When we're doubled over with period cramps, getting a sound night's sleep can be tricky. But rest assured, there are sleeping positions that can help to ease period pain and—as always—we're here to give you the low down. So, let's take a look at what are the best sleeping positions for period cramps.
Best Sleeping Position For Period Cramps
Period cramps are a very common occurrence for people with menstrual cycles and for many, one of the first signs that their period is on its way. Period cramps are caused by spasms in the uterus, as the muscles begin to contract in preparation for your period. These muscle contractions help your uterus to shed its lining, which is what’s released during your period.
Mr Narenda Pisal,consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology explained more:
"Prostaglandins are released during periods and are responsible for uterine cramps. Sometimes, these prostaglandins can also cause other symptoms during periods such as loose motions, nausea and vomiting.
Women who sometimes get period pains in their back is due to referred pain. The nerve that supplies the cervix also supplies the back, hence the backache.”
Usually, period cramps are so mild that we don’t really notice them, but sometimes—as many of us know only too well—they can feel a lot more intense. Some people also report that their period cramps are more intense during the nighttime, and this can make sleeping difficult.
Thankfully, there are some sleeping positions which can help to ease any discomfort and allow you to get that much-needed shuteye.
The Foetal Position
The foetal position is a classic and probably the most natural position to sleep in when we’re feeling unwell with period cramps, as most likely we just want to curl into a little ball and sleep. When you bring your knees into your chest and lay on your side in the foetal position, you reduce pressure on the abdominal muscles and this can help to ease cramps and pains quite effectively.
If you’re feeling bloated you might want to relax your legs a little, rather than bring them all the way up to your chest. Find a comfortable place within this position that works for you.
The foetal position is not only great for reducing period cramps and helping you to sleep soundly, but it will help to prevent any leakage too. Make sure you choose period protection for overnight sleep though, as if you tend to toss and turn during sleep, you might not stay in this position all night.
Pillow Underneath Knees
Lots of people find comfort with a pillow between or underneath the knees as it gives them a little relief from period cramps.
If you sleep on your side, position the pillow between your knees to help align the pelvis and take pressure off your abdomen. If you sleep on your back, place the pillow underneath your knees instead. This will help to relax the muscles in the abdomen so that you can, hopefully, get some rest. Make sure the pillow isn’t too high and keep your legs straight to get the most from this sleeping position.
If you choose to sleep on your back with the pillow under your knees, be aware that this position will likely encourage blood flow so take precautions to deal with potential leaks. Make sure your period protection can cope with an overnight flow, and maybe place a towel down if you’re concerned.
Alongside cramps, lots of people suffer with headaches during their periods too (don't even get us started on the spots and mood drops...) If this is you, you might find that Child Pose is a great position to adopt if you want to get some shut-eye. Child Pose will help to stretch out the hips, thighs and ankles, reduce fatigue, reduce stress and ease your headache too. It’s a typical relaxation pose, so while it might seem odd to adopt this one for sleep, give it a go and see if it helps.
To do this pose, get on to all fours and widen your knees to hip distance apart. Then stretch out your arms, or keep them by your sides with palms facing up. Sit back towards your heels, relax your torso over your thighs and rest your forehead on the bed or pillow. Relax your lower back and breathe deeply.
When it comes to leakage in this pose, there’s always the chance that this can happen. Generally, sleeping on your front can encourage more blood to flow so make sure your period protection is up to the job and try not to let it worry you.
Incidentally, other yoga positions can also be an amazing way to relieve cramps, so if you’re suffering throughout the day, it might be a good idea to set aside 10-20 minutes to practise some relaxing poses.
Some of the best poses for period cramps include Knees to Chest (Apanasana), Wide-Legged Squat (Malasana) and Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana). These poses all help to relax the abdominal muscles and improve blood flow to the area. Yoga also helps to stabilise breathing, forcing us to relax, focus on our bodies, which can calm our minds, and relieve stress and tension. This release in muscle tension throughout the body can work wonders in easing period cramps and more, so it’s definitely worth a try.
The recovery position is used by first aid responders to encourage better levels of oxygen in your airways, but it can also provide the same abdominal relief as the foetal position—making it a great one to try if you’re struggling to sleep.
Ms Michelle Swer, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology, told us:
“The recovery position helps take off the stress on the abdominal muscles that are undergoing spasm in view of the uterine contractility experienced during your periods.”
Adopt this pose by lying on your side with your bottom leg straight and your top leg bent towards your belly. You’ll notice that you can breathe better in this pose too, which will help you take in more oxygen—this will also help to improve your sleep.
If this position feels a little uncomfortable for you, a pillow between the knees might help, or you can try one behind your back for a little extra support—but try not to place too much pressure on your shoulder.
It’s also worth noting that the recovery position is a great one for reducing the risk of leakage too. Just make sure that you get up slowly in the morning and always choose period protection suitable for overnight.
On Your Back
If you prefer sleeping on your back this is also a great position as it places very little pressure on the uterus and abdominal muscles. If you have a heavy flow though, there is an increased risk of leakage in this position.
Make sure you choose period protection suitable for overnight and heavy flows, and maybe even place a towel underneath to catch any leaks.
The Bottom Line on Sleeping During Your Period
It’s a common fact that sleep during your period can be elusive at best. Thanks to cramps, headache, sore boobs, nausea and all of those other lovely PMS symptoms, trying to relax can be a difficult task. In fact, 69% of women in the UK regularly experience sleep disturbances thanks to their menstrual cycle, resulting in poor quality and quantity of sleep overall.
Studies have also found that women experiencing symptoms of PMS and PMDD are more likely to report sleep disturbances, fatigue, insomnia, frequent wakings, non-restorative sleep, nightmares and a general decline in sleep quality. On top of this, daytime sleep issues can be present too. Women report feeling tired during the day, being unable to concentrate and feeling more lethargic too.
Choosing the best position to sleep when on period is a positive step you can take to improve your sleep hygiene—specific positions to help ease cramps can be a literal sleep-saver!
More research is probably needed on periods and how they affect sleep, but the bottom line is that during this part of the cycle it makes sense to do what you can to improve your sleep hygiene. The NHS also has some great advice on how to improve sleep that’s definitely worth checking out.