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.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Welcome to the world of hot flashes.
“Not everyone experiences hot flashes during perimenopause, but they are very common,” says Women’s Health Specialist Holly Thacker, MD. As many as 3 in 4 women have hot flashes in the years leading up to their last period.
Hot flashes are uncomfortable any time of day, but they can be especially annoying at night when they mess with your sleep. “And disrupted sleep causes so many problems for women’s functioning,” Dr. Thacker adds.
Here’s how to survive these nocturnal trips to the tropics.
Understanding hot flashes
Surely you’re too young for hot flashes, right? (RIGHT?) Maybe not. Most women start having symptoms of perimenopause in their 40s. Those symptoms include irregular periods, vaginal dryness and yes, hot flashes.
Hot flashes feel like you’ve been swallowed by a wave of heat. You might sweat, turn red and feel your heart start to race. When they come at night, it’s common to wake up drenched in sweat. And when flashes finally subside, they’re often followed by chills.
Hot flashes might last only 5 minutes or so. But by then, you’re wide awake and super annoyed. For many women, hot flashes are a part of their lives for months or even years. That all adds up to a lot of lost sleep.
Hormone replacement therapy
Hot flashes and night sweats aren’t dangerous, and they don’t technically need to be treated. But if they’re interfering with your slumber or otherwise making you miserable, help is available.
“For many women, the best treatment is hormone replacement therapy,” says Dr. Thacker.
Hormone therapy can even out the hormonal ups and downs that are common during perimenopause, relieving hot flashes and other symptoms.
Many women are wary of hormone replacement, but it’s a safe and effective treatment, Dr. Thacker says, and its bad reputation is undeserved.
True, hormone replacement therapy isn’t recommended for some women, including those with certain kinds of cancers or those who have had blood clots, stroke or heart attack.
But for most healthy women, the treatment is a safe way to deal with the uncomfortable side effects of perimenopause, she says. “For most midlife women, hormone therapy will help them feel and function better.”
Remedies for hot flashes
If you can’t (or don’t want to) take hormone replacement, Dr. Thacker recommends these tricks to keep hot flashes to a minimum:
- Certain foods or environmental triggers can spark a hot flash. Some common triggers include caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and 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.
- Turn your bedroom temperature down at night. Wear lightweight pajamas in breathable fabrics like linen and cotton.
- Invest in pillows and mattress covers filled with cooling gel to turn your bed into a no-sweat zone.
Many women turn to herbs and supplements to fight hot flashes. However, studies have so far found little evidence that they’re effective, Dr. Thacker says.
Scientists are also testing a new type of drug that acts at the brain level to stop hot flashes, she adds. It’s a potentially exciting development, but one that’s not available just yet.
In the meantime, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Treat yourself to some cool new pajamas, and talk to a knowledgeable doctor about how best to deal with this steamy stage of life.