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Most of us have heard of the circadian rhythm, the natural 24-hour biological cycle that regulates sleep patterns. Infradian rhythms are less well-known.
In basic terms, infradian rhythms are naturally occurring cycles in the human body that last longer than 24 hours.
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about our biological patterns, but many scientists and psychologists believe that, by tuning into our natural rhythms, we can live healthier, happier, more balanced lives.
Want to learn how to maximize your health by following your infradian rhythm? Look no further than the expert perspectives below.
According to psychiatrist Alexander Lapa of Asana Lodge, the terms circadian derives from the Latin words “dian,” meaning day, and “circa,” meaning around. This means circadian translates to “around a day.”
On the other hand, “infra” means beyond, so infradian translates to “beyond a day.”
Essentially, an infradian rhythm is a bodily cycle that exceeds the circadian rhythm, or daily cycle, Lapa says.
The most commonly discussed human infradian rhythm is the menstrual cycle, however seasonal affective disorder can also be classified as infradian.
Using the concept of infradian rhythms can help you to understand and work with the monthly flow of your bodily cycles, including your menstrual cycle (if you have one).
Shree Datta, a gynecologist for well-being brand INTIMINA, explains that the various hormones released throughout your menstrual cycle create the infradian rhythm.
“There are two from the brain-follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, and there are two from the ovaries: estrogen and progesterone,” Datta says.
These hormones are released at different times throughout the cycle to create the ovulation process.
The menstrual cycle has four main phases, which are created by varying levels of hormones:
- Menstruation phase: days 1–5
- Follicular phase: days 6–14
- Ovulatory phase: days 15–17
- Luteal phase: days 18–28
Of course, these phases can vary in length from person to person. By tuning into your unique infradian rhythm, you can begin to understand how you change both physically and mentally during each of these four stages.
As Lapa puts it, “The more care and attention you pay to your infradian rhythm, the more positive impacts you’ll notice on all facets of your daily life.”
While the most noticeable effect of your infradian rhythm is likely your period and any symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), there are plenty of predictable fluctuations in the cycle.
This can include:
- energy levels
- immune system
- mental acuity
According to Shree, disruption to the infradian rhythm can lead to a number of undesirable consequences, including disruption to your:
- menstrual cycle
- sleep patterns
- body’s ability to fight infection
“In some cases,” she says, this can “lead to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Having an irregular infradian rhythm can also affect other body cycles.”
By tracking your monthly infradian rhythm rather than simply tracking your menstruation days, you can begin to regulate and work in tune with multiple systems in the body.
Let’s take a look at the areas affected by your infradian rhythm in a little more detail.
The changing hormones throughout the menstrual cycle can have a significant impact on your mood and mental health.
By tuning into the natural psychological flow of your infradian rhythm, you can manage changes in your mental health throughout the month.
“When a period starts, the levels of estrogen and progesterone plummet,” Lapa says. This “correlates with low levels of serotonin.”
Serotonin is a chemical produced by the nerve cells that helps with:
- mood stabilization
“Naturally, at this time, [you] are likely to feel a little worse than [you] would at any other time in the cycle,” Lapa adds.
On the other hand, estrogen levels peak around the time of ovulation.
Many people also experience PMDD during the infradian rhythm. PMDD has similar symptoms to PMS, but they’re often more severe.
People “can suffer from bouts of depression, have a low attention span, and even suffer from panic attacks,” Lapa says.
Symptoms of PMDD usually begin 7 to 10 days before the start of your period.
Tips and tricks
- Give yourself some “me-time” at the beginning of your period to reduce stress.
- Avoid making too many stressful plans when your serotonin levels are likely to be low.
- If you have the flexibility, plan your important meetings and more stressful deadlines during the ovulation stage of your cycle.
The infradian rhythm also affects the way our bodies metabolize. Ever felt bloated and heavy just before your period? It turns out there’s a reason for that.
According to Lapa, the resting metabolic rate often fluctuates from stage to stage.
“During the follicular phase… the resting metabolic rate is lower, meaning you burn fewer calories while resting,” he says. “During the luteal phase, between ovulation and menstruation, the resting metabolic rate is much higher.”
In other words, most people eat and burn more calories during this phase.
These changes to your resting metabolic rate are directly linked to your energy levels, which, in turn, affect how you feel during exercise.
If you’re sick of feeling pumped at the gym one day and exhausted the next, tracking your infradian rhythm can help you schedule workouts on energy-rich days.
During your period, you may experience physical and mental side effects, like:
- low energy
- breast pain
- mood swings
During this phase, moderate exercise, like gentle yoga, may feel best.
By the end of your period, estrogen and energy levels begin to increase. This transition to the follicular phase is a great time to start ramping up the intensity of your workouts.
Energy levels continue to rise into the ovulation phase, so you can continue to increase intensity until week three.
During the luteal phase, you hit your metabolic peak. Your energy levels may begin to decrease as your body prepares for menstruation.
This is the time to focus on low-intensity strength-building work.
Understanding the correlation between the infradian rhythm and metabolism can help you make food and exercise choices that best support your body’s needs.
Tips and tricks
- Pay attention to your appetite levels and aim to take in more calories during the luteal phase.
- Make bigger meals to avoid eating less healthy foods as cravings set in.
- You don’t always need to push yourself at the gym. During the menstruation phase and the luteal phase, listen to your body and dial down the intensity.
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Many people report poorer sleep quality during the luteal phase and during menstruation. During the luteal phase, some people experience reduced rapid eye movement (REM), which is the dreaming phase of sleep.
Studies have also shown that women with irregular periods are more likely to experience sleep disorders.
You can take note of when you tend to experience sleeping problems throughout your period.
For most people, the luteal phase and the menstruation phase present the most problems. Begin to take extra time to wind down and relax during these phases.
Tips and tricks
- Wind down with a warm bath.
- Cut down on screen time before bed.
- Talk with a healthcare professional and take measures to balance your hormones if your period is irregular. This can help regulate your sleeping patterns.
Of course, the menstrual infradian rhythm isn’t permanent.
When people reach the age of menopause, usually in the early 50s, the rhythm changes dramatically. The delicate balance between hormone levels can be thrown off, leading to changes in the body, mind, and emotions.
Many people also experience permimenopause in their 40s before menopause begins.
During menopause, the body naturally begins to produce fewer and fewer hormones, but this happens gradually.
According to Shree, you may begin noticing symptoms of perimenopause, like:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood changes
- energy fluctuations
“If these symptoms are significant and affecting your daily routine, it’s worth speaking to your doctor,” she says. “It’s important to note that this is really to target menopausal symptoms, not just to balance hormones.”
Shree notes that helpful options may include:
- diet changes
- hormone replacement therapy
Shree also emphasizes the importance of talking with your doctor if your cycle is irregular.
You “may notice [you] have more acne and weight gain. In these cases, it can be important to visit a gynecologist to explore the potential of something like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).”
Working with your infradian rhythm is all about understanding your unique cycle.
The average “monthly menstrual cycle can range from 21 to 35 days, so there’s a wide range of what’s [healthy]. Track your periods to make sure yours fall within those limits and, if not, seek medical advice from your gynecologist,” says Shree.
After tracking your period for a few months, you’ll begin to get a better sense of how long your phases tend to last. You can also use a test stick to track when you tend to ovulate within your cycle.
For instance, you may have a menstruation phase that lasts 4 days, a follicular phase that lasts 10 days, an ovulation phase that lasts 3 days, and a luteal phase that lasts 13 days. This would give you a 30-day cycle.
As you get to know your cycle, you can begin to create a plan for your diet, exercise, sleep, and social life entirely based on your personal rhythms.
Planning around your infradian rhythm can help you maximize your energy peaks and get the rest you need when your body’s ready for some downtime.
Remember that a little fluctuation from month to month is normal. Even if you think your energy levels or your metabolism should be high, always listen to your body and adjust your plan accordingly.
It’s important to never ignore frequent irregularities in your cycle. Talk with your doctor if this is the case for you, as it may indicate a more serious condition, like PCOS.
By paying attention to your infradian rhythm, you may begin to find more balance and ease in every aspect of your life.
Meg Walters is a writer and actor from London. She is interested in exploring topics such as fitness, meditation, and healthy lifestyles in her writing. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, yoga, and the occasional glass of wine.