Period Fatigue And What You Can Do About It
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Dr. Pramod Mane
- Hormonal changes and heavy menstrual flow can eat into your energy levels and also cause a lot of mental stress that gets translated into exhaustion.
- Choose what works best for you to control the symptoms. Typically, cutting down on carbs and a light exercise routine should be sufficient measures to battle exhaustion. However, if the exhaustion persists, speak to a doctor to rule out underlying complications. Also, check if oral contraceptives could be a safe bet to tackle the tiredness.
- Stress can have a huge impact on the way exhaustion is perceived by your body. Spare some time every day to practice stress-relieving techniques, such as meditation and yoga.
For many women, a few days preceding their period is when exhaustion slowly starts kicking in. Even the simplest of tasks can seem monumental. The creeping lassitude that takes over feels like an inexplicable bout of malaise—as if one has been wrung dry of the last shred of energy. While you may have been enduring these energy fluctuations month after month, you don’t have to grit your teeth and ‘get used to it as you have convinced yourself to believe all along. Get to know what causes period fatigue, so you can take the right steps to stay on top of your game.
What causes period fatigue?
Your menstrual cycle is defined by dips and highs in your hormone levels that have a pronounced bearing on your energy and mood. For example, around the time you start experiencing symptoms of PMS the estrogen in your body starts plummeting. This dive continues throughout your period, making you feel sluggish right up to the end of your menstrual cycle.
Some women also have a corresponding drop in serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter produced by the brain. These simultaneous shifts in brain chemicals and reproductive hormones aggravate symptoms of depression and even sleep deprivation.
A combination of these stressors can spiral into a slowdown that seems hard to shrug off. However, this is only a temporary phase and you’ll notice the upswing as soon as your period is over.
Heavy menstrual flow
It’s common knowledge that when you lose a lot of blood during your period, your iron levels drop. If you’re already prone to low iron levels, this can cause anemia that can leave you feeling overwhelmingly weak, with absolutely no energy during the period.
For women who suffer from heavy menstruation, the blood loss is over 80cc per month—there’s a good reason why even basic courtesy can seem like a struggle!
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a woman’s body expends more energy in the second part of her menstrual cycle. As the body temperature increases, you burn more calories. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) can increase by up to 9 percent in the days leading to your period.
So, by the time your period arrives, you have expended 9 percent more energy for a couple of days. (Yes, it is this surge in outflow that often makes you suffer from extreme exhaustion during menstruation, so much that you want to do nothing but stay in bed and stare at the ceiling all day.)
With all the loss of fluids during your period, it’s natural to feel dehydrated. Dehydration lowers blood pressure and alters your fluid balance—, your heart is forced to pump harder to supply your skin and muscles with oxygen and nutrients.
Stress can trigger symptoms like diarrhea and frequent urination. These, along with menstrual bleeding, could make the prevailing exhaustion even worse. Reducing your levels of stress or finding effective coping mechanisms may help your body revert to a normal menstrual period.
Consider meeting a therapist, and find out if you need to take anti-anxiety medication for a system reboot and manage the stress symptoms.
The multiple hormonal shifts in your body—drop in progesterone and rise in estrogen—cause reduced sugar levels. When this occurs, the brain telegraphs the need to restore sugar to optimum levels, and the resulting message is understood by your mind as sugar cravings. This is made worse by a parallel drop in serotonin levels, which explains those unreasonable sullen mood spells.
As your body uses carbs to make serotonin, it’s not unnatural to feel that pastries and potato chips are the only perfect answer to all your problems. Though unhealthy, these treats deliver that much-needed rush of energy. Unfortunately, the sugar high is instantly followed by an enervating crash, so you are back to feeling tired all over again.
How to amp up your energy
Learning how to manage your symptoms can help you feel better during your period. Here’s what you can do:
Get more sleep
Destress Don’t be ashamed of, or fight your feeling of fatigue; there’s nothing to prove to anyone. Don’t fight the urge to rest. It’s essential to listen to your body and practice self-care. Reschedule existing commitments, and plan a lighter day if possible.
Try to get the extra sleep that your body seeks; squeeze in time for a power nap whenever you can. It helps to have more than the recommended seven hours each night.
Irritability or even anger is a symptom of PMS. You will have to manage stress to keep exhaustion at bay. Destressing can help avoid high cortisol levels, which impact other hormones in the body and can lead to fatigue.
Spend some time every day practicing deep breathing and meditation.
Drink enough water
Drinking enough water is necessary because hydration also helps with alleviating cramps. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
Exercise might be the last thing on your mind when you’re bleeding. But getting exercise can give you a boost of energy. You don’t have to exert yourself; a walk around the block and/or a series of gentle asanas on your yoga mat can be enough to perk you up.
Avoid processed foods. Have clean, natural foods to avoid further hormonal disruption. Choose protein-based foods like pulses and vegetables and iron-rich foods like spinach. Include good fats like coconut, avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds in your daily diet; these make you feel satiated and help cut down sugar cravings.
Ask your doctor if you can have a Vitamin B supplement every day; it helps maintain sugar levels at an optimum.
Have smaller and more frequent meals: This will keep your energy reserves from slumping. When you have big meals, your body is putting more energy into digesting them. You feel lighter when you eat small meals.
Choose a hormonal birth control option: If period fatigue is affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor and find out if a hormonal birth control option is suitable for you. For some women, oral contraceptives may reduce the symptoms of fatigue and PMS.
For those who suffer from heavy periods and struggle with iron deficiency, oral contraceptives can even help tame excessive bleeding.
Rule out complications
If your energy level is abnormally low, consult your doctor to make sure there are no underlying health concerns. For example, sometimes an underactive thyroid could be the culprit behind your chronic exhaustion.
When you listen to your body, it lets you respond accordingly to its needs, bettering your overall health and keeping your period issues manageable. For all the women out there suffering from hormonal imbalances and the resulting turbulences—low energy, period fatigue, PMS, menstrual cramps, and mood swings—by acknowledging the symptoms and working to balance your hormones through the right diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes, you can regain your vitality, energy, and health.
Let nothing stop you from living the healthy, fabulous life that you deserve—every day of the month.
Webb, P. (1986) 24-hour energy expenditure and the menstrual cycle. Am J Clin Nutr. 44(5): 614-619