Are Your Periods Feeling Worse Right Now? Turns Out There’s a Reason Why

There’s no mistaking the lure of your bed 24/7 when you’re “surfing the crimson wave” (as Cher Horowitz in Clueless iconically describes the menstrual phase). Throw in less daylight and cold weather, and the snooze button is getting more action than it has in months—cat naps are your new afternoon activity, and working out feels like a distant memory. It turns out there’s a name for the wintertime listlessness leading up to and during your period. Referred to as winter period fatigue syndrome, it could explain why you might be feeling exhausted AF during the winter. Ahead, I asked experts to break down the so-called syndrome and how to manage period symptoms in the colder months.

What is winter period fatigue syndrome?

If that time of the month becomes synonymous with an extra weight of sluggishness come December, it’s not just you. A new study from supplement brand Active Iron discovered that colder weather can worsen your period symptoms. “Research reveals that it is common for you to experience period fatigue in the winter weather more than any other time of year,” Avril Flynn, a women’s health expert and Active Iron’s pregnancy advisor, shared with Huffington Post.

“Winter period fatigue syndrome is not an official diagnosis but more like a description of period symptoms that seem to happen more often or more severely for some people in the winter months,” explained Dr. Michelle Forcier, a clinician at FOLX Health. “Period symptoms that might increase in these winter months include more tiredness or fatigue, feeling distracted or having difficulty concentrating, and perhaps some irritability, emotionality, or changes in mood. How you feel during your period in the winter months might be harder just due to the effects winter has on lots of people.” Bottom line: The period fatigue you normally experience can be worse or more noticeable during the colder months.

What causes it?

Longer menstruation cycles

According to a 2011 study on the effects of sunlight on the menstrual cycle, levels of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) decrease during the winter months because of a decrease in sunshine, which can make your menstruation cycles longer. The same study showed that ovulation frequency also dips dramatically from 97 percent to 71 percent during seasons or environments with less sunshine. Extended periods combined with reduced ovarian activity can impact symptoms, including increased period fatigue. 

Dietary changes

Between all the holiday cheer (read: booze and cookies) and hearty comfort foods we consume from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, it’s no secret we reach for more foods higher in sugar, fat, and carbs in the winter months than the rest of the year. “More sugar and alcohol can impact blood sugar by causing more pronounced spikes and crashes, and unstable blood sugar is a culprit for feelings of fatigue,” explained Dr. Chanté Wiegand, a naturopathic doctor and director of research and development for The The Synergy Company. Weigand added that the dietary changes can result in vitamin deficiencies like iron and B vitamins, contributing to fatigue, especially in people who are losing blood once a month.  

Disrupted sleep cycles

If you think wintertime is the ideal time to catch up on your Zzzs, think again. “Shorter daylight hours in winter can disrupt sleep cycles and internal body clocks, leading to poor sleep quality and increased tiredness,” explained Valentina Milanova, a women’s health expert and founder of gynecological health company Daye. With less light comes a decrease in serotonin, a hormone associated with regulating mood, and lower levels of serotonin can contribute to fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, and depression. It also means less vitamin D, which can wreak havoc on your mood and energy levels. Due to overall changes in mood, energy, and sleep, the natural decline in mood and energy around your menstrual phase can worsen.

Reduced physical activity

You may feel the intuition to pause physical activity during or before your menstrual phase, and that’s important and healthy. However, if you limit physical activity all month long (or for more many months, as in the case of lack of motivation in winter), it could result in lower energy which makes general period fatigue even worse during periods of chronic inactivity. “Colder weather and shorter days often lead to less exercise, which can exacerbate fatigue,” Milanova expressed. “Exercise releases endorphins that help reduce tiredness, but the challenges of winter can make it harder to stay active.” Simply put, less hot girl walks equate to wanting to snooze more.

Increased stress

Wiegand cited that stress levels tend to increase in the colder months, thanks to the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the short, dark days of the new year, and the increased sickness that often spreads. The added pressure affects all of your hormones, including the hormones that influence your menstrual cycle, as well as your energy levels. Cortisol is a hormone, too, and all hormones work together. Going through times of higher stress can affect the reproductive cycle, including period symptoms such as fatigue. “Stress can amplify period symptoms, including fatigue, making it more difficult to manage during the winter months,” Flynn told Huffington Post.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Combine the aforementioned culprits, and it can be a recipe for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), AKA a case of the winter blues. “The winter months, with shorter days, less sunlight, colder temperatures, and longer periods of inactivity and indoor time can exacerbate fatigue, low mood, feeling distracted and irritable,” described Dr. Michelle Forcier, a clinician at FOLX Health. “SAD is a winter-specific episode of depression-type symptoms, including low mood and low energy.” If you’re dealing with SAD, it’s not uncommon for it to worsen around the menstrual phase when the body is prone to more fatigue and lower mood already.

How do you manage symptoms?

Keep up healthy habits

Good news: The usual suspects of healthy lifestyle habits that do wonders for your overall health also support the body during your period and help ease the annoyances caused by it. Because gone are the days you’d suffer through said symptoms, thinking they’re normal and you can’t get the relief you deserve. Take charge of your hormonal health and show those period fatigue symptoms who’s boss by sticking with whole and iron-rich foods, staying hydrated, opting for lighter, low-impact forms of movement (think: soft workouts), keeping a consistent sleep schedule, taking warm baths or showers, and getting direct sunlight during the day (especially first thing in the morning).

Check vitamin levels

Wiegand recommended keeping your nutrient levels in check: “Ideally, we’d all have perfect visibility into our nutrient status so that we could adjust our diet and supplementation accordingly, but that isn’t always realistic. Share your symptoms with your healthcare practitioner to see if they are willing to test certain nutrient levels. If not, consider a high-quality multivitamin that includes vitamin D3 and B complex vitamins.” If your symptoms persist or significantly interfere with your daily activities, consult a healthcare provider for evaluation and to help alleviate symptoms.

Listen to your body and let yourself rest

Of course, if the fatigue around your period is so debilitating that you’re unable to get through normal daily activities, have zero motivation to accomplish anything, or you’re sleeping 10+ hours, and it still doesn’t feel like enough, talk to your healthcare team to identify the root cause—you deserve to feel good, even during the winter, and even on your period. However, if you’re feeling a little less motivated to do an intense workout or crave an afternoon nap during or around your period, maybe your body is just communicating with you what it needs. Perhaps the problem is not your body; maybe the resistance to your low energy stems from toxic productivity or diet culture. During the menstrual phase, the body is meant to rest, relax, and limit intense stress or exercise; sometimes, the healthiest or most productive thing we can do is rest. Listen to your body, get to bed early, and lead with self-compassion first and foremost.

Please consult a doctor or a mental health professional before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.

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