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It's officially that time of year when the sun starts making its descent at around 4:30 p.m., the air becomes frigid and dry, and we bundle up in sweaters, jackets and boots for the foreseeable future.
While there's something irresistibly cozy about this time of year—curl up with a book by the fire! Sip on a pumpkin spice latte! Pull on those fuzzy socks!—many of us are dreading winter, when cold temperatures and limited daylight will make outdoor dining and masked hangouts a thing of the past.
Another thing that might not take the cold weather very well? Your period. Yep, you read that right: There's some evidence cold weather has an impact on our menstrual cycles. We chatted with gynecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck to find out what we can expect from our cold-weather period this winter, and what to do about it.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS MD, FACOG is a Midol partner and top doctor at New York Magazine and Westchester Magazine.
The Main Thing That Impacts Your Period Is Your Lifestyle
Yes, it seems that a possible side effect of wintertime might mean a more difficult period. Dr. Dweck notes there is a small amount of research around the idea that cold weather is correlated with longer cycles due to decreased ovulation. While the cold weather could be to blame, there's probably more to it: The main thing that likely impacts your period, she says, is your lifestyle in the colder months.
"As a general rule, the cold weather in and of itself probably has no significant impact on your menstrual cycle," she explains. "However, a change in diet, exercise, activities and stress levels that accompany the change of seasons might. In other words, cold weather and menstrual changes may occur simultaneously, but are likely associated, rather than cause and effect."
Confused? Think about your habits in the winter versus the summer. In the summer you're likely getting more exercise, eating lighter foods, drinking more water, and taking advantage of those long days as you soak in the vitamin D.
The winter is a much more sedentary time, marked by a lot of time inside, heavy comfort foods (pizza and red wine, anyone?) and maybe even some sadness, if you're prone to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This year, an already sedentary and emotionally difficult season while likely be taken to the next level. "Additionally, cold weather means less sunshine exposure which means less vitamin D and an alteration in other neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine," Dweck adds. "These brain chemicals effect mood and pleasure."
The Changes You Can Expect in Your Period
If you tend to struggle with tough period symptoms like cramps, bloating, mood changes, headaches or fatigue, these may worsen in the winter. Your period might get heavier, too. "Cold weather might mean a more sedentary lifestyle and PMS mood changes might worsen in winter," says Dweck. "Weight gain and less exercise might translate into heavier cycles and increased cramps for some."
If this sounds familiar and you want to get ahead of it before full-on winter hints, Dweck says there are a few simple changes you can make. "Many women 'hibernate' in the winter and eat comfort foods, and this can wreak havoc on typical PMS symptoms including bloating, fatigue, cramps and headache," she says. "Modifying your diet, increasing exercise and using an over-the-counter medication like Midol can be super helpful to combat these PMS symptoms and winter blues."
The Bottom Line
The cold weather might not affect your period—and we have our fingers crossed that it doesn't—but Dweck's suggested healthy lifestyle changes are probably worth adopting regardless of how your period is acting, if only for your mental health this winter. After the year we've had, we all deserve to feel a little better!