New research has revealed the connection between period fatigue and the colder months. We take a look at why this is and how we can make periods more manageable during winter 

Research from Active Iron, a producer of clinically proven iron supplements, has found that almost half (49%) of those who menstruate experience tiredness and fatigue as a result of their menstrual cycle. What’s more, further studies suggest that these symptoms can be exacerbated in the colder months, as the length of periods can be longer in winter. We’ll take a look at why this is and how symptoms can be managed during this time of the year, but first, let’s explore some of the common symptoms of menstruation. 

Some of the most commonly reported symptoms of periods include:

  • stomach cramps/pain
  • tiredness/fatigue 
  • mood changes
  • bloating 
  • breast tenderness
  • hormonal breakouts 
  • headaches 

What is period fatigue?

The above symptoms are typically considered to be ‘normal’ during menstruation for many women and people who have periods. It’s important to note, however, that individuals will all experience a period differently and they will affect us all in a variety of ways. Some may have irregular periods, others may experience fluctuations in the severity of their symptoms month-by-month… the list goes on. What’s key to remember is what is ‘normal’ for you and your body

Period fatigue goes beyond the ‘normal’ range of tiredness that is typically experienced in the lead-up to menstruation. It refers to ongoing or chronic tiredness/fatigue during, and even after, your period. It can be characterised in the following ways:

  • persistent low energy 
  • sleeping longer than usual 
  • increased urges to sleep during the day 
  • feeling low in motivation/enthusiasm 

Period fatigue, alongside other symptoms, occurs due to the hormonal changes that our bodies go through on the run-up to menstruation. But interestingly, it can be far more pronounced during the colder months. Let’s take a look at why this is.

Why is period fatigue more common in winter? 

There are a number of reasons why we may feel more fatigued in the colder months during our period, but some of the key factors are thought to be related to the following:

A reduction in physical activity

Exercise increases endorphins, which helps lessen feelings of tiredness. However, as the early nights draw in and the temperature drops, we can face challenges with the practicalities of exercising, such as getting out for a walk in nature. The turn in the weather can also make it harder to find the motivation to exercise. As we move our bodies less, it’s common to experience more fatigue. 

Sunlight exposure and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) 

We’ve seen an increased awareness of SAD in recent years. This is thought to be caused by less exposure to sunlight and vitamin D, which can disrupt our circadian rhythm and have an impact on our mood. 

Decreased exposure to natural light can further exacerbate period fatigue, as it can play havoc with our sleep cycles and internal body clock. This means we’re more susceptible to poor sleep, naturally leaving us feeling more tired. 

Period pain

According to Women’s Health magazine, the colder months can increase period pain, making us feel more lethargic. This is because cold weather can cause our blood vessels to compress, interrupting our blood flow and increasing pain. 

Longer menstrual cycles 

A 2011 paper concluded that the warmer months of summer increase levels of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This is thought to shorten periods by almost one day (0.9 days). During winter, periods are longer and ovarian activity slows, making you feel more exhausted. 

Lowered immune system 

Did you know that the uterus lining is part of the immune system? The endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) – also known as uterine mucosa – serves as an important tissue barrier which functions to protect against pathogens and other toxins. Naturally, in the colder months, our immunity is lowered and we become more sensitive to viruses and infections. In this same way, this can feed into our periods. 

How can we support our bodies during winter periods? 

Now that we understand a little more about why our periods may be more troublesome in winter, what can we do to help manage PMS symptoms and support our bodies through menstruation in the coming months? 

  • Try taking a warm bath, using heat pads or hot water bottles to find some relief from period cramps and pain. This will help to reverse the compression of blood vessels we can experience in cold weather, causing them to relax. 
  • Be mindful about the foods you’re consuming and try to avoid foods that can make you feel bloated. Following a healthier, balanced diet can help ease aches and pains as well as support energy levels. Find out more about what to eat during your period on Happiful. 
  • Where you can, try to do some gentle exercise such as going for a walk. As the days begin to get shorter, it’s recommended to try to get outdoors earlier and reap the benefits of natural daylight at the same time. If you’re finding it hard to find the time, try going for a short walk during your lunch break. 
  • Try practices such as self-massage and yoga to relieve tension and stress. 
  • Stay hydrated. It’s natural to not feel as thirsty in the colder months, but it’s just as important to keep ourselves hydrated as not doing so can contribute to tiredness. Drinking plenty of water can also help fight discomfort. 

Menstruation can be a particularly difficult time of the month for many people, particularly those who experience more severe symptoms. The winter months can bring about additional challenges, so it’s an especially important time to practice self-care, tune into our bodies and nurture ourselves through our periods. And if you would like to learn more about how nutrition can support you during your period, you can connect with a nutritional therapist on Happiful.