Menopause Help for Hot Flashes, Sleep without Drugs
Menopause is a time of transition, and it is often complicated by hot flashes and sleep problems, both of which can have a significant negative impact on a woman’s life. Two new reports in Menopause may offer women some solutions without the need for drugs.
How did you sleep last night?
Menopausal women often struggle with sleep—between the hot flashes (hot flushes) and night sweats, it can be difficult to enjoy quality and restful sleep. Being told to get more exercise during the day may be good advice, but many women don’t have the time to dedicate to that goal.
A new study from the researchers at the Pittsburgh site of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) looked at menopausal women who were experiencing hot flashes and night sweats and their level of physical activity during the day to determine if they could offer some help. What they found may make you feel better.
Based on findings from sleep monitors worn by the 52 women (ages 54 to 63; 27 white and 25 black), as well as information gathered from questionnaires and sleep diaries about the women’s physical activities, the researchers determined that women who were getting the best sleep and who were waking up the least amount of times during the night were not those who participated in exercise or sports, but those who were more active in routine household and caregiving activities.
The investigators also noted some differences between white and black women. Most of the benefits occurred among non-obese white women, and the study’s authors noted it will probably be important to distinguish between exercise and routine physical activities when trying to discover why there were different sleep advantages between white and black women.
The findings of this study contrast somewhat with those of another recent investigation from Finland, where 176 menopausal women with hot flashes and night sweats were randomly assigned to a six-month unsupervised aerobic training program (50 minutes four times a week) or to a control group.
Researchers reported there was a significant improvement in sleep (2% per week) among the women who exercised and a decrease (0.5% per week) among controls. The number of hot flashes related to sleep also declined among the women who exercised.
But perhaps the findings of these two studies on sleep and menopause are not so different. Both suggest that being active helps improve sleep quality and hot flashes, so perhaps women should not worry about which type of physical activity they engage in as long as they strive to remain active.
Chinese herbal formula reduces hot flashes
Another study appearing in Menopause offers menopausal women another possible way to cope with hot flashes. A Chinese herbal formula called EXD (Er-xian decoction), which is composed of extracts from six different Chinese herbs, was shown to reduce the frequency of daily hot flashes by 62 percent compared with 52 percent among women who took a placebo, and severity of the hot flashes also improved.
The 101 perimenopausal women who participated in the study were assigned to either a placebo group or the EXD tea group. For two weeks before starting the active part of the study, the women documented their hot flashes in diaries. Women in both groups were then told to consume their assigned teas twice daily for 12 weeks.
By the end of the trial:
- Women in the EXD group experienced an average of 2.2 hot flashes daily compared with 5.8 daily before the study began
- Women in the placebo group experienced an average of 2.5 hot flashes daily compared with 5 daily before the study began
- Three months after the trial ended, women in the EXD group still had an average of 2.2 hot flashes daily, while the number in the placebo group rose to 2.9 hot flashes daily
- On a scale of 1 to 4, severity of the hot flashes declined from 3 to 1.6 among women who consumed EXD
- In the placebo group, severity of hot flashes declined from 3 to 2.3
- Women in the EXD group reported better quality of life improvements than did women in the placebo group
No serious adverse events occurred in either group, and blood counts, liver function, and kidney function were normal before and after treatment in both groups. EXD is available online.
Hot flashes—what else works?
Another recent study from Sweden reported that a relaxation technique was helpful in reducing the number of daily hot flashes by nearly 50 percent. Acupuncture also has been shown to significantly reduce both the number of hot flashes and psychological symptoms associated with menopause.
Another drug-free way to fight hot flashes and menopausal symptoms is cognitive behavioral therapy. Researchers at King’s College London found that two-thirds of women who participated in six weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy experienced a “clinically significant” reduction in hot flashes and night sweats.
Don’t let hot flashes and sleep problems ruin your life. If you are a menopausal woman experiencing hot flashes and trouble with sleep, there is help that doesn’t require the use of drugs.
Mansikkamaki K et al. Sleep quality and aerobic training among menopausal women—a randomized controlled trial. Maturitas 2012 Aug; 72(4): 339-45
Zhong LLD et al. A randomized, double-blind, controlled trial of a Chinese herbal formula (Er-Xian decoction) for menopausal symptoms in Hong Kong perimenopausal women. Menopause 2013 April. Doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e31827cd3dd