Chronic insomnia disorder is one of the most common problems in postmenopausal women, exacerbated by underdiagnosis and improper treatment.

This double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the potential of vitamin E to treat chronic insomnia as an alternative to sedative drugs and hormonal therapy.

The study enrolled 160 postmenopausal women with chronic insomnia disorder, divided randomly into two groups. The vitamin E group received 400 units of mixed tocopherol daily, while the placebo group received an identical oral capsule.

The primary outcome of this study was sleep quality assessed by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), a self-evaluated and standardized questionnaire. The secondary outcome was the percentage of participants using sedative drugs. There were no significant differences in baseline characteristics between the study groups.
However, the median PSQI score at baseline was slightly higher in the vitamin E group compared with the placebo. After one month of intervention, the PSQI score was significantly lower (indicating better sleep quality) in the vitamin E group compared with the placebo.

Moreover, the improvement score was significantly higher in the vitamin E group compared with the placebo. In addition, there was a significant reduction in the percentage of patients using sedative drugs in the vitamin E group (15%), while this reduction was not statistically significant in the placebo group (7.5%).

This study demonstrates vitamin E’s potential as an excellent alternative treatment for chronic insomnia disorder that improves sleep quality and reduces sedative drug use.

Flies and mice fed a high-protein diet were less likely to be awoken by movement during sleep than animals on a regular diet

A high-protein diet may promote deeper sleep, according to a study that found mice and flies that eat more protein are less likely to wake up from movement-related disturbances.

“The general idea makes sense. We sleep when our other needs are taken care of,” says Rafael Pelayo at Stanford University in California. “So, if you have some better-quality food, in this sense a protein-rich diet, then that would make you sleep deeper. At least it did in flies and mice. This may not apply to humans.”

Journal reference: Cell DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2023.02.022

Reduced levels of oestrogen and progesterone seem to be what makes post-menopausal women more likely to have symptoms of sleep apnoea, including snoring, irregular breathing or gasping at night.

Middle-aged women who have lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone are more likely to snore, breathe irregularly and gasp while sleeping, which are all symptoms of sleep apnoea.

The involvement of these chemicals means targeted hormone therapy might prove useful for post-menopausal women, says Kai Triebner at the University of Bergen in Norway.

“Women live, on average, longer than men, but during later years, the quality of women’s life is comparatively low, which is inherently associated with their [low-oestrogen] hormone profile,” says Triebner. “Snoring and sleep-related breathing problems add to the burden.”

His team interviewed 774 women aged between 40 and 67 years old, mostly white, living in seven European countries about their respiratory health and lifestyles. The team also carried out clinical exams and took blood samples. The women, some of whom hadn’t yet reached menopause, completed questionnaires about their sleep habits and health. The study didn’t include pre or post-menopausal trans men.

Nearly half the women reported that they had a “disturbing snore”, says Triebner. In addition, 14 per cent had irregular breathing and 13 per cent gasped while sleeping.

Blood analyses revealed that the participants’ oestrogen and progesterone levels varied widely, ranging from just a few units per litre in some women to tens of thousands of units per litre in others. Those variations had clear associations with sleep apnoea, he says. As the levels of oestrone – a kind of oestrogen – doubled, women were 19 per cent less likely to snore. And as progesterone levels doubled, women were 9 per cent less likely to snore.

Within the group of women who snored, there was a 20 per cent drop in the chances of having irregular breathing as oestrogen levels doubled. And a doubling in progesterone levels was linked to a 12 per cent lower likelihood of waking up feeling like they are choking.

PLoS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0269569

‘I look at the clock… it’s 3am’: Why can’t women sleep?

…A new book from the US … appears at first glance to be more of a feminist manifesto for Generation Xers than a self-help manual for insomniacs. On closer inspection, though, a picture starts to form that’s recognisable to any woman who is knee-deep in the mothering, marriage and career years. Disregarding the generational focus of the book’s premise, it offers, not a cure, but insight and some unpalatable news about the lives of women today. Every right we’ve earned, every advance we’ve made, every career we are now free to embark on continues to co-exist with our near full-time engagement in the oldest job in the world: keeping hearth and home.

Despite a century of emancipation, women still do most of the backstage work that keeps the show on the road. Scratch the surface of this national insomnia pandemic and you discover that inequality is at the heart of the malaise. Aside from sexual politics and headline grabbers, such as #MeToo, most women’s lives aren’t improving quantifiably, they’re just different from 50 years ago.

“It’s great that men and women are equals in the workplace, but what this means in reality is that women are effectively taking on twice the load,” says Dr Elle Boag, associate professor in social psychology at Birmingham City University. “Only too often we do the work, the domestic labour and the childcare (to be fair, sometimes these chores are shared). We’ve adopted this multitasking role and it’s become normative.” So, it’s no surprise that when we go to bed we find we can’t switch off.

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Connecting women, science and spirit, the Gynelogic Sunday Supplement delivers a bi-monthly dose of  news, views and reviews, as seen through my lady lens.