Many women find it more difficult to sleep during menstruation. In this article, I explain how different sleeping positions may be able to give you some relief from cramps and help you sleep better during your period.
Sleeping in the foetal position can help ease cramps and period pain, by reducing pressure on the abdominal muscles. Sleeping on your back or on your side, such as in the recovery position can also be helpful. However, sleeping your stomach is not recommended.
Best sleeping positions for period pain relief
Let's take a look at some of the best sleeping positions for period pain, including how and why they can help give you much-needed relief so you can sleep soundly during your period.
1. The foetal position
While there is no research on the topic, some health professionals recommend sleeping in a foetal position to reduce menstrual cramps.
The foetal position (also spelt fetal position in American English) refers to a position similar to that of a foetus in the womb, on your side with your knees tucked into your chest.
The reasoning behind this seems to be that lying on your side reduces pressure on the abdominal muscles. Any unnecessary pressure on the tummy muscles could cause extra pain and cramping during your period.
However, in practice, I often find that when someone is feeling bloated and crampy while they are menstruating, pulling the knees into the body doesn't always help. In that case, other side-lying positions might be better.
Ultimately the most powerful way to find a sleeping position to ease your pain is by listening to your own body. If you find yourself tossing and turning during your period, stay in a position that makes you feel uncomfortable for a few seconds longer and see where in your body is calling out for attention.
Pain is a very intelligent bodily response that is letting us know something needs to change. Our pain is asking us to pay attention to something going on in our body. If you are trying out the foetal position and it helps, then great; if not, see what small adjustment you can make to get comfy.
2. The recovery position
The recovery position is used by first aid responders to help get more oxygen into the airways while they wait for the emergency services to arrive. (1)
I know that sounds a bit extreme for dealing with your period pains, but from years of working with women with dysmenorrhea, I know that it can feel that way sometimes.
Lying on your side with the bottom leg straight and the top leg bent towards your belly can provide the same abdominal release as the foetal position, as well as increasing your breathing capacity, allowing you to take in more oxygen which may in turn improve your quality of sleep. (2)
What can I do if lying on my side is uncomfortable?
The key to comfort and relaxation is often lots of props! If you have ever been to a restorative yoga class you will know what I mean! Restorative yoga is a type of yoga that relaxes the nervous system by using lots of props to support various parts of the body so you feel held.
This allows the nervous system to relax, initiating our parasympathetic response, rest and digest mode. This can be helpful in a yoga class, but also for sleep.
Try placing a pillow behind your back and another one between your legs. Or try the recovery position mentioned above, with a pillow under the bent leg.
3. Lying on your back
Lying on your back places minimal pressure on the uterus, but some women do find it increases leakage.
If that is the case for you, and you do find it is otherwise the easiest way to get good sleep while you are menstruating, then it might be worth looking into some alternative products like period pants or menstrual cups or, in some cases, both.
However, if you have a really heavy flow, know that it is often a sign that something is out of balance and seeking out a herbalist can help! Even over the counter herbs like Agnus castus may be helpful for you if you experience cramps and heavy flow, along with a short cycle and other signs of oestrogen dominance.
If you prefer lying on your back normally, but just can't get comfortable while you are menstruating, then try placing a pillow, a bolster or round pillow, or even a rolled-up towel, underneath your knees.
My Top Tip: Take Agnus castus on an ongoing basis, not just while you are menstruating
For symptoms of PMS, including menstrual cramp, breast tenderness, bloating, irritability & mood swings
Tincture of Agnus castus berries or fruit
Each dose provides 500mg of extract equivalent to 50mg Agnus castus dried berries
Some people report sleeping in a child's pose to ease cramps and back pain. It certainly isn't for everyone, but if you find this yoga position comfortable why not give it a go when you're trying to get to sleep. After all, it is called a child's pose, or baby pose in some yoga traditions because so many babies sleep this way.
Other yoga poses that can help ease period pain
There are many yoga poses which yoga teachers like myself will recommend to our menstruating students. Some of these yoga poses, like child's pose, are positions that you can sleep in if you find them comfortable!
Again tune in to your own body and see what works best for you. Otherwise, they are nice poses you can do, in a restorative style, in your PJs before bed.
Also known as cobbler pose or bound angle pose, the butterfly pose can be done sitting or lying down. It is a wonderful hip opener and can ease pelvic congestion. Try some pillows under each knee so that every part of your body is resting against support.
Sometimes called cat pose, supine twists can also help to ease period pains by stretching the lower back and stimulating blood flow. This can be a lovely one to do first thing in the morning as well. Yoga, in general, is a wonderful practice that when practised regularly can help ease period pains.
In this short video I show you how to do these two yoga poses:
Worst sleeping position for period pain
Lying on the stomach usually isn't recommended during your period as the excess pressure on the abdomen could potentially cause the uterus to contract more, expelling your uterine lining faster, resulting in a heavier bleed that night.
In general, I find regular stomach sleepers often have a lot of structural issues and neck problems, so if you always sleep on your stomach it might be worth trying out some pillows and props to get comfortable in another position.