Older women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have improved sexual function, less insomnia and fewer hot flushes, claims a joint study carried out by researchers from Australia, New Zealand and Britain.
"Our results show that hot flushes, night sweats, sleeplessness and joint pains were less common in women on HRT in this age group," said Professor Alastair MacLennan, the leader of the Australian arm of the independent study. "Sexuality was also improved," he added.
Along with the benefits of HRT therapy, however, there are risks. Use of the therapy has also been linked to a higher risk of stroke, blood clots and breast cancer.
Women must decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks. MacLennan, who is head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Adelaide, said that for women with significant menopause symptoms the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks.
Menopause causes many conditions that can disturb sleep and bring on a bout of insomnia. Anxiety, for instance, can make you toss and turn like a ship on the waves as you try to relax and get some sleep. Heart palpitations can also keep you awake, and the more tense you become, the worse the palpitations become.
Another condition is the decrease in hormone levels. This causes insomnia, frequent awakenings and fragmented sleep.
But the worst culprit is probably those bothersome hot flashes. If these occur at night they cause night sweats. It's estimated that about 75% of menopausal women suffer from hot flashes, some very mild, some so severe you feel like you're burning up. This is followed by a cold chill as the body rapidly cools.
In over 30% of women, the hot flashes cause sleep disturbing night sweats. These devastating flushes can start years before the onset of menopause and are often the first symptom, and they can go on for five years or even more.
What can you do to help control hot flashes and night sweats? Several things, actually.
- Watch your diet. Avoid hot, spicy foods, especially at the evening meal or as before bedtime snacks.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine in the evening. No smoking after dinner and no coffee or colas loaded with caffeine.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening, and never use it as a sleeping pill.
- Sleep cool. Dress in layers that are easy and quick to remove. Sleep beneath several layers of bedding that can be easily dispensed with when you feel a hot flash coming on.
- During the day, get some exercise. This will help you sleep and even helps control the symptoms of menopause.
- Stay calm. Reduce the stress in your life. Remember, worry seldom does anything to solve a problem and may even cause other problems.
- Try hormone replacement therapy.
And remember that menopause with all it's bothersome, sleep disturbing symptoms, is a temporary condition.