Hot Flashes and Night Sweats – The Same But Different

by Catherine Rust on January 16, 2022

During my menopause years, I had horrible sleep depriving night sweats but only suffered hot flashes a few times. To modify a beloved line from Shakespeare: A hot flash by any other name…is still a total PIA. 

Here’s what happens during a hot flash:

Your hypothalamus receives a signal that your body needs to cool down.

The body’s mechanism for cooling down is to open blood vessels and flush blood to your skin while simultaneously opening your sweat glands to cool you off producing moisture.

Once the body believes you are cool enough again (ha!), your temperature drops – but you’re left with little beads of sweat all over you.

 

Hot Flashes:

When you are alert and awake, like during your waking hours for example, a few things happen: You can feel it coming on – there are a few clues such as:

  • heart palpitations,
  • flushing, and
  • an innate sense of knowing one is about to happen.

You prepare by taking off a layer such as a scarf or sweater. You can adjust your scarf or sweater as your temperature drops again so you stay warm. At the same time, if you’ve dressed in layers your clothes may or may not suffer with sweat and/or sweat stains.

While you may sweat at least you can dry off quickly and relatively painlessly.

 

Night Sweats:

At night, however, it’s a little different.

The same flushing mechanism happens while you are sleeping – or at least, trying to sleep.

Your body is the furnace and your hypothalamus is the thermostat. The thermostat tells your body it’s time to cool off – stat! so the sweat glands open and you get really hot.

But this is where night sweats are so much more detrimental to you than hot flashes.

You’re asleep…or at least trying  to sleep. If night sweats fire often enough, the chances of you achieving a well-rested night are next to impossible. Not only will you constantly be waking up, you will most likely not be able to reach two critical sleep phases: Deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Both are as important as light sleep to feeling rested and having a great day.

If you’re in light sleep mode, you’ll wake up enough to throw off your covers. You’ve just woken up a little, thereby disrupting your sleep. If you’ve actually reached REM sleep or deep sleep you will likely sleep through them and eventually wake up soaked.

Deep sleep and REM sleep are critical to your overall health and well-being. They help you store and solidify memories, clean out blood vessel pathways, keep your blood pressure low, and so much more so reaching these two sleep phases is critical to your overall health and well-being.

On top of that, night sweats will prolong your insomnia if you suffer from it.

When you have chronic night sweats, you will almost always wake up damp and clammy - sleepwear and bedding.

I paint a bleak picture, I know. If you’re like me, you suffer for years because you believe that they will pass on their own and there is nothing you can do about it anyway.

Don’t be like me. You don’t need to suffer. Surprisingly, night sweats can be decreased, or dampened (sorry, bad pun), through a variety of methods.

However, the path to a life with night sweats is highly individual – what works for one woman won't always work another. Below we've listed a few different options:

 

Hormone Replacement Therapy

You may be interested in trying hormone replacement therapy. There is more information available now about how to manage it safely. We suggest you work with your doctor, or even better, a certified menopause practitioner to find out what your best plan of action is. While HRT isn't for everyone it can have great success at reducing (but sometimes not completely eliminating) night sweats.

 

Identify your triggers

Hot flashes and night sweats are often brought on or made worse by certain bodily triggers. They differ from person to person but common ones are caffeine and alcohol (I know! Hit us when we’re down!!).

Use our night sweats tracking journal to help you identify what might be triggering your night sweats. We’ve got all kinds of information on how to help you figure out what your triggers are.

 

Your sleeping environment

Your sleep environment, including your bedding and sleepwear can heavily influence your comfort when you have continuous night sweats.

Make sure you are wearing breathable fabric that evaporates moisture as quickly as it’s produced and is able to store heat within its fibres so that it’s released back to you as you cool down (like ours, for instance).

While neither hot flashes nor night sweats are fun, night sweats are far more debilitating because of how they disrupt your sleep. The good news is, they are manageable with the right tools in your toolkit. Get your sleep back by taking the power they have over you away. Use some of our tips or visit your healthcare professional to discuss your options.

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