As women, many of us may have historically viewed our cycles, especially our periods, as “curses.” But it turns out, they can be our superpower if we’re willing to fully lean into each stage and give our body what it needs in those moments. 

Part of what sets women apart is that we operate off of two biological rhythms instead of one. 

Woman’s second biological rhythm: The menstrual cycle 

Everyone has a circadian rhythm, aka your 24-hour “biological clock” that controls your sleep-wake cycle, hormone production, energy, metabolism, body temperature, and more. However, women have a second biological rhythm known as the infradian rhythm (e.g., their menstrual cycle). 

Infradian rhythms are biological rhythms that are longer than 24 hours (e.g., monthly or seasonally), but control many of the same human functions as our 24-hour clock, such as hormone production, social and sexual behavior, motivation, the need for rest, and more. 

That said, for those who menstruate each month, you’ll see changes in your sleep and recovery patterns week over week as you enter different phases of your cycle

How your menstrual cycle affects your sleep

Fortunately, knowledge is power when it comes to your body so you can learn to work with it, instead of feeling the need to fight against it to meet societal norms that weren’t designed with a woman’s second biological rhythm in mind. 

Below, we’ll talk about how your sleep and recovery needs change throughout the month and how you can use that knowledge to stack the conditions in your favor, regardless of where you’re at in your cycle. 

One of our favorite tools for meeting the needs of your body throughout your cycle is the Oura Ring Gen3, specifically because it’s been designed with women’s reproductive health in mind.

What happens during menstruation?

Timing: ~Days 1-7

Changes in sleep 

During the first phase of your menstrual cycle, menstruation (i.e., your period), your estrogen and progesterone decline, and prostaglandin rises. Prostaglandin is a hormone that creates the contractions necessary for your uterine lining to shed. It’s also what creates period-associated cramps and pain.

Low levels of estrogen and progesterone often lead to sleep disturbances, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and attaining the restorative stages of sleep like REM and deep. 

On top of this, the pain and physical discomfort associated with prostaglandin-induced cramping can also lead to sleep disruptions during menstruation. 

Changes in recovery 

Menstruation is a period of physical breakdown — you’re losing blood and cervical mucus, and your uterus is shedding its lining. 

Because of this, it’s normal for women to experience low energy, fatigue, headaches, water retention, and inflammation, as well as heightened stress and pain sensitivity. 

As your body adapts, it’s normal to see elevations in resting heart rate, body temperature, and even breathing rate, as well as declines in heart rate variability (HRV), a marker of your stress resilience. These are all signs your body is working overtime to heal, in the same way you’d heal from sickness, an injury, or a hard workout.

What to do

  • Get in solid hydration and nutrition: especially iron-rich, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant-packed foods like colorful vegetables, berries, green tea, well-sourced meat, and complex carbs like squash and whole grains

  • Take it easy on your body: being on your period is like healing from an injury, so don’t kick yourself while you’re down by throwing in a high-intensity workout

  • Light to moderate movements like swimming, walking, yoga, and stretching can help ease your mood and cramping by increasing blood flow 

  • Prioritize rest and stress management: it’s not selfish or lazy to take a moment to chill during your period, especially since that’s what your body is asking for

What happens during the follicular phase?

Timing: ~Days 1-13 (there’s an overlap with menstruation)

Changes in sleep

As estrogen starts to rise during your follicular phase, it’s normal to see increases in sleep consistency and quality, meaning more restorative time spent in deep and REM. This is thanks to estrogen keeping your body temperature stable, reinforcing your circadian rhythm, and modulating the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA that aid in sleep regularity.

Changes in recovery 

Due to rising levels of estrogen, it’s normal to experience improved energy levels, mood, muscle recovery, stamina, and motivation, as well as tempered inflammation and heightened pain tolerance during your follicular phase. 

It’s much easier for women to maintain their hydration status during their follicular phase as well, leading to elevated physical and mental performance. 

What to do

Because many women physically and mentally feel “at their peak” during their follicular phase, this is the time to:

  • Take advantage of your mental clarity and energy: work on creative projects you otherwise wouldn’t feel up for, make appointments, set new goals 

  • Push yourself: physically, at the gym, on a run, in a class, mentally, on a personal project, or at work

  • Get social: say yes to the event you got invited to, go out with friends, sign up for a new class, host a dinner party

  • Dial in your nutrition: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, fiber, healthy fats like avocados and nuts, leafy greens, and complex carbs like sweet potatoes all help balance out any excessively high estrogen levels as they rise  

What happens during ovulation?

Timing: Day ~14 (halfway through)

Changes in sleep 

Some women report a brief period of insomnia or difficulty falling asleep during their ovulatory period due to the sudden surge in LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone). Because there’s a natural, yet rapid heightening of mood, alertness, and even a brief bout of stress, it’s normal for women to feel a slight restlessness during ovulation. 

Wild dreams? Fun fact: The sudden changes in hormones also tend to result in vivid and memorable dreams for some women. 

Changes in recovery 

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Due to peak hormonal levels (estrogen, FH, and FSH), many women will experience a rush of energy, vitality, positive mood, libido, and motivation. Similar to your follicular phase, elevated muscle recovery, diminished soreness, and controlled inflammation are also common. 

What to do

Due to lifted energy, motivation, and ability to recover, you may want to take advantage of this period to:

  • Push yourself, mentally or physically: learn something new, pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, do a hard hike with friends, try that workout class 

  • Work on the project you’ve been kicking down the road: you have the mental energy now, might as well leverage it!

  • Get into your intimacy zone: with a partner, friends, or family 

  • Invest in yourself: do something fun, get dressed up, go out, socialize, allocate time to what genuinely lights you up as you’re feeling your best 

  • Dial in your nutrition: being mindful of your refined sugar intake and stocking up on anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, vegetables, and dark chocolate are all key for sustaining a strong ovulatory period 

Note: some women do experience ovulation pain, also known as “mittelschmerz.” If you fall into this camp, support yourself with self-care: hydration packets, heating pads, pelvic floor exercises to alleviate tension, herbal teas, and more. 

What happens during the luteal phase? 

Timing: Days ~14-28

Changes in sleep 

During the first half of your luteal phase, progesterone levels start to rise, which can have both positive and negative effects on sleep, depending on the woman. For many women, progesterone has an anxiety-relieving effect, leading to feelings of elevated relaxation, which supports sleep quality.

As your luteal phase progresses and your period approaches, PMS symptoms like hot flashes (due to increases in body temperature), breast tenderness, discomfort, bloating, and headaches start to kick in, leading to sleep disruptions and difficulty falling asleep. 

Changes in recovery 

Especially in the days leading up to menstruation in the second half of your luteal phase, it’s normal to feel fatigued, stressed, less motivated and inflamed. Because your body is in a period of breakdown, it may be more challenging to recover from rigorous physical activity or feel up for doing work that requires you to be mentally “on fire.” 

What to do

  • Save any intense workouts for the first half of your luteal phase

  • Keep workouts low-impact (walking, swimming, yoga) during the second half 

  • Stay hydrated! 

  • Self-care isn’t selfish: mindfulness, journaling, time in nature, and deep breathing can all help manage the shifts in your mood, stress levels, and energy 

  • Support your body: load up on foods rich in vitamin B6 and magnesium like chickpeas, salmon, leafy greens, starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes, corn), and fruit to offset any of the negative side effects of PMS like brain fog and cramping

Trying to track all of this? Oura Ring is your lifesaver.

There’s a lot going on in your body throughout your ~28-day cycle, that’s for sure. It can be overwhelming to remember where you’re at in your cycle and how to best support your body during each phase, which is why Oura is our go-to wearable for women

Now integrated with Natural Cycles, Oura uses your nightly body temperature, along with other biosignals like heart rate variability (HRV), so you can see your full cycle for yourself, including what your sleep and recovery patterns look like during each phase. Over time, you’ll learn how to best support yourself, mentally and physically, throughout each stage so you can feel your best regardless of what time of the month it is.  

Caroline McMorrow is a Content Manager at Rescripted.