The second day of my period is the worst. I'm constipated. My belly expands so big and tight that people lift groceries out of my hands and offer me the pregnancy seats on the train. But the nights are the worst, spent with a hot water bottle, riding waves of pain. There's nothing to do but wait it out and hope nothing leaks, because then I'll have to get up, run the tap, spill salt everywhere, and probably cry while scrubbing a still-fresh stain at 4 a.m.
Apparently this isn't so different from how a lot of menstruators spend nights on the rag. Research conducted by Libresse—Bodyform in the U.K., soon to be Saba in the U.S.—found that we lose five months of sleep over our lifetimes due to the "discomfort, anxiety and fear of nights" while menstruating. This inspired AMV BBDO's latest campaign for the brand, "Periodsomnia."
Pulsating music punctuates these long vigils spent wandering, violently throwing sheets off sweaty bodies, rolling around, staring at nothing, waiting for it to end. Blood detaches from the uterus, creature-like, flowing through the body in surreal animation. An infrared effect expresses the sensation better than words: It isn't just the physical blood constantly dripping from between our legs, as if squeezed from a sieve inside us; it's the sweat, the frustration and heat seeping from our pores, soaking everything that makes contact with our flesh.
"I just feel like half of my blood is just leaking out of me," a voice says.
Libresse conducted a survey over 11 markets and gathered responses from 10,000 women+ (I'd never heard that term before, but it feels handy, barring future issues with it that may arise). It found that 62 percent sleep worse on their periods; 33 percent struggle with sleep because of anxiety about leaking and staining their belongings; 62 percent don't want to sleep in other homes or go on holiday during this time; and nearly 20 percent would rather miss a date than risk a stain.
There's a lot here around shame and stigma. Part of the reason stains are so stressful, and demand addressing fast, is because blood is so hard to get out of material. Having somebody new, even a friend, sleep over becomes a kind of test: If they see even a telltale ring somewhere on a sheet, what will they think? You don't want to seem dirty, careless or gross.
But Libresse has gotten good at identifying the difference between the physical effects of menstruation and the social ones that make them even worse, so ingrained are they in our minds. "Periodsomnia" is as much a way of breaking these stigmas as it is a promotion for the new Goodnight Towels with MaxCour-V adaptive technology.
(Personally, I use a combination of a menstrual cup and period underwear for the biggest-bleed nights. You just never feel safe enough.)
"For years, society, brands and advertising have presented images of peaceful, restorative sleep, even for those who are menstruating," says Tanja Grubner, femcare global marketing and communications director at Essity, which owns Bodyform. "The reality shown through #Periodsomnia is that it can be more chaotic for some women+ ... By revealing these universal truths, we tackle the invisibility around the realities of nights spent menstruating to reassure women+ that what they go through is completely normal and that they're not alone in their experiences."
In 2018, the brand kicked off its mission in breaking down period stigma with "Blood Normal," which finally broke that long, irritating advertising convention of depicting blood as a transparent blue fluid. Shortly after that, sister brand Libresse released "Viva La Vulva," a deliciously catchy piece of work that, at Cannes Lions that year, was hands-down the top spot for every menstruating person we interviewed.
In 2019, Bodyform put vulvas all over bathroom stalls in London. "Womb Stories" launched in 2020, revealing what it's actually like to have a womb; "Pain Stories" followed.
These campaigns tend to find the right note without bearing down too much on suffering or sorrow, which would make them feel treacly and disingenuous. They alternate between celebratory, playful and commiserating. When I watched "Periodsomnia," I flashed back to my last vigil on the couch, rubbing my belly and staring at the ceiling, wondering if relief would really come the next day. When sleep finally arrives, you jerk awake a few hours later, sensing, already, that your cup or whatever you're using is about to overflow, interrupting any last shot you have at rest.
Ah, and the farting. The farting is such a relief. That's when I know, anyway, that relief is coming.
#Periodsomnia is the campaign hashtag, and like all hashtags, it's intended as a kind of offering: If you need a community for this, now there's a word for talking about it online, and maybe people can find one another.
"Through the campaign, we aim to raise awareness of these underrepresented issues that affect millions of women+ around the world and highlight that there's no need ... to feel ashamed or embarrassed by them," adds Luciana De Azevedo Lara, femcare communications manager at Essity. "And while we can't solve all of the experiences that women+ go through, our products are designed to help them feel more protected and comfortable so they can sleep better throughout the night. After all, periods never sleep, but why shouldn't we?"
That last line echoes the words with which "Periodsomnia" closes: Periods never sleep, but why shouldn't we? I'm not personally convinced a better pad will resolve every issue that gets between us and sleep on these monthly rendezvous with our rivers of blood. But as it is, it's already pretty nice to be seen, and at scale.
"Periodsomnia" was directed by Kim Gehrig and features the track "Deep Inside" by Hardrive. Gehrig was also the director of "Viva La Vulva."
"As a teenager I would be awake for endless hours on nights that I had my period," Gehrig says. "I would ask my mother to go to the late-night pharmacy at 3 a.m. to get me painkillers. Even though they were a little helpful, those nights were always uncomfortable, lonely and truly exhausting. Yet, in the morning I was expected to go to school and perform like any other day. When I started this project with Libresse, it struck me that I have never discussed these nights with anyone, ever. What is it like to have your period at night? I can only assume that others probably have not either. I am hoping this film is the beginning of a conversation and understanding of what one experiences at night, every month, when they menstruate. And how truly incredible it is that we then take on the next day just like any other."
Brand: Libresse / Bodyform / Saba
Campaign Title: #Periodsomnia
Client name: Tanja Grubner, Global Marketing & Communications Director, Femcare
Client name: Luciana De Azevedo Lara, FemCare Communications Manager
Agency: AMV BBDO
CCO / CD: Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley
Copywriter & Art Director: Anzhela Hayrabedyan and Luca Grosso
Designer: Simon Dilks and Max Henderson
Agency Planner: Suzanne Barker, Margaux Revol and Bea Farmelo
Agency Account Team: Sarah Hore-Lacy, Helen Limbrey and Katie Gorrod
Agency Project Management: Daniela Loccisano
Agency TV Producer: Edwina Dennison
Production Company: Somesuch
Director: Kim Gehrig
Production Co. Producer: Lee Groombridge
Production Co. Exec Producer: Chris Watling and Seth Wilson
DOP: Chayse Irvin
Casting: Leanne Flinn
Production Design: Marie Lanna
Costume Designer: Hannah Edwards
Editing Co: Trim Editing
Editor: Thomas Grove Carter
Edit Assistant: Jacques Simon
Edit Producer: Noreen Khan
Post-production Company: Time Based Arts
VFX Supervisors: Stephen Grasso and Mike Battcock
Creative Director: Mike Skrgatic
Colourist: Simone Grattarola
2D team: Bernardo Varela, Matt Shires, Sarah Breakwell, Will Robinson, Jamie Crofts, Ria Shroff, Grant White, Ralph Briscoe, Eleonora Laddago, Viola Bascombe
3D team: Ihor Obukhovskyi, Guillaume Heussler, Federico Vanone, Teodora Retegan, Chris Wood, Walter How, Tim Phillips, Nick Smalley
Post Producer: Sian Jenkins
Sound Studio: 750mph
Sound Engineer: Sam Ashwell, Giselle Hall
Audio Producer: Olivia Ray
Music: Soundtree Music
Music Supervisor: Peter Raeburn
Additional Music Production: Peter Raeburn and Luke Fabia
Soundtree MD: Jay James
Additional Vocals: Megan Wyler, Vula Malinga, Victoria Beaumont
Social Edits: Maia Lloyd
Business Affairs: Michelle Holmes
PR Agency: Ketchum
Media Agency: Zenith