About 40 to 50 percent of women experience insomnia before and after menopause. Add hot flashes, mood swings, and fatigue into the mix, and riding out “the change” can be tough.
Fluctuating or declining levels of estrogen and other reproductive hormones often get the blame, and until recently hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was the No. 1 treatment for women with menopausal symptoms. But the risks that come with HRT have many women now looking elsewhere for relief.
Recent reviews suggest that acupuncture and isoflavones (plant-derived compounds that function like estrogen) may be effective as alternative treatments for menopausal insomnia and hot flashes.
Does Acupuncture Help with Insomnia or Not?
Apparently it depends on your situation. Scientists studying acupuncture as a treatment for insomnia in the general population have come up with mixed results. Researchers who surveyed medical literature through 2011 concluded there wasn’t enough high-quality evidence to answer the question one way or the other.
But a team of Taiwanese investigators recently did a literature review of acupuncture’s effects on sleep disturbances and hormonal irregularities occurring in women before and after menopause. Altogether they looked at 31 randomized controlled trials with 2,433 participants.
The results, published this month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, showed that acupuncture treatments in peri- and postmenopausal women were “associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood of sleep disturbances.” They also found that treatment with acupuncture produced
- an increase in the secretion of estradiol (a form of estrogen associated with stable sleep in younger women), and
- a decrease in the secretion of follicle stimulating hormone, which is associated with sleep disturbance.
Acupuncture Sweet Spot Identified
The researchers also identified a particular spot where stimulation was found to be especially helpful in improving the sleep of menopausal women: the sanyinjiao acupoint.
The sanyinjiao acupoint—known as “Spleen 6” in English—is the junction point of the spleen, liver, and kidney meridians. It’s on the inside of the leg a few inches above the ankle. The reviewers strongly endorse acupuncture as helpful for the sleep of menopausal women, especially at the sanyinjiao acupoint.
Isoflavone Therapies for Hot Flashes and Insomnia
Would you rather take supplements to cut down on hot flashes and improve your sleep? Several options have been proposed but none are well studied, say authors of a systematic review of isoflavone therapies for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
Isoflavones—plant-derived compounds that exert estrogen-like effects—might be able to serve as hormonal substitutes in women with menopausal symptoms. But so far, only one high-quality study identified by the reviewers has shown that isoflavones (combined with other substances) are effective at decreasing both hot flashes and menopause-related insomnia.
That study was a randomized controlled trial conducted on 89 middle-aged women for 24 weeks. By the fourth week, participants taking the active form of treatment reported significantly more relief from hot flashes and insomnia than did the control group. They also reported less irritability, anxiety, and depression. The treatment they received contained six ingredients:
- magnolia bark extract (60 mg)
- magnesium (50 mg)
- soy isoflavones (60 mg)
- lactobacillus (500 million spores)
- calcium (141 mg)
- Vitamin D3 (5 international units)
Other isoflavone-containing substances found to be helpful in reducing hot flashes (but not necessarily improving sleep) are these:
- red clover, 80 mg daily, and
- unsalted soy nuts (roasted soybeans), 1/2 cup daily.
If you’ve tried acupuncture or isoflavone therapies to relieve hot flashes and insomnia, please let us know if they helped.