Oh, those glorious night sweats …. “I would wake up 2 or 3 times a night, roasting, my pajamas and even my sheets soaked, heart racing, panicking that I was having a heart attack. I’m a very neat person, so to wake up swimming in sweat completely grossed me out.
“I would wake up 2 or 3 times a night…”
“And five minutes later, I was freezing. I was changing pajamas, even my sheets, in the middle of the night, so you can guess how well my partner and I were sleeping. I finally started sleeping in the guest room because it was so embarrassing.”
Night sweats and/or hot flashes affect 75 to 80 percent of women in menopause and perimenopause, and they can go on for years. Because night flashes are so prevalent and because the disruption of sleep they cause can have so many additional negative impacts, they are our Symptom of the Month.
What are night sweats?
Oh, that flustered hypothalamus. Estrogen, the “master regulator” as neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Mosconi refers to it, is responsible for the onset of night sweats and hot flashes both.
The hypothalamus regulates our body temperature. This part of the brain has lots of estrogen receptors and hums along happily as long as the estrogen keeps coming.
But when estrogen declines in perimenopause and menopause (and less permanently, at other times of our lives), this brain structure gets confused, not sure if the body it’s regulating is freezing or overheating, and body temperature can roller coaster as the brain tries to figure it out.
“to wake up swimming in sweat completely grossed me out.”
The major difference between hot flashes and night sweats is really when they occur: hot flashes during the day, and night sweats at night. Night sweats (and sometimes hot flashes) can also be characterized by excessive sweating, nausea, and headaches.
What can I do about night sweats? Some recommendations…
There’s no cure for the vasomotor symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, though there are ways to manage the sleep-destroying heat.
“I was changing pajamas, even my sheets,
in the middle of the night…”
- Avoid exercise before bed. Exercise can raise the body temperature and temporarily boost metabolism, even some time later and after a shower.
- Steer clear of spicy food and alcohol in the evening. Both have been shown to trigger night sweats in many women.
- Keep your bedroom cool. A ceiling fan is great for this, as well as bedding that’s seasonally appropriate.
- Nip a night sweat in the bud. If you can interrupt the heat as it’s happening, you may be able to lessen the intensity and duration. One recent discovery we made was koldtec ice towels. They come with a flexible ice strip that you hydrate and freeze, then insert in a soft, moisture-wicking bamboo towel. Because there are six smaller ice pockets, the towel perfectly contours to the shape of your neck and stays in contact with key pulse points on your neck, maximizing the cool. The chill lasts a long time, and when the ice finally melts, the moisture stays trapped in the strip in gel form, so you stay dry. We especially love that they’re machine-washable and anti-bacterial, and that they stay frozen in their travel tube for up to 3 hours, so you can set one next to your bed. Bonus: buy your koldtec ice towel from the genneve store, and you’ll get free shipping!
- Wear wicking pajamas. Night sweats can pretty quickly shift to an equally miserable cold flash, especially if the pajamas you’re wearing are damp. Team genneve were recently introduced to Cucumber Clothing, a line of gorgeous night wear (and, frankly, day wear – they’re that chic) perfect for women who overheat as they sleep. The great thing about the fabric is it moves moisture up and away “at speed,” so you’re not lying there in damp clothes arguing with yourself about getting up and changing. Anti-microbial, the super soft fabric holds up well.
- Channel your inner cool. Meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, biofeedback – learning ways to accept what’s happening in your body rather than fight it can help reduce the discomfort of hot flashes and night sweats.
- Talk with your doctor about medications. Antidepressants have been shown to help with vasomotor symptoms. And hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has given some women relief; just be sure to talk benefits v risks and give your doc your full medical history, especially if you have a personal or family history of clots or breast cancer.
Are night sweats dangerous?*
When they’re the typical peri/menopause variety, no, night sweats aren’t dangerous. However, because they can interrupt sleep, night sweats have add-on effects that can really disrupt your life, including irritability, fatigue, brain fog, and an uptick in depression or anxiety.
However, night sweats can also be caused by thyroid issues, bacterial infections, low blood sugar, certain cancers, anxiety, and some medications. So if your night sweats come with unexplained weight loss, fever, or coughing, or come back after menopause symptoms have been gone for months or years, please consult a doctor.
Don’t sleep in the guest room. With the right combination of attitude, lifestyle adjustments, helpful products, and medications if necessary, you can get relief from the nightmare of night sweats.
*The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should never be considered a replacement for care by a medical professional. If you think your vasomotor symptoms indicate a serious problem, for crying out loud, call your doctor.
How have you handled night sweats? Do you have some great bamboo bedding, the perfect herbal tea, the right yoga practice? Share. Seriously. Now. Leave a comment below, or let us know on Facebook or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group!