If you wake up drenched in sweat at night, and you’re a woman in middle age, you may be suffering from, “nocturnal hyperhidrosis”(the condition known as night sweats), due to menopause. These vasomotor symptoms, (relating to blood vessel dilation or constriction) are normal for women in their late 40’s and early 50’s, but they can still disrupt sleep cycles, causing you to miss several hours of shut eye each week. What’s more, quality of sleep is affected adversely. When something disturbs your slumber at night, such as a loud noise, you may be able to fall back to sleep immediately. When you wake up soaked in sweat however, you can’t just ignore it. Your nightclothes and sheets may be wet, and you’re generally cold and clammy.
What Causes Night Sweats in Women?
Night sweats causes range from illnesses to medications, but women in menopause sweat at night because of a bodily reaction due to fluctuating estrogen levels. At this time, the brain’s hypothalamus (that acts as a thermostat to regulate body temperature) becomes confused. Chemical messages sent by hormones cause the hypothalamus to react as if the body is overheated and needs cooling. This sets in motion a chain of events including the dilation of blood vessels to release heat, (experienced as hot flashes) and the discharge of sweat through glands within the body (night sweats). A rapid heart beat and anxiety may also accompany these symptoms.
Sweating at Night—When Will it End?
While it was once thought that night sweats in menopause only lasted up to two years, not so according to a long term SWAN study, (Study of Women Across the Nation) recently published in the Journal of American Medicine, (JAMA). The survey found that hot flashes and night sweats could last much longer in some individuals, even up to 11 years. Race, ethnicity, overall health, and the point at which night sweats began in menopause all affect the length of time symptoms will last. Women who smoke, are stressed, anxious, or overweight, tend to experience hot flashes and night sweats longer.
Treatment for Night Sweats—The Natural Path to Comfort
While 15-20% of women with night sweats will have symptoms severe enough to warrant medical treatment, many can help themselves through natural practices.
Deep Breaths—National Institutes of Health studies recommend deep, rhythmic breathing to alleviate hot flashes and night sweats. The paced breathing can also help women get back to sleep after waking.
Watch for Triggers—Certain substances such as spicy foods, alcohol, or tobacco can make hot flashes and night sweats worse.
Get Comfortable—Consider “wicking” pajamas that draw sweat away from skin and a bedroom fan to keep cool air circulating.
Regular Exercise— Some studies find that women who engage in cardio-respiratory activity such as, yoga or walking, may have fewer, (and less severe) night sweats.
Natural Supplements—Some women may benefit from natural herbal extracts such as, North American, Black Cohosh, or dang gui bu xue tang, a Chinese herbal remedy from the celery family. Each may provide some relief from the uncomfortable affects of menopause.
Pharmacological Intervention for Excessive Sweating at Night
Medications—Some women suffer from such uncomfortable night sweats that sleep is disturbed on a regular basis and the ability to function fully is impaired. In serious cases such as these, a physician may prescribe a number of medications, depending on the severity of symptoms. These may include anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, anti-seizure medication, Gabapentin, (found to help control hot flashes), and Clonidine, normally prescribed for high blood pressure, but used to reduce hot flashes.
Hormone Therapy—Moderate to severe hot flashes and night sweats may respond best to some level of hormone replacement in the body. A combination of estrogen and progestogen is commonly prescribed for women, in the smallest dosages for the shortest amount of time.
* Because certain cancers, and the risk of stroke have been linked to hormone therapy in the past, it is important to thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of treatment with a qualified medical professional.
Among the many symptoms and changes that accompany menopause, night sweats may be the most uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are several treatment options, (both natural and pharmacological) available for women that can help restore balance once again, assuring a good night’s sleep.