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5 reasons to use a period tracker

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

Dr Shazia Malik

Reviewed byDr Shazia Malik

two ladies in workout gear with happy expressions, blue sky background
Tracking your period has many benefits. Discover the top five reasons why you should start using a period tracker to understand your menstrual cycle.
Since your period started, you’ve probably been using one method or another to keep track of your cycles. Or maybe you haven’t!

From having a better understanding of your health to planning for upcoming events, tracking your period can prove to be very useful.

So, whether you use a good old-fashioned pen-and-paper diary or one of the many period tracker apps now available, we’re taking a look at five key advantages of using a period tracker.

What is a period tracker?

A period tracker is a manual or digital tool that helps you keep a record of your cycle and monitor your fertility. The idea behind period tracking is that, whichever method you choose, it helps you predict your next period, identify symptoms, and even help you when trying to conceive, or not. It also might help you to see if there’s a potential problem with your hormonal health.

The basics of period tracking are simple. If you prefer traditional methods, take your calendar or diary, and mark off the dates you have your period. You can also note each day how heavy your flow is, what your mood is like, and if you have any physical symptoms like cramps or headaches.1 A retro spreadsheet will also do the job!

For the tech lovers among us, period tracking apps can be used in much the same way – simply input when you’re bleeding and add any additional data or notes about your emotional and physical symptoms on any day of the month. While a manual method uses classic counting, tracking apps use sophisticated algorithms to make predictions as to when your period will be and when you’ll ovulate.

By recording any symptoms you have on any day of the month, tracking can also help you spot trends and changes in your health. Neither method is better than the other – simply choose the one that best suits your lifestyle and way of thinking.

1. Understand your period health

Many people track their periods to get a better overall understanding of their cycle and their period health.

While there are no exact numbers to describe a healthy cycle, there are some guidelines for what’s considered ‘normal’ – the average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days (21 to 35 days is considered normal), and most people have their period for between three and seven days.2

By tracking when your period starts and ends, you can keep a record of the length of your full cycle from month to month. This can help you see whether your cycle is in the realm of ‘normal’ or if it’s on the longer or shorter side. It’s also a very useful way of seeing if your cycles aren’t normal for you, and if any changes coincide with any other physical symptoms.
Noting down any symptoms, like mood changes, severe cramps and heavy flow, can also highlight any changes that you may have otherwise not noticed, forgotten about or thought were unimportant, but could be signs of an underlying problem.3

Having all of this information recorded can really come in handy if you need to talk to a doctor for any reason. For example, if you’re experiencing severe period cramps or are struggling to get pregnant, sharing your tracking with your doctor can help them understand your menstrual health and build a picture as to what may be going on inside your body.4 You could also add tracking PMS symptoms or getting hot flushes and night sweats associated with cycle changes.

2. Track your hormones, monitor your mood

As we move through a cycle, our hormone levels fluctuate with highs and lows in progesterone, oestrogen and other key chemicals.5

These peaks and troughs are thought to contribute to PMS (premenstrual syndrome) in some women, and can disrupt your mood, mental health and sex drive. So, while you may feel like you’re feeling different day-to-day, it’s likely all down to where you are in your cycle – and that’s ok!

Tracking your cycle and how you’re feeling throughout the month can help you better understand yourself and your hormones. It can also help you judge which phase of your cycle you’re in and help you get the most out of that.

Here’s a quick rundown of how the phases of your cycle can affect your hormones and mood: 
  • menstrual phase (your period): oestrogen is at its lowest, so energy levels can drop. As your uterus (womb) contracts this causes cramping and period pain, which can also contribute to low mood and irritability6, 7 
  • the follicular phase (the few days after your period): oestrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinising hormone (a chemical that stimulates reproductive processes like ovulation) start to rise, resulting in higher energy levels and improved mood5, 6 
  • ovulation (14 to 16 days before your next period): oestrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest. You can expect to have lots of energy and your sex drive may be higher too5, 6 
  • the luteal phase (the two weeks before your period): the luteal phase is the time between ovulation and your next period. This is generally 14 days if you have a 28-day cycle, but can vary from cycle to cycle in individuals. The progesterone levels rise to a peak halfway through this phase and then fall if you don’t get pregnant 
  • oestrogen and progesterone levels then plummet.5 This slows down the production of serotonin, which can lead to insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety and stress7, 8
Have a read of our cycle syncing foods article for tips on how to eat throughout your cycle to help manage your mood.

3. Sync your calendar to your cycle

There’s nothing more annoying than being on holiday and being caught out by your period making a grand entrance.

While using a period tracker unfortunately can’t change when or where you start your period, it can help you be more prepared, and even allow you to plan things around your cycle.

For example, you might prefer to book a romantic weekend away, knowing you won’t be on your period.5, 7, 8 Or you might want to enter into a sports competition when your energy levels are at their highest during ovulation.5, 6

Certain medical tests, like your cervical screening (also known as a smear test), should also be performed at specific points in your cycle.4, 9 

Whatever your reason, being on the ball as to what’s going on in your body can be invaluable in helping you organise your calendar.

Visit our guide on how to prepare for your period on holiday for more top tips.

4. Predict ovulation to help you get pregnant

As well as helping you plan around your period, using a period tracker can help you predict when you’ll ovulate. This is often referred to as ‘natural family planning’ and can be incredibly helpful when you’re trying for a baby.10

An egg is released from one of your ovaries (ovulation) around 12 to 16 days before the start of your next period.11,12 During your menstrual cycle, there are six days when you’re most fertile. This is called your ‘fertile window’ and includes the five days before ovulation and the 24 hours after ovulation.11

So if you’re trying for a baby, using a period tracker and knowing your average cycle length can help give you a pretty accurate idea of when you’ll ovulate.

5. Predict ovulation to prevent pregnancy

In the same way that using a period tracker can help you predict ovulation when trying to get pregnant, it can also potentially help you avoid pregnancy.

Some people choose to use period tracking as a natural form of contraception. While it’s not 100% accurate, it can help you narrow down when your fertility window is likely to be.10 It’s more reliable if you use this method along with tracking all your fertility signs.

It’s also not a suitable method for everybody and for people who wish not to get pregnant, it is only 76% effective.10 This means 24 in 100 women will get pregnant when tracking their fertility for a year. Not to mention, this method of contraception doesn’t prevent you from STIs.10 Speak to your GP, midwife, or nurse if this is an option you’re considering.

Remember, there’s no ‘safe’ time of the month when there’s zero chance of getting pregnant, so you should always use additional contraception to avoid pregnancy.12

The final say

Knowledge is power! By using a period tracker you can better understand your cycle and plan more effectively for the future, while maintaining your menstrual health.

So whether you download an app, or start marking off days on your wall calendar, get tracking and get to know your body better.

Sources

1. Office on Women’s Health. Your menstrual cycle. [Internet] 2021 [cited 2024 April 10]. Available from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle
2. NIH. About Menstruation. [Internet] 2021 [cited 2024 April 10]. Available from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/menstruation/conditioninfo
3. NHS. Periods. [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/periods/
4. Planned Parenthood. How To Track Your Menstrual Cycle Without An App [Internet] 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-orange-san-bernardino/about-us/blog/how-to-track-your-menstrual-cycle-without-an-app
5. MSD Manual Consumer Version. Menstrual Cycle. [Internet] 2023. [cited 2024 Feb 9]. Available from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/biology-of-the-female-reproductive-system/menstrual-cycle
6. Cleveland Clinic. Nutrition and Exercise Throughout Your Menstrual Cycle. [Internet] 2023. [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/nutrition-and-exercise-throughout-your-menstrual-cycle
7. Handy AB., et al. Psychiatric symptoms across the menstrual cycle in adult women: a comprehensive review. Harv Rev Psychiatry [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 21];30(2):100–17. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8906247/
8. Gudipally PR,. et al. Premenstrual syndrome. [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560698/
9. NHS. How to book cervical screening. [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/how-to-book/
10. NHS. Natural family planning (fertility awareness). [Internet] 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/natural-family-planning/
11. Tommy’s. Ovulation calculator. [Internet] 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/calculators-tools-resources/ovulation-calculator
12. NHS. Can I get pregnant just after my period has finished? [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/can-i-get-pregnant-just-after-my-period-has-finished/
 
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