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Menopause is a stage in a woman's life when her ovaries stop producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone and she stops menstruating. It is a normal part of aging and marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. Menopause typically occurs in a woman's late 40's to early 50's. It can also lead to sleep problems.

When the ovaries no longer produce adequate amounts of estrogen and progesterone (as in menopause), the loss of these hormones can bring about various symptoms, including hot flashes (a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the body) and sweating (which is related to hot flashes).

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Approximately 75%-85% of menopausal women experience hot flashes, which can last for five years. Hot flashes and sweating can make it difficult to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 61% of menopausal women have sleep problems. Sleeping difficulties can lead to other problems, such as daytime drowsiness.

How Can I Treat Sleep Problems Related to Menopause?

The traditional treatment for the symptoms related to menopause -- like hot flashes and insomnia -- has been hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT consists of estrogen given as a pill, patch, or vaginal cream, either alone or combined with progesterone (for women who still have their uterus). However, results from a large study, the Women's Health Initiative, showed that long-term use of estrogen-progesterone combination therapy caused an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and stroke. Estrogen alone did not increase breast cancer or heart disease, but the study also found that therapy with estrogen alone increases the risk of blood clots and stroke.

The latest recommendation for use of HRT for severe menopause symptoms is to use the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time, with regular follow-up with your doctor.

If you are not a candidate for HRT, if your symptoms are not severe, or if you simply decide not to use HRT, medications originally used as antidepressants may help relieve hot flashes. These include low doses of fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and venlafaxine (Effexor).  And two other drugs -- the anti-seizure drug gabapentin and the blood pressure medication clonidine -- also may be effective for menopausal symptoms.

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