You wake up in a pool of sweat, feeling like the heat somehow got cranked up to 100 degrees. Alas, the problem isn’t the furnace but your internal thermostat.
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Surely you’re too young for hot flashes, right? Right?! Maybe not.
Most people who menstruate start having symptoms of perimenopause in their 40s. Those symptoms include irregular periods, vaginal dryness and, yes, hot flashes. As many as 3 in 4 women have hot flashes in the years leading up to menopause.
Women’s health specialist Pelin Batur, MD, shares tips for surviving these nocturnal trips to the tropics.
Why do you get hot flashes at night?
Scientists don’t know the exact reason women have these vasomotor symptoms (more commonly known as hot flashes and night sweats), but it’s likely related to hormone levels. When you enter menopause, your body starts producing less estrogen (a hormone).
What is clear, though, is that hot flashes can be really, really unpleasant. You might feel like you’ve been swallowed by a heatwave, and you may sweat, turn red and feel your heart race. And while they’re an unwelcome experience any time of day, hot flashes can be especially troubling at night, when they mess with your sleep.
“If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep because of night sweats, then they become more than just a nuisance,” Dr. Batur says. “Really, it’s a quality of life issue.”
Nighttime hot flashes can cause you to wake up drenched in sweat. The hot flashes typically last only a few minutes, and they can also be followed by a bout of chills. By the time the whole ordeal is over, you may be wide awake and uncomfortable — not to mention soaking wet and kinda grossed out.
How to deal with or stop hot flashes
Menopause-related vasomotor symptoms aren’t dangerous. But if they’re interfering with your slumber or otherwise making you miserable, help is available.
“I think of it as a three-pronged approach: natural approaches, nonhormonal medicine approaches and hormonal approaches,” Dr. Batur says. She shares tricks and tips to keep hot flashes to a minimum.
1. Find (and avoid) your triggers
Certain foods or environmental triggers can spark a hot flash. “There are some data that increased intake of sugar, stress and caffeine may be contributors,” Dr. Batur notes. Other common triggers include eating spicy foods, exercising in a hot environment or taking hot baths.
Spend a few days tracking your hot flashes and what you did in the hours leading up to them. You might find that spicy meals or flannel pajamas are a recipe for night sweats.
2. Decrease your stress
Easier said than done, sure, but reducing your stress levels and practicing overall mindfulness can do wonders for your health in general — and it may lessen hot flashes, too.
“The data for all of this is weak, but certainly it makes sense to try to minimize your stress, practice mindfulness and do some deep breathing,” Dr. Batur advises.
3. Make your bed a cool zone
Do what you can to turn your bed into a sweat-free sanctuary.
- Turn your bedroom temperature down at night.
- Wear lightweight pajamas in breathable fabrics like linen and cotton.
- If possible, invest in pillows and mattress covers filled with cooling gel.
4. Start treatment
If nighttime hot flashes are keeping you from sleep, your doctor can help. Their course of action will depend on your health conditions and concerns, but options include:
- Hormone therapy.
- Prescription medications.
- Alternative therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and acupuncture.
Do hot flashes stop?
Hot flashes can be a part of your life for months or even years. But if they’re getting in the way of your life, it’s time to seek treatment.
Plus, not all hot flashes are from menopause. They can also be related to thyroid disorders and other conditions or medications, so it’s especially important to get evaluated by your doctor. They’ll work with you to determine the root cause and a course of action to help improve your health and keep those sheets nice and dry.