How hormones can hijack a healthy slumber

Newswise — We know that women's hormones increase and decrease over a four-week cycle. What scientists are discovering is that those changes impact sleep and memory.

"Our periods are the culprit not only in disrupting us from getting a good night's sleep, but the long-term effects of the waxing and waning of sex hormones could be putting women at higher risk of memory-related disorders like Alzheimer's," says Sara Mednick, cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine. "Various forms of dementia hit twice as many women than men aged 75 and older."

Mednick believes that scientifically understanding that women are most deficient in memory and sleep during low sex hormone levels should be seen as an opportunity to help women better prepare and optimize themselves within their cycle.

"A lot of medical science sees women - and PMS and menopause specifically - in a disease model," she says. "I find that offensive. Therapies, lifestyle interventions and so many other doors open when we start to better understand an issue."

Mednick is studying men and women in various age groups in her sleep lab. She tracks blood hormone levels, sleep, and memory functions over four weeks to learn how hormones vary and impact sleep and memory across a woman's lifespan.

"I found my passion in my curiosity for the overlooked. Being a woman in a scientific field, I see how much women can change the story we've been telling in science," she says. "It's really exciting to get to contribute to that."