More and more studies have found that sleep is a valuable health asset. Difficulty sleeping not only makes it hard to make it through the next day but can make you more vulnerable to infections like cold or flu. Regular sleep deficits can even increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately not all sleep problems can be managed by simply getting to bed earlier. Women in or around menopause may have trouble getting a good nights rest because of symptoms like night sweats of hot flashes. Severe symptoms maybe treated with hormone therapy but this treatment is not the best option for everyone because of its link to heart disease and certain cancers. Lifestyle changes on the other hand may provide a way to manage menopause symptoms and improve sleep without the negative potential.
Researchers from University of Pittsburgh wanted to examine if physical activity could help improve sleep in women with vasomotor symptoms. The study, published in Menopause, found that women with regular physical activity had fewer sleep problems.
The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation is a large study that assesses physical, biological, psychological and social changes experienced in women across the United States during and just before menopause. The study began in 1994 and followed women, age 40-55 years, with annual blood and urine specimens and questionnaires about lifestyle and health. A subset of 104 women that had reported their sleep and physical activity habits were included in this sleep study. The following results were reported:
- Women who reported higher amounts of physical activity were more likely to report higher sleep quality.
- Women who reported higher amount of household physical activities were more likely reported better sleep characteristics such as not waking up during the night.
Both the larger trial and the smaller sleep trial are observational studies, which means information is collected and changes are observed. The researchers do not take any steps to control factors that can affect the outcome, so the trials can not determine cause and effect. Instead these trials are used to look for potential connections. This trials appears to have found a connection between physical activity and menopause related sleep problems. Although, other trials would need to be done to confirm the link, it is reasonable to believe that a connection exists. Past studies have shown that regular physical activity is associated with better quality of sleep and decreased intensity of menopausal symptoms.
This study showed that it was not only exercise-specific activities but any physical activity, like housework, that had an impact. Aim for some physical activity each day. Little bits like taking the stairs instead of an elevator, parking a little further away, or breaking up extended periods of sitting with a little stroll may also be helpful. If you are having trouble sleeping because of night sweats or hot flashes, consider adding exercise or physically active tasks to your daily routine. If the problems persist, talk to your doctor about other ways to help you manage symptoms of menopause so you can get the sleep that you need.
Lambiase MJ, Thurston RC. Physical activity and sleep among midlife women with vasomotor symptoms. Menopause. 2013 Sep;20(9):946.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
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