The Hormone Sufferer
Her challenge: Patty Magovern, 53, a married human-resources director from Wall, New Jersey, never had trouble sleeping―that is, until menopause hit last year. “My whole life, I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and sleep through the night,” she says, “but those days are long gone.” Now, no matter what time she goes to bed, she has difficulty falling asleep and, like clockwork, awakens at 1 a.m. For the rest of the night, she tosses and turns before finally getting up at 6:30 a.m. Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications helps but leaves her feeling logy in the morning rather than refreshed. She doesn’t want to take hormone-replacement therapy to treat her menopause symptoms, including the hot flashes that sometimes disrupt her sleep, because she worries about the risks.
Expert advice: There is some evidence that hormonal changes can have an effect on sleep. If hot flashes are a big issue, sleep-medicine specialist David Neubauer, points to recent studies that have shown that sleeping in a cooler-than-normal room can help prevent them. More advice:
- Use caution regarding over-the-counter sleep medications, since they contain some type of antihistamine, which can stay in the body for a long time. “It takes about 18 hours for your body to clear out 50 percent of the active drug. For most of your waking hours, it will still be in your system, making you drowsy,” says psychologist Rubin Naiman.
- Patty might also benefit from taking 0.3 milligram of an over-the-counter melatonin supplement about 20 minutes before bedtime since the production of melatonin (a naturally produced hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythms) drops off as we age.
- Go for a checkup. “Around the time a woman reaches menopause, other risk factors may emerge, such as sleep apnea,” Neubauer says. Patty should consider that new medications she may be on could also be disrupting her sleep.