Ovarian hormones, including 17β-estradiol, are implicated in numerous physiological processes, including sleep. Beginning at puberty, girls report more sleep complaints than boys, which is maintained throughout the reproductive life stage. Sleep problems are exacerbated during the menopausal transition, evidenced by greater risk for sleep disorders. There is emerging evidence that menopause-associated hormone loss contributes to this elevated risk, but age is also an important factor. The extent to which menopause-associated sleep disturbance persists into postmenopause above and beyond the effects of age remains unknown. Untreated sleep disturbances have important implications for cognitive health, as they are emerging as risk factors for dementia. Given that sleep loss impairs memory, an important knowledge gap concerns the role played by menopause-associated hormone loss in exacerbating sleep disturbance and ultimately, cognitive function in aging women. In this review, we take a translational approach to illustrate the contribution of ovarian hormones in maintaining the sleep-wake cycle in younger and middle-aged females, with evidence implicating 17β-estradiol in supporting the memory-promoting effects of sleep. Sleep physiology is briefly reviewed before turning to behavioural and neural evidence from young females linking 17β-estradiol to sleep-wake cycle maintenance. Implications of menopause-associated 17β-estradiol loss is also reviewed before discussing how ovarian hormones may support the memory-promoting effects of sleep, and why menopause may exacerbate pathological aging via effects on sleep. While still in its infancy, this research area offers a new sex-based perspective on aging research, with a focus on a modifiable risk factor for pathological aging.
© Endocrine Society 2020.