Vail Daily column: Insomnia, menopause speed up aging in women | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Insomnia, menopause speed up aging in women

Judson Haims
My View

As I have recently written about sleep and the health concerns lack of sleep may cause, I felt the following formation would be a natural extension of the effects sleep deprivation has on aging women.

It's no secret in the elderly care world that some of us age faster or slower than others. Now, two independent studies from University of California, Los Angeles have given us hard data on how early menopause and insomnia can speed up the biological age of women. In both studies, researchers found that aging markers in women's DNA had sped up, causing women who experienced early menopause and insomnia to age more quickly than their peers.

Cells age faster after menopause

For years, menopause has been linked to the aging process. But scientists have never been sure whether or not early aging triggers menopause or if it's the other way around. Some have gone so far as to call this a "chicken and the egg" riddle.

Now, new science has unlocked one of elder care's biggest mysteries. Research out of UCLA now suggests that it is menopause that comes first, causing women's bodies to speed up the rate at which cells age.

As with many scientific studies related to elderly care, the key to the UCLA study lies in DNA. To conduct their study, researchers used an epigenetic clock to track changes over time in the DNA of over 3,000 women. Specifically, they tracked DNA methylation, which is linked to the aging process. The UCLA team measured methylation in saliva cells, blood cells and cells from inner cheek tissue.

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During the experiment, they measured methylation levels in these cells before, during, and after women experienced menopause. What they found was that menopause triggered the aging process to speed up in these cells by as much as 6 percent.

That might not seem like a lot, but it can mean that a woman who begins menopause in her early 40s can have her biological age advanced by a full year ahead of schedule before she turns 50. Studies show that the average woman experiences menopause at 51 years old, but that up to 8 percent of women experience some form of early menopause.

Insomnia leads to damaged cells

For women who may be entering the premenopausal stage of life, the transition to menopause, incurring insomnia may actually be a sign of perimenopause.

When women experience perimenopause and menopause, a woman's ovaries progressively decrease the production of the sleep promoting hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

In a study also performed at UCLA, by a separate team of researchers, but using the same epigenetic clock to measure the methylation in cells — trouble sleeping was also linked to accelerated aging.

This study measured the biological age of cells from over 2,000 post-menopausal women. Researchers found that patients who suffered from insomnia had cells with advanced biological ages. In fact, women in the study who reported trouble sleeping were found to have a biological age two years older than women who reported healthy sleeping habits.

Regardless of whether you are experiencing perimenopause or menopause, good sleep is extremely important. Exercise, diet, keeping the bedroom cool, turning of all electronics 30-minutes prior to bead, avoiding alcohol before bed and hormone therapy are all tools to be used to promote better quality sleep.

Insomnia and sleep problems are manageable. You can actually do something about it! If you find you are unable to manage getting quality sleep, reach out to your medical provider or nutritionist. There are many ways to address sleep challenges that do not involve medications.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.