Your eyes pop open. Without even raising your hand to feel your skin, you know your forehead is drenched in sweat. Your pillow is so soggy it feels like it went for a swim. Heck, so do you. No, you didn’t sleepwalk into a swimming pool, you’ve just had a full-blown hot flash! The frustrating part is that there is no way to predict when a splendiferously soggy struggle will show its face. The good news? There are lots of ways to manage night sweats. So, let’s dive in.
What Are Ways to Manage Night Sweats?
What Causes Night Sweats?
During the different stages of menopause, your hormones are constantly changing. According to the Mayo Clinic, “hot flashes occur when decreased estrogen levels cause your body’s thermostat (hypothalamus) to become more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature. When the hypothalamus thinks your body is too warm, it starts a chain of events— a hot flash—to cool you down. Rarely, hot flashes and night sweats are caused by something other than menopause.”
It may feel like you’re about to spontaneously combust from heat, but your body is actually working to cool you down. Isn’t science neat? If your answer is, “Whatever, I don’t care about the mechanics, just help me feel better,” then don’t worry. We’re getting there!
How Do Night Sweats Differ From Hot Flashes?
Menopausal hot flashes are sudden feelings of intense body heat that can occur during the day or night. Night sweats are periods of heavy sweating, or hyperhidrosis, associated with hot flashes that occur at night.
In a sense, they’re kind of one in the same— night sweats are hot flashes that have the added excitement of visiting you at night, most likely when you’re just dozing off to sleep. What’s more, they’re particularly intense hot flashes. Hot flashes during the day are like Kid Flash Wally West, where night sweats are like the fully-powered adult Barry Allen Flash.
Are Night Sweats Normal?
The short answer? Yes. It’s estimated that up to 75 percent of people within the U.S. in perimenopause or menopause report experiencing this symptom. Menopausal night sweats can be uncomfortable (duh!), even causing sleep disruption and discomfort (double duh!). So if we’re gonna sweat, we might as well sweat it out together and find ways to manage the discomfort.
Are There Things That Trigger Night Sweats?
Unless your name is “Rachel” or “Dave,” night sweats are about as predictable as the Starbucks barista getting your name right. You could have countless nights where you’re sleeping at a professional level, and then BAM: you’ve been benched and are begging Coach Sandman to put you back on the slumber fied. Avoiding these triggers will help get you back on your sleep game:
- Using heavy blankets and sheets
- Drinking alcohol or caffeine
- Eating spicy foods
- Having a warm room
- Wearing warm pajamas
- Having unnecessary stress (What is “necessary stress,” anyway?)
They seem like no-brainers, right?! And yet, easier said than done. Because how can you avoid caffeine during the day when you’re not sleeping well at night? I hear you. As my Mom always tells me, “Just try your best, and don’t sweat the rest.” Uhhh, Mom, in this case, I’m going to sweat through the rest of the bed.
When Should I Become Concerned About Night Sweats?
Having night sweats is usually nothing to worry about. It’s completely normal to experience them while going through menopause. Yes, sometimes what’s “completely normal” is also “completely sucky.” According to the pros at Sleep Foundation, “Menopausal hot flashes normally last for a few minutes and can occur multiple times per day, including at night, when they can cause night sweats. It’s common for hot flashes to continue occurring for several years, and some women experience them for more than two decades.” If that info is freaking you out, I hear ya. But, better to be real and know the deal. Just know you’re not alone in this.
But, do talk to your doctor if you have night sweats often or you have other symptoms along with them (e.g., fever, chills, pain, or unplanned weight loss). You might want to keep a journal on your bedside table to write down how long the sweating lasts and any other symptoms you have (if any). This may help your doctor find the cause of your sweating if it’s something other than menopause.
What Helpful Habits Can I Start to Help Combat Night Sweats?
Your MLC (Menopausal Life Coach) here with a motivational quote: Every day is a new day, a new opportunity, and a new chance to kick menopause to the curb. There are activities you can do every day to help set yourself up for success when it comes to sleep.
Disclaimer: By doing these activities, I can’t guarantee that you won’t have night sweats. But, even if they don’t help manage night sweats, at least you are developing good habits, right?!
- Exercise during the day. Go on a 10-minute walk, dance to your favorite song.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. Give your yoga pants a break and try some flowy cotton pants to let your skin breathe.
- Dress in layers. Allow yourself a chance to shed those layers to stay cool.
- Establish a calming bedtime routine. Read a book, listen to calming music, use a calming app.
- Use a fan. Have a fan in your bedroom that blasts you all night (You can imagine that even as you sleep, you’re a pop star in a music video, the wind blowing through your hair. They’re also always sweating out of nowhere, yeah?)
- Buy special bed sheets. Check out bed sheets that are breathable and specifically for menopausal women (linen and bamboo sheets are all the rage these days).
- Buy sweat wicking pjs. Not having to change your clothes at 3 a.m. will keep you and the sheep you counted to get to sleep all tucked in.
- Turn down your thermostat at night. Crank that baby down and enjoy your own little Antarctica oasis in your bedroom.
If something isn’t working for you, then follow the advice of David Bowie and make some 🎶ch-ch-ch-changes.🎶 Keep an eye on your habits and switch them up until you find a routine that works for you.
How Can I Find Relief When I’m Trying to Sleep?
So, you just fell asleep only to be rudely awakened by another commercial-free episode of night sweats. What can you do?
- Throw the bedsheets off of you.
- Crank down the thermostat.
- Turn up the fan (and proceed to stick your face right in front of it).
- Sip a glass of cold water.
- Use a cooling gel pillow.
- Take a frozen washcloth out of the freezer and place it on your forehead, neck, and/or chest.
- Practice slow and steady breathing.
- Remove layers of clothing (or change into something cooler).
- Use a cooling spray (even a handheld fan/mister will work wonders).
- Have ice packs on the ready in the freezer.
- Release a rage-filled scream of “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!” into your sweat-wicking bed sheets. (This won’t cool you down, but it may bring some emotional relief.)
You do you and have no shame in the game, even if that means standing outside in the crisp cool air in the middle of the night.
Are There Treatments I Can Consider to Help Manage Night Sweats?
As is the case with any bodily issue, there are treatment options a’plenty. It just depends on what route you want to take and what will work for your body. Here are some suggestions.
Food and Supplements (friendly disclaimer: consult your healthcare provider before taking):
- Soy-Based Products: According to the smart cookies over at the National Institute of Health (NIH), they ran a study that suggested soybean isoflavones reduce menopausal hot flash frequency and severity. For the (pushes glasses up nose) Science Geeks out there, “Soy isoflavone supplements, derived by extraction or chemical synthesis, are significantly more effective than placebo in reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes.”
- Black Cohosh Supplement Capsules (or Black Cohosh Food-Grade Oil): Healthline suggests that the supplement “can be used for short-term treatment of hot flashes and night sweats (however, it can cause digestive distress, abnormal bleeding, or blood clots and shouldn’t be used if you have a liver problem).”
- Evening Primrose Supplement Capsules (or Evening Primrose Food-Grade Oil): The supplement can be used to manage night sweats, but it shouldn’t be taken with other medications like blood thinners.
- Flax Seeds (or Flaxseed Supplement Capsules or Flaxseed Oil): Research suggests that this type of food will help reduce hot flashes and help manage night sweats.
Prescription Therapies and Over-the-Counter Supplements (friendly disclaimer: consult your healthcare provider before taking ):
- Hormone Replacement Therapy: According to WebMD, “The traditional treatment for the symptoms related to menopause—like hot flashes and insomnia—has been hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT consists of estrogen given as a pill, patch, or vaginal cream, either alone or combined with progesterone (for women who still have their uterus). If you are not a candidate for HRT, if your symptoms are not severe, or if you simply decide not to use HRT, medications originally used as antidepressants may help relieve hot flashes. These include low doses of fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Brisdelle, Paxil), venlafaxine (Effexor)), and many other SSRIs. In addition, the Bazedoxifene (Duavee) has been shown to increase sleep quality.” And two other drugs—the anti-seizure drug gabapentin and the blood pressure medication clonidine—also may be effective for menopausal symptoms.
- Acupuncture: Although this type of therapy might require multiple visits, it might “restore the flow of positive energy throughout your body. It also claims to remove negative energy that is causing you pain. From a modern medical perspective, acupuncture stimulates various systems of your body. This may trigger a healing response.”
- Gabapentin (Neurontin): This prescription is an anti-seizure medication used to treat epilepsy, migraines, and nerve pain. Research has found that it may also lessen hot flashes.
- Clonidine (Kapvay): This prescription primarily manages blood pressure, but may also reduce hot flashes.
- Paroxetine (Paxil) and Venlafaxine (Effexor XR): These medications are antidepressants, but have been found to help hot flashes.
- Sleep Medications: Although they don’t stop night sweats, they can help you from being woken up by them.
- Over-the-Counter Medications and Vitamins:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin E
When trying to manage night sweats, the treatments are like bikinis: absolutely not one-size-fits-all. What works for one person might not work for another. If you’re trying different treatments, then be sure to track the frequency, intensity, length, and feelings of your symptoms, so you can get a clearer idea of what’s working and what isn’t. And, even though we’re putting that broken record back on, remember to consult with your healthcare professionals before taking any type of medication—prescribed or over the counter, including vitamins, minerals, and other supplements.
It’s a Wrap!
(Not So) Fun Reminder: More than 75 percent of the proud owners of uteri will have hot flashes and night sweats at some point in their lives, especially during menopause. Thankfully, there are daily activities you can do and treatments you can try to help you manage night sweats and keep them from ruling your life and drowning in your pillows.
Now is a more important time than ever to take control of your health and watch out for yourself. Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Keep track of your night sweats and their symptoms and treatments, talk to friends and healthcare providers, see specialists—do whatever you need to do to make sure you’re getting as much sleep as possible. Oh, and don’t be ashamed to turn your bedroom into a walk-in freezer. That’s one way to lead a cool lifestyle, yeah?
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