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Sleep Problems? Estrogen Might Not Help

No Slumber Party continued...

Surprisingly: Overall, the 40ish women had worse sleep problems than the younger women. Whether they were menopausal or not -- whether they took estrogen or not - their age was the common factor, Lukacs reports.

"We anticipated that women still having normal menstrual cycles would have similar sleep as the younger women," she tells WebMD. "We also figured women on hormone therapy would have better sleep, that it would quell hot flashes or night sweats."

But there was no such pattern: "All three groups of [over age 40] women slept worse, so clearly estrogen was not a factor in this study," says Lukacs.

"It's not that we don't need sleep," she explains. "This suggests that sleep problems may be an effect of aging, but not of menopause." Her study also suggests that older women have more problems adapting to a new sleep environment.

Stress Could Be a Factor

Indeed, the aging body does work less efficiently. These changes affect blood flow, lung function -- even sleep, says Wissam Chatila, MD, a sleep disorders specialist and professor of medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He agreed to comment on Lukacs' study.

"There's no reason sleep should be any different," Chatila tells WebMD. "But I'm not 100 percent convinced that estrogen decline doesn't play a role in sleep quality. Estrogen therapy has made a difference for many women."

Everyday life stressors may also play a role, he says. "It may be that older women have more of this than younger women. Also, what was the women's sleep quality on the nights before? You don't really know unless it's carefully monitored. We often find that people overestimate the amount of sleep they get."

He advises insomniacs to:

  • Set a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the afternoon and evening.

  • Avoid heavy, spicy meals.

  • Don't exercise late in the day.

  • Don't use a radio or television in the bedroom.

  • Use a white-noise machine to keep the bedroom peaceful and quiet.

  • Wear lightweight, comfortable sleepwear.

  • Make sure your mattress is comfortable.

  • Carefully regulate the temperature.

  • Don't take over-the-counter sleep medications regularly.

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