If you’re a woman of menopausal age and you’re thinking, “Isn’t it bad enough I have to endure hot flashes during the day; now they are going to keep me up at night as well?” we don’t blame you. It does seem a bit excessive, right?
What are night sweats?
Nights sweats are hot flashes (aka, vasomotor symptoms) that occur during sleep. Similar to hot flashes that happen during the day, they are accompanied by excessive sweating that begins around the face and spreads to the chest. The fact that night sweats come up rapidly and can cause you to be drenched in sweat makes them uncomfortable and great at disrupting your sleep.
Night sweats can begin during perimenopause, but they are more often an issue during menopause and into postmenopause. We’d like to tell you that night sweats don’t hang around for long, and for some women that is true. However, they frequently last seven years or longer.
In fact, the results of a long-term study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that women who experienced their first hot flashes before their periods ceased had hot flashes and night sweats for an average of nine to 10 years. However, for women who didn’t have hot flashes until after their periods ended, they lasted an average of about three and one half years.
The study also found that women who have hot flashes and night sweats for the longest time are current or former smokers or are overweight, anxious, or depressed. African American women tend to have these symptoms for the longest time (more than 11 years) while Chinese and Japanese women have them for about half as long.
What causes night sweats?
As with hot flashes, night sweats are believed to occur when the blood vessels near the surface of the skin expand to cool off. This typically causes you to wake up drenched in sweat and to experience chills.
Night sweats can wake you up frequently and interrupt sleep significantly, leading to next-day fatigue. Night sweats can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as alcohol, caffeine, high temperatures, tight clothing, spicy foods, smoking cigarettes, bending over, and stress.
How can I treat night sweats naturally?
- Keep a small fan and ice pack next to your bed at night
- Dress in all cotton night clothes and use all cotton sheet
- Keep ice cold water in a stainless steel bottle next to your bed
- When a night sweat occurs, try deep, slow abdominal breathing and continue for about 10 minutes
- During the day, do aerobic exercise such as dancing, spinning, walking, or tennis. Exercise can help reduce the incidence of night sweats
- Enjoy foods that contain plant estrogens, such as almonds, apples, strawberries, edamame, yams, lentils, and wheat germ, among others. Soy supplements are not recommended.
- Try black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) supplements. Some research indicates that a suggested dose for hot flashes is 20 to 40 milligrams of a standardized extract twice daily. Limit use to no longer than six months at a time.
- Take L-theanine. This amino acid, which is found naturally in green and black tea, is also available in supplement form. Research shows that L-theanine can help promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep at doses of 250 mg and 400 mg.
when to see a health provider
If your night sweats are having a significant impact on your quality of life–if you are tired all the time, if you cannot concentrate, if they are affecting your job—then you should talk to your doctor about alternative treatment options.
Night sweats can take a toll on your ability to get quality sleep and thus result in fatigue and other health consequences.