Once I dreamed I was in a bus crash. I can still remember every detail of it; the red double-decker bus and its gray seats flipping over in the air, and my main concern that I was going to be late for my class. In the morning, I checked my period tracking app, which said that I was due to start my period in a week and a half.
If our fluctuating hormones can play havoc with our minds when we’re awake—and make me randomly cry when I remember George Michael died—then they must be doing something when we’re asleep, too. There’s even a Reddit thread of people sharing the “period dreams” they get just as they're at the beginning or in the middle of their period. “I'm PMSing right now and had a horrible dream just last night!" writes one Reddit user. "It doesn't happen every time right before my period, but sometimes I'll have bizarre, not necessarily bad, dreams, for about three to four nights before I start."
Dr. Irshaad Ebrahim, from the London Sleep Center, explains that dreams mainly occur when you’re in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. This usually happens about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and is when your brain is most active during slumber. “Women report more sleep disturbances in the time just before and during their monthly menstrual periods,” he says, “If you wake from REM sleep, you tend to remember your dreams more.”
“In the luteal phase—the week before your period starts—there’s less REM sleep,” Ebrahim says. “The theory behind this is that the higher the amount of progesterone, the lower the amount of REM sleep.” You might be having fewer dreams, he adds, but the sleep disturbances increase your chances of waking up during REM sleep and remembering them.
Progesterone is released after ovulation and produced by a hormone-secreting body called the corpus luteum, explains OB/GYN physician Dr. Christiane Northrup. It helps to prepare your body to receive and nourish a fertilized egg. If an egg remains unfertilized, the level of progesterone drops and you get your period. This also has the side effect of increasing your body temperature, which is one reason for your disrupted sleep. “The day before your period, you’re in a hormonal flux. Your sleep could be erratic because of that change,” she explains.
When and if we actually manage to get to sleep, the dreams we have “tend to reflect what’s going on in that particular cycle,” Northrup adds. She believes that “the dreams are a wonderful way to use where you are, hormonally, to guide your life.” Before her clients start their period, she notes, they regularly describe dreams involving mud, bathrooms, and things being broken down. (Considering the lining of your uterus is about to fall out of you, this all seems pretty understandable.)
While Dr Northrup believes that hormones play a role in the types of dreams we have, she thinks it’s important to avoid “biologic reductionism” by looking at the bigger picture.
“We never want for women to feel as though they are victims of their biology, and that’s a discourse we’ve inherited from the past 5000 years of patriarchy,” she explains.
So the next time you remember a wild dream, you don’t need to Google what it means to be naked and wading through pools of mud. You might just want to make sure you’re stocked up on tampons instead.