An interesting little study from Belgium gives us more insight into the ways in which progesterone helps us sleep. It shows that women who took a 300 mg progesterone pill before bed got to sleep faster, stayed asleep better, had increased growth hormone and more stable thyroid levels. This result is in contrast to other types of sleep aids which tend to suppress deep sleep.
Doctors who use bioidentical hormones have been prescribing oral (pill) progesterone for sleep for many years, but clinical research has been lacking.
The three-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved eight postmenopausal women, 48 to 74 years old, who were healthy, had no existing sleep issues, and were not taking any type of hormone medication or drugs. The women took the progesterone at 11 pm and were hooked up to electrodes to monitor sleep. They had a catheter attached to the arm to draw blood every 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. The drawn blood was tested for hormones.
Because of the frequent blood draws, the sleep of the women was “considerably disturbed,” but the women who had taken the progesterone had 53% less wakefulness after being disturbed, 50% more total sleep, and 45% more deep sleep. During a baseline night in which blood was not drawn, there was no difference in sleep quality between the progesterone and placebo groups.
Taking progesterone did not affect levels of estrogens, DHEA or testosterone.
Women who took progesterone had 40% lower melatonin levels, and 50% higher growth hormone levels. The lower melatonin yet better sleep may indicate less need for it with more progesterone in the system.
Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels were 25% to 30% lower in women who took progesterone. The researchers speculate that “…lower concentrations of TSH were required to maintain adequate thyroxin levels.”
The researchers concluded that, “…progesterone may restore normal sleep in postmenopausal women when sleep is disturbed by environmental conditions. Progesterone would not act as a conventional hypnotic (i.e. it would not induce artificial sleepiness), but it would rather act as a ‘physiologic’ regulator.” They also note that, “These observations cannot be transposed to progesterone analogs, referred to as progestins, because they may act on different receptors and therefore have different – or even opposite – effects. The final conclusion is that progesterone may “…provide novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of sleep disturbances, in particular in the elderly.”
It should be noted that 300 mg of oral progesterone is a very high dose, and doctors in the U.S. who use bioidentical hormones tend to use the standard 200 mg dose of Prometrium. Further, a dose of 20 to 30 mg of progesterone cream used before bed can be helpful to many women who are having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep.
For more information on the effects of progesterone cream and pills, read Progesterone Cream vs Pill – What’s Best?
Caufriez A, Leproult R, L’Hermite-Balériaux M et al, “Progesterone prevents sleep disturbances and modulates GH, TSH, and melatonin secretion in postmenopausal women,” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Apr;96(4):E614-23. Epub 2011 Feb 2.