Some days we feel on-top-of-the-world productive, checking things off our to-do list left and right and still making it to happy hour. Other days, we lack the motivation to send an email, and all we want to do is curl up in bed and watch Netflix for the hundredth time. There’s a cloud of shame attached to the latter scenario. We’re expected to show up and do the same amount of work every day, and when we lack the energy to do so, we turn the blame on ourselves.
There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling these dips and peaks—it's perfectly natural. Society's traditional view on constant productivity is deeply rooted in gender bias, and it’s time we redefine productivity through the lens of those who menstruate.
We've been conditioned to operate according to the 24-hour hormonal cycle known as the circadian rhythm. The term itself probably rings a bell since it’s widely known as our internal body clock. While everyone has a circadian rhythm, there’s another less-talked-about rhythm that applies specifically to people in their reproductive years: the infradian rhythm.
According to Alisa Vitti, functional nutrition and hormone expert, the infradian rhythm is a chronobiological term that refers to the 28-day hormonal cycle people who menstruate experience in their menstrual years. It plays a huge role in your physical and mental wellness. Your infradian rhythm affects everything from your mood to your health to your energy levels, and as a result, productivity. While the workplace loves to look at patterns tied to the circadian rhythm (think: morning routines, nine to five schedules, and consistent daily output), it denies working around the infradian rhythm. By rejecting this inherent rhythm, those who get periods have unfortunately not been given the space to operate as their highest-functioning selves.
Meet the Expert
Alisa Vitti is a functional nutrition and hormone expert. She is the best-selling author of WomanCode and In the FLO. Vitti is also the founder of Flo Living and the creator of the MyFlo app and the Cycle Syncing Method™.
"We’ve been walking around in our reproductive years without the knowledge of [the infradian rhythm]," Vitti says. "Because of that, we’ve been doing everything wrong to take care of ourselves. We’ve been disrupting this rhythm and then disrupting our cycles, hormones, fertility, skin, weight, mental health, and absolutely everything in between."
What is Cycle Syncing?
So, how then do we learn to support and work with our body rather than against it? Enter: cycle syncing. You may have heard about this rising wellness trend on Instagram or TikTok. It refers to the practice of one aligning their lifestyle with the different phases in their menstrual cycle. Vitti is one of the leaders in this movement and is revolutionizing the way we look at women’s health. Through developing the Cycle Syncing Method, she is helping those who menstruate get in sync with their bodies for ultimate wellbeing.
"I really love the idea that this is becoming a movement because we're empowering people to take back their health and stop listening to male biohackers that say 'Just do this, it should work for you,’" Vitti explains. "That feeds into the institutionalized gender bias, which is the whole core of the problem—women are left out of medical fitness and nutrition research."
How to Use Each Phase of Your Cycle to Your Advantage
With more people who menstruate learning to tune into their infradian rhythms, there’s another key aspect that this affects: productivity. According to Vitti, you can use each phase of your period to your advantage to be your best and most productive self.
Phase 1: Follicular Phase
If you’ve wanted to start a business, plan a cross-country road trip, or make sense of all your midnight idea dumps, this is the phase where you’ll feel most in your creative genius zone. The follicular phase starts right after your bleeding ends when your reproductive hormones are at their lowest level. This is known as a phase of new beginnings, where subtle increases in estrogen in your brain have you feeling curious, inspired, and in planning mode.
Take advantage of this high-energy phase by using it to brainstorm, explore new ideas, vision board, manage projects, test new approaches, or plan your next career move. During the follicular phase, your creative energy is at an all-time high so stay open to whatever comes your way. You can also enhance this phase through cardio exercise and energy-building supplements like CoQ10.
Phase 2: Ovulatory Phase
This is the time to put on a killer outfit, listen to a power playlist, and make connections. Your confidence is high, and so is your ability to communicate effectively. The ovulatory phase happens for three to four days in the middle of your cycle when both your estrogen and testosterone levels peak. These hormone shifts light up the verbal and social areas of your brain, encouraging outward-focused energy. Use this social phase to network, solve problems, follow up on projects, have important conversations, or negotiate contracts.
This is a great time to be proactive and check things off your to-do list that requires going through other people. You can also enhance and support this phase by channeling your energy into high-intensity workouts.
Phase 3: Luteal Phase
Now that you’ve planned out your projects and had the conversations you needed, you’ve set yourself up for success for the next phase. The luteal phase is the longest in your cycle. During this period, estrogen and progesterone levels rise, and energy starts to dwindle. This is a great time to put your head down and focus while saying no to invitations that may serve as distractions. Use this phase of "deep work" to follow through on projects, examine details, or do administrative work.
As your energy levels wind down towards the end of this phase, you may find yourself more inward-focused (bring on all the popcorn and comfort movies). This is when PMS occurs (which is induced by estrogen dominance), so you may experience cramps, bloating, or acne. Eating more calories during this time helps stabilize blood sugar and balance insulin. By supporting your body with proper nutrients and rest, you can mitigate PMS symptoms. You also may feel more inclined to relax, so listen to your body and view rest as productive.
Phase 4: Menstruation Phase
When your period starts, you might want to curl up under a blanket and rest. There's a reason why. From the first day of bleeding to the last day of bleeding, your hormone levels are low. This causes more fatigue. While you may want to rest during this time, Vitti says you should also take time to reflect.
"During menstruation, the right and left hemispheres are maximally communicating across the bundle of nerve fibers that connect them called the corpus callosum," Vitti says. "At this time in the cycle, you are the most able to synthesize facts about situations and process how you feel about them to determine the best path forward."
Essentially, your brain hemispheres are talking to each other, meaning you have incredible access to all this data about yourself. Given clarity and intuition is at an all-time high, this is the best time to evaluate your life, reflect on the past month, and make the most informed decisions.
It’s also important to support your body by eating enough calories and doing workouts that engage mindfulness, such as yoga or restorative stretching. These intentional shifts are key to helping you get clear on what you want.
How to Track Your Period
Now that you know all of the incredible benefits of tuning into your infradian rhythm, it’s time to start tracking your period. You can use Vitti’s MyFlo app or a similar tracker to sync up with your hormonal clock and start optimizing your health and wellbeing. When tracking your period, take note of changes in your mood, health, food cravings, energy levels, and how heavy you bleed so you can understand how each phase affects you personally. It may take a few months to find patterns, but once you know how your body operates, you can make any necessary adjustments to your lifestyle.
What if You’re on Birth Control?
Everything described above is not applicable when you’re on synthetic birth control of any type. Birth control shuts off your infradian rhythm altogether and disrupts each phase of the natural hormonal cycle. Research from psychologist Sarah E. Hill, Ph.D., finds that birth control alters functions and behaviors, including your mood, eating patterns, and sex drive.
Think of cycle syncing as your power plan. By taking the time to plan, connect, do the work, and then reflect, you have a built-in system for intentional working.
"With these four broad categories, think about how far you will get in 30 days," Vitti says. "Like a wheel turning, you’re going keep going farther faster because you're hitting each of these key components. But you’re doing them in a sequence as opposed to trying to do all four of these things in the same day."
By shedding the idea that productivity means constantly working, we can start to see how there’s just as much power—if not more—in visioning, connecting, and reflecting. Working based on your hormone cycle leads to less burnout and more long-term satisfaction. It's all about exuding less force and welcoming more flow.
Williams SJ, Meadows R, Coveney CM. Desynchronised Times? Chronobiology, (Bio)Medicalisation and the Rhythms of Life Itself. Sociology of Health & Illness. 2021;43(6). doi:10.1111/1467-9566.13324
Ortega-Leonar L, Río-Portilla Y. Creative Thinking and Its Relation to the Menstrual Cycle. Journal of Behavior, Health & Social Issues (México). 2012;4(2). doi:10.5460/jbhsi.v4.2.34110
Shukla S, Dubey KK. CoQ10 a Super-vitamin: Review on Application and Biosynthesis. 3 Biotech. 2018;8(5). doi:10.1007/s13205-018-1271-6
Pletzer B, Harris T-A, Scheuringer A, Hidalgo-Lopez E. The Cycling Brain: Menstrual Cycle Related Fluctuations in Hippocampal and Fronto-striatal Activation and Connectivity During Cognitive Tasks. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019;44(11):1867-1875. doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0435-3
Koltun KJ, De Souza MJ, Scheid JL, Williams NI. Energy Availability Is Associated with Luteinizing Hormone Pulse Frequency and Induction of Luteal Phase Defects. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2019;105(1):185-193. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgz030
McNeil J, Doucet É. Possible Factors for Altered Energy Balance Across the Menstrual Cycle: A Closer Look at the Severity of Pms, Reward Driven Behaviors and Leptin Variations. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 2012;163(1):5-10. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2012.03.008
Mckay S. Demystifying the Female Brain: A Neuroscientist Explores Health, Hormones and Happiness. Orion Spring; 2018.
Hill SE. This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences. Avery, Imprint Of Penguin Random House; 2019.