Does winter make PMS worse?



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


31 October 2019

5 reasons why your PMS symptoms might seem worse in winter

You might be used to monthly symptoms occurring thanks to PMS, but have you ever felt that your symptoms get worse around a certain time of year? There are various reasons why your PMS symptoms may seem worse during the winter months:

  • Less sunshine
  • Your mood
  • Increased stress levels
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet 
  • Reduced level of activity.

Let's go into a bit more detail on these factors, how they can change during the winter months, and why this could be having an effect on your PMS symptoms.

1. You spend less time in the sunshine

If you live in the UK, you'll be all too familiar with the long, dark days that often go hand-in-hand with the winter months. While the winter weather can disrupt your plans and make it difficult to get up in the morning, it can also have an effect on your menstrual cycle.

One study in particular found that sunshine (or a lack thereof) can change the length of your periods. This study found that, in summer, women experienced shorter cycles, as did women living in warmer climates.1 This research indicates that there could, in fact, be a link between the winter weather and your exacerbated PMS symptoms.

You see, if you suffer from symptoms in the run-up to your period and your cycle stretches out for longer than usual, you could be experiencing an extra day or two of PMS pain each month during the winter. So, it stands to reason that you may think things are worse at this time of year, as your symptoms may be more noticeable and trouble you for longer than they would during other seasons.

2. Your mood can be affected

These shorter, darker days can have a real knock-on effect when it comes to your mood. Without adequate exposure to sunlight, we tend to produce less serotonin, our happy hormone. We are also likely to lack vitamin D, which is another important element when it comes to regulating mood.

If mood swings are a common PMS symptom for you, lack of sunlight and low vitamin D could exacerbate these issues during winter. However, it is important that you rule out SAD or depression by talking to your doctor as this change in mood could be more serious.

Low vitamin D can also be linked to other period symptoms like fatigue, so you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months if you feel low in mood and energy.

3. You may be more stressed

Stress can have a huge impact on your period and PMS symptoms as well as your general health, and it's no secret that the winter months can be a manic time full of shopping, partying and organising. All of this can take its toll on your body and have an effect on your monthly cycle.

Women who suffer from PMS may actually be more prone to stress, which can have an impact on common PMS symptoms such as menstrual cramps. One particular study found that women coping with high stress levels were twice as likely to suffer with painful periods,2 while it is thought that we are more aware of pain when we are in a stressed state.

As well as this, excess stress can cause you to skip periods. Menstruation will come bottom of the list for your body if your stress levels are through the roof. Taking time to breathe and have a good rest in amongst the winter chaos can make a big difference.


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4. You might be more sleepy

Sleep is another important process when it comes to PMS, and one that can be easily disrupted during winter.

Here in the UK, when the clocks go back, our internal clocks can also be affected. We produce more melatonin (our sleep hormone) when it's dark, which it seems to be 99% of the time in winter! This can make it more difficult for us to wake up in the morning and can really put a dampener on our motivation.

Sleeping problems are often associated with PMS so, when you put this together with darker mornings and a disrupted body clock, it can be difficult to cope. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, stress levels and cravings, all of which might already be obstacles when you suffer from PMS!

It's important to get a good night's sleep during your period, by spending time winding down in the evenings and avoiding heavy meals late at night.

5. Your diet can change

Another factor lurking behind troublesome winter PMS is diet. Your diet is so important when it comes to periods and managing PMS symptoms, and things can often go awry during the winter months.

With cold evenings and poor sleep leaving you craving decadent nibbles, and with plenty of sweet and salty treats on offer, it can be hard to make the right choices.

However, you should bear in mind that certain foods can actually make your PMS symptoms worse, including:

  • Caffeine
  • Fried foods
  • Dairy.

What's more, alcohol tends to be flowing freely during the winter months, especially if you're celebrating the festive season. Alcohol can make the likes of mood swings, insomnia and low mood worse, as well as disrupting your sleep, so it's best to avoid overindulging on alcohol if you have PMS.

6. You might be less active

Finally, a combination of all of the above symptoms and factors could make you less likely to stay active during the winter months which could, in turn, make the whole situation worse!

While it might be tough to motivate yourself or find time to keep moving in winter, what with bad weather and very few hours of daylight, exercise can have a positive effect on your PMS symptoms.

Exercise can help to boost endorphins and improve your mood, as well as reducing the severity of menstrual cramps and helping you to sleep better. Why not check out my blog on simple exercises to do on your period for some of my top tips?

 

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20937003

2 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijrmed/2017/3208276/

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