Dealing with the hot flashes and night sweats of menopause is no easy feat. And three-quarters of perimenopausal women in the U.S. do it every day. If you’re in the throes of perimenopause and wondering how to cope, or if you know you’re approaching the time in your life when menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats might become a daily burden, continue reading. We’re going to explore the very best ways to deal with hot flashes and night sweats.
What are hot flashes and night sweats?
A hot flash is an episode of feeling uncomfortably hot. It can happen anytime, day or night. Sometimes hot flashes come on during our sleeping hours, disrupting deep and restorative rest. In this case, they’re sometimes referred to as night sweats, and can last for longer than just a flash.
Night sweats are characterized by intense sweating, whereas hot flashes don’t necessarily make you sweat. The two are definitely interconnected and undoubtedly uncomfortable. In the throes of a bad case of night sweats, you might wake up to find your sheets drenched with perspiration. This can keep you awake for hours — causing sleep deprivation and leading to related consequences such as fatigue and poor concentration.
What causes hot flashes and night sweats?
The short answer to this question is hormones. Yes, it’s those pesky hormones that fluctuate and change throughout a woman’s life that make perimenopause and menopause truly challenging times.
When you enter the perimenopausal years, your body produces less estrogen and progesterone than it used to. The years leading up to menopause are characterized by a gradual decline in the many kinds of hormones our ovaries produce to sustain fertility, reproductive health, and other bodily functions.
Hot flash symptoms
The symptoms of hot flashes, also referred to as vasomotor symptoms, are characterized by a warm sensation that takes over the upper body — typically around the face, neck, and chest area. You may even feel as if your face and upper body are on fire or burning. This burning sensation may seem to come out of nowhere, spreading to other parts of the body depending upon how severe it is. You’re apt to feel flushed. You might then start to sweat. You may even get the chills.
How long do hot flashes and night sweats last?
Hot flash duration varies, and during menopause and perimenopause, some women average one hot flash per day. A long-term study of perimenopausal women published in JAMA Internal Medicine found hot flashes and night sweats can last for years. Known as the Study of Women’s Health across the Nation (SWAN), this deep dive into the expected life expectancy of vasomotor perimenopause and menopause symptoms found the mean duration to be 7.4 years. That’s an awfully long time to have to deal with hot flashes! The sheer longevity of these symptoms, which greatly impact a woman’s quality of life, deems it necessary to find healthy and effective ways to deal with the long-term discomfort.
What triggers hot flashes and night sweats?
The triggers for hot flashes and night sweats run the gamut, and it’s important to be aware of them in order to prevent them as much as you possibly can. Some of them are:
- Warm/hot temperatures and environments
- Excessive stress and anxiety
- Consuming too much caffeine
- Consuming alcohol
- Eating spicy foods
- Smoking or simply being around cigarette smoke
- Wearing clothes that are too tight
- Covering yourself with heavy blankets in bed
How to deal with hot flashes and night sweats in creative ways
Many simple habits can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with hot flashes and night sweats.
Sip cold water
Drinking cold water throughout the day decreases your internal body temperature while also keeping you properly hydrated. Consider investing in a water bottle that keeps water cold. Keep it with you at all times to grab whenever a hot flash comes on.
Dress to cool down
Finding clothes that feel comfortable during perimenopause is also key. You don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort. Find fabrics that appeal to your senses and also help you cool off. Certain materials actually wick moisture from your skin when you sweat. If you tend to sweat a lot, you’ll want to dress in these cooling styles. Dressing in layers is also a helpful strategy to cool off when a hot flash heats you up.
Learn deep breathing techniques to alleviate stress and anxiety
Some women say practicing deep breathing can improve hot flashes, while also calming the nervous system. When we learn how to breathe slower and deeper than usual, we’re also telling our parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. When this happens, your hot flash might go away quicker. Deep breathing can also lessen its severity. If you practice yoga or Pilates, you’ll learn how to work with your breath, making it work for you to help you deal with hot flashes and night sweats.
Many women opt for hormone replacement therapy to find relief. The most common treatment comes in the form of estrogen replacement therapy or estrogen/progesterone replacement therapy. Depending upon which approach you and your doctor choose, balancing your hormone levels typically helps decrease the frequency and severity of hot flashes and night sweats.
While this may seem like an obvious solution, it’s worth noting. There’s no need to feel embarrassed by having a multitude of fans on hand. They help immensely! Consider keeping a mini, hand-held fan in your purse. You may want to keep a small fan on your bedside table to use while you sleep. A bigger ceiling fan or standing fan in your bedroom is also a good idea, as is one for your desk while you work.
Create a sleep sanctuary
Because night sweats and hot flashes can wreak havoc on your sleep, it’s a good idea to dedicate some time to creating a sleep sanctuary. First off, you’ll want to make sure the temperature in your bedroom is ideal for rest. Sleep experts say your bedroom should be somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees F overnight. Lower the thermostat to find your sleeping sweet spot.
Turn your bedroom into a cave — dark, quiet, and cool. Sleep naked and remove blankets and even sheets if you must. Cooling gels, sprays, and even pillows can also help. You may want to keep an aromatherapy diffuser on your bedside table for added comfort. Lavender, marjoram, cedarwood, geranium, and clary sage are all good essential oils to have on hand.
As with any health issue you might be battling, things get worse if you’ve yet to kick the smoking habit. The SWAN study mentioned above found that women who smoked, and even women who used to smoke, experienced hot flashes and night sweats longer than their non-smoking peers.
Maintain a healthy weight
The SWAN study also found overweight and obese women had a harder time with hot flashes and night sweats. Like smokers, their symptoms lasted longer — as in, years longer. Keep this in mind and aim to eat a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet. Minimize sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine, as these foods exacerbate symptoms. Exercise during the day to reduce stress and boost your mood. Healthy habits make dealing with hot flashes and night sweats much, much easier.
Try natural foods and supplements
Certain foods and supplements may help you deal with hot flashes and night sweats. What works for one woman might not help another, so it’s a good idea to experiment a bit, while consulting with your doctor as you do.
Some of the common foods and supplements for hot flash relief include evening primrose oil, black cohosh, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, linseeds, vitamins B, E, and soy. A 2012 study published in the journal Menopause found soy to reduce the duration and severity of hot flashes. While studies are mixed, it’s worth trying some of these natural supplements to see if they resonate with your particular bodily makeup.
The years leading up to menopause can be difficult, but you can get through them with greater ease if you treat yourself with compassion and care. Give yourself regular doses of self-care and pleasure. Treat yourself to massages once a month, or even a spa day from time to time.
Allow yourself time to be you. Read books that nourish your soul, spend time in nature, and take up a new hobby. Journal about your experiences as you transition into menopause. These years can be seen as doorways to greater wisdom and even peace as you travel through this feminine passage. Nurture yourself as much as you can!
At OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we can help you understand hot flashes, night sweats, menopause, hormone imbalances, and the range of treatment options available. Contact us to request an appointment today.