Are you getting the sleep you need?

Posted by on Feb 14, 2011 in sleep disturbance | 4 comments

Sleep.

Sometimes I don’t even know what that means any longer. I long for the day (night) that I sleep a solid eight hours without awakening. However, that may the thing that my dreams are made of.

As I’ve written previously on Flashfree, sleep becomes more of an issue as we grow older.  Factors like less efficient sleep and a greater difficulty staying asleep can lead to depression and affect overall wellbeing. More frustrating than  the lack of sleep however, is the fact that experts can’t quite agree on the key factor underlying sleep disruptions: is it aging? Hormone fluctuations? Apnea? Moreover, do you treat the cause or the factor?

Besides my own personal interest in the topic, I do believe that the more that individuals understand the factors affecting their sleep quality, the greater their ability to proactively do something about it. That’s why I am always intrigued when I run across new research, like this study on isoflavones and sleep in the February edition of Menopause.

In it, 38 menopausal women who qualified as insomniacs (i.e. having difficulty falling or staying asleep or whose sleep is disrupted or insufficient enough to affect alertness and physical/mental wellbeing) participated. Over a course of four months, the women were asked to take a daily 80 mg isoflavone pill (primarily made up of genistein) or a sugar pill. During the study, all women had blood work done, were visited monthly by a researcher to discuss their menopausal symptoms/complaints, and underwent sleep assessments.

The researchers say that they found that use of daily isoflavones actually decreased the frequency of insomnia by as much as 30%, and increased sleep efficiency — the ratio of time asleep to time spent in bed — by as much as 6%. Apparently, women using isoflavones also had fewer and less intense hot flashes.

Importantly, the researchers say that there is a paucity of published sleep studies in menopausal women and even fewer that look at alternative or complementary therapies. Nevertheless they point out that by using a standard of sleep analysis — polysomnography – they were able to demonstrate significant objective improvements in insomnia among women taking isoflavones. In contrast, studies reporting improvements in sleep after hormone therapy have been based on subjective reports.

Another critical point that they make is that although this was a small study, almost 70% of women had objectively defined insomnia, demonstrating the breadth of the problem in menopause. Moreover, sleep disturbances that drove these women to seek help tended to be individualized, indicating that there is a depth of insomnia-related complaints that affect aging women in this stage of their lives that warrant a closer look.  Still, despite these differences, soy appeared to work well across the range of complaints.

Are closer to unlocking the chicken versus egg, ie aging versus factors mystery surrounding sleep? Perhaps not. And it’s unlikely that soy will work exactly the same for each person. No medicine does. However, soy appears to be a safe and potentially effective treatment for sleep disturbances during menopause.

How’s your sleep? And what steps are you taking to improve it? `

4 Comments

  1. 2-14-2011

    Hey Liz,
    I agree sleep is so-o important to feeling well. I’ve been taking med’s for way too many years now to help me sleep. I get scared at the thought of not taking something. I try periodically but want the sleep more than I want to give my liver a rest. I’m sorry liver. Cherry

    • 2-16-2011

      Cherry. I just ‘upped/redirected’ the herbs I take through direction from my practitioner. So far, the new mix seems to be helping sleep. Not sure about my liver though!

  2. 2-18-2011

    Great post Liz. Sleep is so important to good health, it’s good to know that there is one more alternative out there! I was wondering though, do you know if there is an increased risk of developing breast cancer if one takes soy isoflavones?

    • 2-18-2011

      Debra, the data I’ve seen do not confirm a link between soy and breast cancer and even seem to suggest that soy can be safely consumed after breast cancer. So based on that, yes, they are probably safe. However, as always, I’d consult a practitioner before trying any regimen for menopause related symptoms, including sleep woes.

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