You already know Fitbit can help you keep your fitness, sleep, and healthy-eating goals on track. But did you know that using the new female health tracking feature to log your periods can give you additional insights into improving all those areas of well-being and more?
“Knowledge is power,” says Kate White, MD, MPH, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University. “You should be taught about the menstrual cycle in high school but no one gets that, so unless you have the benefit of going to medical school, it’s hard to learn this stuff. And there are so many other things going on during your gynecological visits that you’re probably not thinking to ask questions about how your body works. It’s great that technology can help pull back the curtain.”
While every woman is different, many experience changes in their moods, energy levels, sleep patterns, and more over the course of each menstrual cycle. Understanding how your cycle can affect different aspects of your life can help you make informed choices around everything from your workouts to your grocery list to help you feel your best all month long.
Sleep and Your Cycle
Check your sleep log. Does it take you longer to fall asleep during your period? Do you wake up more frequently throughout the night? You’re not alone. Thirty-three percent of women report experiencing disturbed sleep around their period, according to a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll.
There are a few reasons why it may be slightly harder to get a good night’s rest at different points in your cycle:
- Hormonal changes can cause your core body temperature to rise slightly at various times during the month. For some women, this happens after ovulation and lasts until their next period. This can make it tougher to fall asleep because a natural drop in body temperature typically triggers the feeling of sleepiness and helps you sleep more restfully.
- Some women get less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the luteal phase of their cycles, leading up to menstruation; REM sleep is when dreams occur and is considered a time to consolidate memories.
- Studies show that during their luteal phase, some women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) secrete less melatonin, a natural hormone produced in the brain that plays an important role in sleep.
“Some women may experience a decrease in sleep quantity with sleep onset difficulties and/or sleep fragmentation relative to what’s typical and others may note an increase in sleep duration during certain weeks surrounding their cycle,” says Allison Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine and director of Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC. “Fitbit tracking allows you to explore the trends in your sleep pattern as it relates to your cycle along with the impact nutrition and exercise have.”
Whether or not you experience specific sleep disturbances during your cycle, practicing good sleep awareness can help your overall health. Here are some tips to getting a good night’s rest:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Aim to hit the sheets around the same time each night and set the alarm for the same time each morning—weekends included. If that sounds impossible, here’s some good news: You can set a sleep goal, sleep schedule, and bedtime reminder right in your Fitbit app. Using those tools will help train your body’s circadian rhythm (i.e. its internal clock) to stay on track, making falling asleep and waking up much easier.
- Adjust your thermostat. If you’re having trouble catching Zs, try lowering the thermostat in your bedroom so the temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. A lower body temperature helps initiate sleep.
- Exercise more. Research shows that three to four 30-minute sessions of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week (think: brisk walking, jogging, biking, etc.) may help you sleep more soundly. Need workout ideas? Become a Fitbit Coach Premium subscriber for access to personalized programs, audio and video workouts, and more.
- Avoid caffeine. It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re really tossing and turning, coffee is not your friend. Even a mid-afternoon caffeine buzz can disrupt your rest late at night, so try to keep all your coffee consumption to the morning hours, or eliminate it entirely.
Nutrition and Your Cycle
For some women, hormonal fluctuations before, during, or after menstruation may be accompanied by food cravings. Try logging your eating habits in your Fitbit app to discover patterns in your diet. If you’re finding yourself particularly drawn to the kitchen at any point in your cycle, try these tips for managing hunger:
- Pick fiber and protein-packed snacks. The combination will help you feel full longer, so you’ll be less tempted to go back for seconds (or thirds). Try pairing one piece of fruit or a serving of raw veggies with nuts, plain yogurt, hummus, hard boiled eggs, or a part-skim mozzarella stick.
- Arm yourself with healthy options. Stock your refrigerator with fresh fruits and veggies, and keep wholesome options on hand for if a snack attack hits.
- Take a walk. Sometimes food cravings indicate real hunger, and sometimes they’re just a sign of boredom, stress, or restlessness. If you feel compelled to eat extra helpings, take a few minutes to walk outside and get some fresh air. The craving might pass once you log some steps.
- Track your food and your mood. If hunger pangs are becoming a real problem, try keeping a food log, but rather than tracking calories, consider journaling about your emotions. This can help you start to make connections between your food choices and your feelings and empower you to make healthy choices.
- Consider adding iron-rich foods to your diet. For some women, heavy bleeding or extra-long periods can result in fatigue (and in extreme cases, a condition called anemia). Talk to your doctor if you feel weak or fatigued. They may suggest adding iron-rich foods like meat, poultry, spinach, or beans to your diet, and/or taking an iron supplement.
Exercise and Your Cycle
The bottom line when it comes to working out: Every body is different. Your energy level may vary at different points in your cycle, or you might feel strong all month long. Be sure to listen to your body and pay attention to any signals it’s sending you to either slow down or ramp things up.
“Not only is every body different, but every cycle is different, so listen to what your body is telling you,” says White. “Granted, if it’s telling you way too often to lie on the couch with ice cream, you may have to go against that. But in general, if you’re not feeling up for something strenuous, that’s OK”.
If you feel physically ready for some movement but are lacking motivation, know this: Aerobic activity has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of PMS, so incorporating some cardio (brisk walking, jogging, biking, dancing, etc.) on a regular basis throughout your cycle may actually help you feel better.
An important note: While healthy eating and exercise may help improve period symptoms, extreme dieting and way-too-strenuous workouts can negatively affect your cycle too. Amenorrhea (missing periods) is one of the hallmark signs of an eating disorder, and super strenuous physical activity can result in menstrual irregularities too.
Extreme weight gain and loss can affect your period, but disordered eating and exercise (even when not diagnosed as an eating disorder) may cause period problems, regardless of the number on the scale. If you’re struggling with food or exercise or you experience irregular or missing periods for three months or more, contact your doctor right away.
Stress and Your Cycle
Stress can affect your health in myriad ways, and in some cases, it can impact your cycle. Experts have long linked traumatic events like war and famine to amenorrhea (missing periods), and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse have all been tied to the development of PMS and PMDD. While these are extreme instances, some women may experience menstrual irregularities as a result of everyday stressors like work or family problems too.
One of the best way to guard against stress-induced period problems is to track your symptoms and implement relaxation strategies. If you have a Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit Charge 2, Fitbit Ionic, or Fitbit Versa, you can start busting stress now with the Relax app. Or, use silent alarms to remind yourself to do some simple deep-breathing exercises—you can set up to eight on all Fitbit devices except Zip.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.