
  • Depressed mood 
  • Anxiety 
  • Mood swings 
  • Bloating 
  • Body aches and pains 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Severe cramps 

Sleep problems are a symptom of their own — 66% of women with PMDD report sleep problems —  but many of the other PMS or PMDD symptoms can easily contribute to trouble sleeping on your period, like anxiety, cramps, bloating, and migraines. 

Period Insomnia 

Many women suffer from insomnia before and during their periods. Those with menstrual-related problems like PMS are at least twice as likely to report insomnia, and starting your periods at the onset of puberty is linked to a 2.75-fold increased risk for insomnia. 

Research shows irregular periods, period pain, and having a period that lasts for seven or more days are all linked with insomnia symptoms. And again, you can blame this on the cocktail that is hormonal changes, anxiety, and pain. 

Even if the sleep problems you get before your period don’t fit the traditional definition of insomnia, this doesn’t make them any easier. 

A 2020 study measured women’s sleep with home electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring. The results showed total sleep time, deep sleep, and sleep efficiency (how long you spend actually sleeping in bed) decreased, while sleep onset latency (how long it takes to fall asleep) increased when the women were on their periods.

And having sleep problems each and every month can still have a huge impact on your mental and physical health, mood, and energy levels. 

You can learn more about insomnia before your period here.

General Female Sleep Problems 

Women are more prone to sleep problems, like insomnia, or health issues that cause trouble sleeping, like depression and anxiety. 

These things can make it hard to sleep at any time of the month, and even harder when period-related sleep problems are thrown in, too. 

We’ve covered the many reasons behind female fatigue here, and whether or not women need more sleep. You can also learn more about why you’re so tired on your period and if your birth control is making you tired here.

What is the Best Position to Sleep in on Your Period?

Most of the time, the best sleeping position is the one you can fall asleep in most easily. But, if you’re struggling to sleep on your period, you might want to try switching up your position to see if it helps. 

Try the fetal position — sleeping on your side with your knees tucked in. This can help improve your sleep in a few ways: 

  • It may help reduce cramps by relaxing your abdominal muscles 
  • It may reduce leaks as your legs are pressed together 

Side sleeping can also help improve: 

Some women even report sleeping in child’s pose can help reduce cramps and lower back pain. 

Stomach sleepers, you may want to avoid sleeping on your front while on your period as this puts pressure on your stomach, which may be uncomfortable if you’re experiencing bloating, painful if you have cramps, and may cause leakage. 

How to Avoid Leaking on Your Period at Night?

Worried about period leaks while sleeping? Here’s how to minimize the chances of waking up to stained bed sheets. 

  • Put in fresh protection just before bed: Whether you use a sanitary pad, tampon, menstrual cup, or period underwear, get the maximum amount of protection out of them by switching to a fresh one just before bed. This is especially important if you have a heavy flow.
  • Choose the right period products for you: Opt for overnight pads designed for sleeping — they’re often wider and more absorbent — or period pants that can hold more blood to get you through the night. While it’s tempting to use ultra-absorbent tampons, you should use the lowest absorbency you need to reduce your risk of toxic shock syndrome. You can learn more about that, and whether you should sleep with a tampon in at all, here. (We suggest it’s safer and better for your sleep to go with tampon alternatives.)
  • Double up on your protection: Try wearing a menstrual cup with period pants or a pad. The pants or pad should catch any leaks that get past the cup at night. Having extra protection can also help ease any anxiety you feel about leaks, which should help you drift off easier, too. 
  • Try sleeping in the fetal position: As we mentioned above, sleeping on your side with your legs together may help reduce the chances of period blood leaking forward or backward.  
  • Use a mattress protector: If you’re worried about blood stains on your mattress, invest in a mattress protector or a mattress pad. This extra layer of protection can be more easily washed.   

If you have a particularly heavy period, speak to a gynecologist who can suggest treatment options. 

How to Sleep on Your Period?

Tired of losing out on sleep for a week every month? Here are our top tips for getting more sleep on your period. 

1. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors.

Sleep hygiene is the name for the behaviors you can do each day to help you sleep each night. They’re important for everyone, every night of the month, but it’s especially important to keep an eye on your sleep hygiene on your period as you don’t want anything else contributing to a bad night’s sleep. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule: Even on weekends or your days off. This will help regulate your circadian rhythm, or your body clock. 
  • Get bright light first thing: Aim to get at least 10 minutes of natural light as soon as possible after waking up, or 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window. This will help reset your circadian rhythm for the day to help you feel sleepy come bedtime. 
  • Avoid bright light close to bedtime: About 90 minutes before bed, dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses. This will help stop bright light from suppressing your natural melatonin production and keeping you up.  
  • Avoid light during the night: If you wake up during the night, don’t wake yourself up too much by turning on the lights. If you need to change your protection, keep the lights as low as possible. Try using a red light night light if there’s not enough ambient light. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can keep you up or wake you up during the night. 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (this is even more important when your body temperature is higher on your period), use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask

Building healthy sleep hygiene habits can help improve your sleep all month long.  Sound like a lot to remember? The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do them to make them more effective.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

2. Manage Your Pain 

If period-related pain is keeping you awake, don’t be afraid to reach for over-the-counter pain relief. 

Already got cramps? Try holding a hot water bottle or heat pad to the painful area for some much-needed relief. Yoga, walking, and massage may also help to ease cramps.

One study found doing one hour of yoga a week for 12 weeks helped to reduce period cramps, and another study found five-minute abdominal massages done five days before your period to the first day of your period reduced cramps. Brisk walking for 30 minutes a day during the first three days of your period can also help to reduce the severity of cramp pain.

Before your next period, take a look at your diet. Research has found a diet high in fiber, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruits, and low in salt is associated with less cramping. 

Supplements can also help. Daily magnesium supplements have been shown to help treat and prevent cramps and menstrual migraines, and 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day may help reduce the physical and mood symptoms that come with PMS. 

Finally, sleep may be hard to come by, but try to prioritize it when you can as sleep deprivation can make pain feel worse. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, try to squeeze in an afternoon nap. Just be sure not to nap for too long or too close to bedtime or this may keep you awake. 

Check RISE for a prediction of when your afternoon dip in energy will be. This is the best time to take a nap.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen. 

3. Lower Your Anxiety 

RISE app screenshot reminding you to do a nighttime brain dump
The RISE app can send you a morning reminder of your nighttime brain dumps.

Whether you feeling anxious in general because of fluctuating hormone levels, or you have specific worries about sleeping on your period, here’s how to manage anxiety for a more peaceful night’s sleep: 

  • Use the right period protection: You may be feeling anxious about period leakage or having to get up and change your tampon after eight hours on the dot. If so, switch up your protection. Try sleeping with a menstrual cup instead of a tampon — the time limit is a more generous 12 hours with cups — and doubling up with period undies or nighttime pads to reduce anxiety around leakage. Put in fresh protection just before bed to give it the best chance of lasting through the night. 
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: Try reading, listening to calming music, journaling, or doing yoga before bed to help slow your mind. The RISE app has audio guides that walk you through science-backed relaxation techniques for better sleep.
  • Have a warm shower or bath: This is not only a relaxing pre-bed activity, the warm water helps your body temperature drop before bed, which will help you drift off. This is even more useful when hormones are messing with your body temperature. 
  • Do a brain dump: Write down your worries. Getting them out of your brain and onto the page can help stop rumination, or circling thoughts. Feeling anxious in general? Research shows writing a to-do list can help you fall asleep faster. Write them down in RISE, and the app’s brain dump feature will send you a reminder of your notes the next morning. 

We’ve covered more on how to sleep with anxiety here. We also look at what the science has to say about whether CBD helps with anxiety (and sleep) and whether cannabis helps with anxiety (and sleep) here. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their Brain Dump Habit notification

Sleep Better, Even on Your Period 

A good night’s sleep is integral to feeling and performing your best, but it can be hard to get when period-related pain, anxiety, and hormones are keeping you up. 

To maximize your chances of a restful night’s sleep, make sure your sleep hygiene is on point. The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits and tell you when you do them to make them even more effective. 

The best thing about sleep hygiene is it can help you fall asleep and stay asleep every night of the month, so you can feel your best before, during, and after your period.

FAQs

Why is it hard to sleep on my period?

It’s hard to sleep on your period as fluctuating progesterone and estrogen levels increase your body temperature and anxiety. Period-related pain like cramps and mood symptoms like anxiety can also make it hard to fall asleep.

What is the best position to sleep on your period?

The best position to sleep in on your period is the one you find the most comfortable and the one that helps you get the most sleep. However, sleeping on your side in the fetal position may help reduce cramps and leakage.

How to sleep on your period with cramps

To sleep on your period with cramps, try laying in the fetal position, which helps your abdominal muscles relax and may ease the pain. A hot water bottle, heating pad, yoga, and abdominal massage can also help relieve cramps.

How to sleep on your period without leaking

To sleep on your period without leaking, try sleeping on your side with your legs together. Putting in fresh protection just before bed and doubling up on your protection — like wearing a menstrual cup with period pants — can also help reduce leakage.

How to help insomnia during period

To help insomnia during your period, try improving your sleep hygiene, managing your anxiety, getting cognitive behavioral therapy, and trying light therapy. Speak to a professional about whether therapy or medication could help you.

How to sleep on your period with a pad

To sleep on your period with a pad, put in a fresh pad just before going to sleep and choose a pad designed for sleep or a very absorbent pad to get you through the night. Try sleeping in the fetal position, instead of on your front or back, to avoid leaks.

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