We’ve all been there. You’re taking a road trip to visit your parents, and suddenly your period comes a few days earlier than expected. Or, you’re visiting another country, and you’re wondering why it hasn’t come yet. When it does come, maybe it’s longer or shorter than you’re used to, or it’s more uncomfortable than normal.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should be worried, don’t freak out yet; No matter if you’re frequently flying for work or digital nomad-ing it across a different continent, travel often impacts the menstrual cycle in a variety of ways. Let’s discuss some reasons why your period may be affected by travel, and how to deal with it.
How Periods Work
First, let’s break down how your period works. Your menstrual cycle is regulated by the hormones secreted by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, which are essentially part of your brain. This means that any changes in your physical or emotional state, from dietary abnormalities and physical exhaustion to stress can put your hormones out of whack and result in absent or irregular menstrual periods. Ovulation requires proper hormone balance, so if your hormones are imbalanced, your periods will be symptomatic of that.
The Ways Travel May Affect Your Period
Your body is a wondrous, self-regulating machine that knows when things are different than it’s used to or are not optimal for function. Your period is often a direct reflection of your body’s response to various environmental changes. Here are some ways that travel may impact your period.
Your menstrual cycle is controlled by a delicate interplay between many different hormones, but there are two key regulators that are directly linked to stress and travel: cortisol and melatonin. Think about how much stress is involved in just planning a trip, much less the amount of stress you go through getting on and off a flight, finding things in a new place, navigating a foreign environment, and dealing with different time zones. Even a relatively simple trip can raise your stress meter. Stress causes your cortisol and melatonin levels to fluctuate, leading to a shift in your ovulation schedule, and a period that shows up later or earlier than you expected.
It’s easy to get sick when traveling, with all the coughing and sneezing people on planes and plenty of foreign germs in airports, taxis, and restaurants. Illness can also stress your body out, and when traveling you’re inevitably going to be exposed to different types of bacteria and viruses than you’re used to. On top of that, you may not be staying adequately hydrated or getting your proper nutrients (maybe you’re living off fry-ups and beer while hostel-hopping in the U.K), making your body even more susceptible to sickness. When your body’s working overtime to fight off disease, your period may be affected. Altitude, and the accompanying altitude sickness, is another potential factor to keep in mind as you track your period on a ski trip or do a long trek through high mountain ranges.
There are many ways travel can disrupt proper sleep patterns, which is necessary for your body to function properly. Traveling through different time zones or changing environments may disrupt your circadian rhythms – your body’s internal clock- and impact sleep quality. Your circadian rhythm directly influences your hormones, sleeping habits, and other bodily functions. If you’re forced to catch some Zzzs on a plane or bus, or are crashing on a friend’s uncomfortable couch with no AC, you likely won’t be as well rested as you would be at home. This confuses your body and it will try to figure out how to get back to its normal schedule, impacting your period.
Changes in Diet and Exercise
As mentioned before, when you’re traveling you have much less control over what and when you exercise and eat. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes we need a vacation, so enjoy that margarita on the beach, the gym will always be there! But, changes in exercise and diet do impact your hormones. If you’re eating local foods, indulging in alcohol, partying frequently, and waking up at odd hours, it may add additional stress to your body and thus alter your menstrual cycle.
How Traveling on Birth Control May Impact Your Period
If you’re taking contraception, then your period should be regular, as travel doesn’t directly impact your birth control. That is, unless you forget to take it on time. Changing time zones can make it difficult to take your pill at the right time, and your endogenous hormonal schedule may also be thrown off as your body isn’t sure what time it is. To prevent any contraceptive slip-ups, and avoid menstrual irregularities, try to be extra aware of changes in time zones when taking birth control, and account for the number of hours rather than the time of day.
How To Manage Your Period When Traveling
Travel may cause your period to be irregular for a number of reasons, so don’t stress. Enjoy your trip and all it entails; eat delicious foods and rest when you need to. If you think there is something abnormal about your period, or if irregularities persist for months after you’ve adjusted to a travel schedule, consult with your OB/GYN. Ultimately, the important thing is to know your body, and knowing your period is a key part of that.