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Sleep problems during the menopausal transition: prevalence, impact, and management challenges

Authors Baker FC, de Zambotti M, Colrain IM, Bei B

Received 15 September 2017

Accepted for publication 6 December 2017

Published 9 February 2018 Volume 2018:10 Pages 73—95


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Steven A Shea

Fiona C Baker,1,2 Massimiliano de Zambotti,1 Ian M Colrain,1,3 Bei Bei4,5

1Center for Health Sciences, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA, USA; 2Brain Function Research Group, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; 3Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, 4Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences, School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, 5Centre for Women’s Mental Health, Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract: A substantial number of women experience sleep difficulties in the approach to menopause and beyond, with 26% experiencing severe symptoms that impact daytime functioning, qualifying them for a diagnosis of insomnia. Here, we review both self-report and polysomnographic evidence for sleep difficulties in the context of the menopausal transition, considering severity of sleep complaints and links between hot flashes (HFs) and depression with poor sleep. Longitudinal population-based studies show that sleep difficulties are uniquely linked with menopausal stage and changes in follicle-stimulating hormone and estradiol, over and above the effects of age. A major contributor to sleep complaints in the context of the menopausal transition is HFs, and many, although not all, HFs are linked with polysomnographic-defined awakenings, with HF-associated wake time contributing significantly to overall wakefulness after sleep onset. Some sleep complaints may be comorbid with depressive disorders or attributed to sleep-related breathing or movement disorders, which increase in prevalence especially after menopause, and for some women, menopause, age, and environmental/behavioral factors may interact to disrupt sleep. Considering the unique and multifactorial basis for sleep difficulties in women transitioning menopause, we describe clinical assessment approaches and management options, including combination treatments, ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia to hormonal and nonhormonal pharmacological options. Emerging studies suggest that the impact of severe insomnia symptoms could extend beyond immediate health care usage and quality of life issues to long-term mental and physical health, if left untreated in midlife women. Appropriate treatment, therefore, has immediate benefit as well as advantages for maintaining optimal health in the postmenopausal years.

Keywords: insomnia, midlife women, hormone therapy, estradiol, hot flashes, vasomotor symptoms

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