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Seeking a Good Night's Sleep

Marcia Klein-Patel, Beth Prairie, Judith Balk

"Sleep is a big problem at this stage of life," said Dr. Beth Prairie of Midlife Women's Associates. "Sleep is very important in maintaining good health, mental acuity and mood. Sleep medications are popular, but they should really only be used for a short time."

Women aged 40 to 60 may be experiencing sleep problems because "everyone sleeps less well as they age," Dr. Prairie explained. Most older adults have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. "Behavioral sleep therapy tries to understand why people aren't sleeping and work on the root cause, as opposed to giving a medication to try to make people sleepy," she said. Poor sleep may be related to the hormonal changes that happen during menopause. Certainly, sleep can be disrupted by menopausal night sweats, which are triggered by fluctuating estrogen levels. Those who wake up with sweats may need to change pajamas and even their sheets.

Stressed Out
Stress also contributes to sleep problems. "Women in this age range have a lot of stress in their lives, as they are sandwiched between aging parents and children who are making their way as adults," Dr. Klein-Patel explained. "This is a time when they re-evaluate their relationships, their jobs and roles at home. There is plenty to worry about when they are awake at 3 a.m."

For stress reduction, the doctors will guide patients to yoga, guided visualization for relaxation and mindful meditation. "When women learn stress reduction techniques like exercise, relaxation therapy or meditation they find that it has a greater impact on other parts of their lives, relieving pain, improving sleep, aiding relationships and even changing poor eating habits," said Dr. Klein-Patel.

Such practices also reduce hot flashes. "This has a real impact on the nervous system, where we know that higher sympathetic tone produces more hot flashes. Stress reduction techniques decrease sympathetic tone, and so, decrease hot flashes. This is not new age mysticism. It is a physiological effect, true medical science," said Klein-Patel.

Dr. Balk also offers acupuncture, shown to be effective for sleep disorders and hot flashes, along with modern hypnotherapy, which is used to treat a wide range of problems, including insomnia, hot flashes, anxiety and weight gain.

Minimizing Mood Swings
Anyone who has difficulty sleeping and dealing with stress is apt to be a bit grouchy during the day. This translates into many patients reporting symptoms of "moodiness" to the doctors at Midlife Women's Associates.

However, Drs. Balk, Klein-Patel and Prairie have studied the science behind the irritability epidemic among premenopausal and menopausal women. They researched correlations between certain hormone fluctuations and days when irritability peaks. This could lead to hormone-based treatment of irritability. Dr. Prairie's other research interests involve mid-life women who are experiencing serious depression and other symptoms that are difficult to live with.

A woman's mood and relationships can also be affected by sexual problems like vaginal dryness and painful sex, which can usually be treated successfully with medication. Other problems, like a lack of libido are more complex. Sometimes this is related to stress and poor sleep.

"If you're so tired or so stressed that you are not functioning well, it is certainly going to influence your sex drive," Dr. Prairie says. "The best data we have now suggests that having more sex makes you want to have more sex. Having sex twice a week may feel like a chore at the beginning, but that is one of the best ways to increase your libido."

Open Discussions Promote Quality of Life
Said Dr. Balk, "We envision our offices as a reassuring, self-affirming setting where women can openly discuss any aspect of their health, and find a resolution to their problems in order to attain a higher quality of life."

She added, "We do our best to educate women so they can be more involved in their personal healthcare, but there is no substitute for an ongoing relationship with a doctor. We strongly encourage anyone to seek the advice of a health care professional for their specific medical questions."

If you are a woman dealing with the changes that come at the middle of life, you should see a doctor who will take your concerns seriously. Contact the physicians at Midlife Women's Associates with offices in Bethel Park, Canonsburg, Mars and McMurray at (412) 854-7140.

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