7 Things About Menopause Night Sweats I Got Totally Wrong

Night sweats are a common symptom during menopause, affecting up to 80% of women going through “the change.” If you wake up drenched in sweat, have to change your pajamas, and struggle falling back asleep, you know how disruptive night sweats can be.

Despite how prevalent night sweats are, there are still many myths and misconceptions around what causes them and how to cope. The purpose of this article is to debunk 7 common myths about menopause night sweats, and provide helpful information based on my personal experience navigating this symptom. With the right lifestyle adjustments and treatment options, it is possible to manage night sweats and improve your sleep during menopause.

If you’ve read my story, you’ll know that I suffered terribly from menopause-related night sweats – and, I was completely unprepared for them. Think of this article as a “don’t let this happen to you!” type thing. Trust me, if I knew then what I know now, I would have been a lot better prepared and managed them a lot better. 

Myth 1: “I'm healthy and active, night sweats won't happen to me”

I assumed that because I eat well, exercise regularly, and lead an overall healthy lifestyle, I wouldn’t experience unpleasant menopausal symptoms like night sweats. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. 

While leading a healthy lifestyle can help manage symptoms, it doesn't make you immune to menopause night sweats and other symptoms. More than 80% of women experience hot flashes and night sweats during perimenopause and menopause – including those, like me, who are moderately fit and active.

Menopausal hormone fluctuations can cause disruptive night sweats even in very healthy women. While an active lifestyle is hugely beneficial for your overall wellbeing, it's not a cure-all that guarantees you'll avoid night sweats.

Myth 2: Night sweats only happen in perimenopause

When I was in my late 30s I experienced night sweats for a few nights. They were pretty awful at the time, but they went away after a few days. I was relieved and didn’t think more about them. Fast forward 20 or so years, and while I experienced some pretty awful menopause symptoms, I did not experience hot flashes or night sweats. And then, about a month after my official day of menopause (so, just over a year after my last menstrual cycle), I started getting night sweats. At first, they were brief and inconvenient – one as I went to bed and another in the morning – kind of like my alarm clock going off. But, as time passed, they increased in frequency and severity, until they were so frequent I wasn’t getting any sleep at all.

But the kicker was that I had figured that once I was past my official menopause day, I would no longer get any menopause symptoms. I thought that once menopause was officially over, I was “cured.”

It turns out this isn’t true (as evidenced by my own experience). When I finally went to the doctor and talked to her about the night sweats, she told me that your estrogen levels decline for another 3 years after your official day of menopause. While you may not get your period anymore, you can still experience the same symptoms that would in perimenopause. And for some women, symptoms like night sweats can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

All I could think of was, “Are you kidding me??” – this also shows you how unprepared for the menopause transition I was.

Myth 3: Night sweats only last a few nights

While for many women, night sweats don’t last long, for me, I was in for a long journey.

As I mentioned, I experienced night sweats for a few nights in my early 30s. They were not fun, but they were at least manageable. I didn’t really give them any more thought until they came on again when I was 55.

You’d think that after 6 months of suffering I would have gone to my doctor, but I waited a full year before I finally talked to her about them and what to do.

Why did I suffer for so long? I was convinced that they would disappear quickly without any intervention. After all, they had disappeared in my 30s.

One night I hit my lowest point, after months of sleep deprivation. I started to cry, thinking about going to “sleep” that night, knowing it was going to be another night of misery. That was when I realized I had to talk to my doctor.

Myth 4: Night sweats are harmless

Many women, and even some doctors, assume that night sweats are a harmless part of menopause. In fact, I’ve read in some menopause books that night sweats and hot flashes are easily treated with black cohosh. It made me mad that night sweats were so easily dismissed. I tried all kinds of supplements (see below) and even HRT, (which took the edge off but even it didn’t completely make them disappear), but it gave me migraines so I had to give it up.  

To have night sweats dismissed so easily indicates practitioners who’ve never suffered from them and do not understand their impact on your life.

However, frequent and chronic night sweats can significantly impact quality of life, both in the short-term and long-term due to the havoc it plays with your sleep.

Night sweats and sleep deprivation

In my case, night sweats led to sleep disruptions, never allowing me to go into two essential sleep stages that help you feel rested and restored in the morning. Those sleep stages are REM (rapid eye movement – the dream phase) and deep sleep. Deep sleep is essential for cleaning the brain, lowering blood pressure and allowing muscle restoration (among other things). REM is essential for consolidating memories and problem solving. Without reaching these two stages of sleep on a regular basis, you will wake up feeling drained and exhausted – as I found out.

The consequences of a lack of sleep over several months to years can have significant effects on your mental and physical health. It can lead to physical exhaustion that prevents you from doing anything but the bare minimum. It causes brain fog, slow reaction times and depression. On the physical side, sleep deprivation can lead to increased blood pressure, other heart problems, weight gain and more.

It doesn’t help that night sweats are also uncomfortable. Many sufferers will wake up a few times a night to change their sleepwear – and sometimes even their bedding. Once they’ve done that, they’re wide awake and have trouble falling back to sleep, compounding the already challenging heat – cold cover-flipping cycle you’re experiencing.

Night sweats, your heart and your brain

There is also new research being done on both the effects of hot flashes and night sweats on your heart – a hot flash can be considered “a mini cardiac event” due to the palpitations that go along with the hot flash. Shirley Weir from Menopause Chicks wants them to be renamed as vasomotor symptoms (VSM) – their medical name, in order for everyone to acknowledge the impact these flashes can have on your heart.

Further, the latest research by Rebecca Thurston is investigating the link between persistent VSM – especially night sweats -- heart disease and dementia. You can listen to her interview with Selene Yeager about her research here – scroll to episode 166.  

So, yeah, night sweats are anything but harmless and don’t let your healthcare practitioner brush them aside.

Myth 5: Herbal supplements will cure night sweats

I really was looking for “the magic pill” to help get rid of night sweats so I decided to try herbal supplements. I went to a high quality natural health store, spoke with the Naturopathic doctor who worked there and bought around $250 worth of supplements. If I took them regularly as indicated that purchase would last for one month.

Unfortunately, I saw absolutely no difference in either the severity or frequency of night sweats. The research has shown that the results for supplements on night sweats and hot flashes are inconclusive.

However, I have spoken to many women who swear by them, especially black cohosh and red clover. Perhaps their bodies respond better than mine did or they’re better at taking them consistently. I’m not sure of the reason, but after I stopped taking them, I felt no different and saved money in the process.

Pharmacist, Kerry Rogers, notes that herbal supplements are drugs, but at lower doses than the pharmaceutical drugs. She said that they should be treated with the same respect that you treat prescription drugs. On top of that, they should not be used for prolonged periods because your body gets used to them and their effect wears off. She suggests that rotating your supplements every few months to maintain their effectiveness.

It’s also important to talk to your pharmacist about what you want to take as supplements could interfere with any prescription drugs you are taking.

As Kerry told me, you need to be aware of a few more things about herbal supplements –

  1. When taken as indicated, they usually take a few weeks to a month to notice the effects, so patience is a virtue.
  2. Many herbal supplements must be taken consistently, and throughout out the day.

If you are going to take supplements invest in the higher quality ones found in health food stores. They are more expensive because they use better quality bonding agents to the effective herb that allows it to be absorbed by your body. In cheaper supplements, the bonding agent is lower quality and most of the active herb cannot be absorbed by your body, so you’re literally flushing it down the toilet.

Myth 6: If you don’t have hot flashes, you won’t have night sweats

Here is another myth I discovered was completely wrong – just because you don’t have hot flashes, doesn’t mean you won’t get night sweats. The reverse is also true – if you do have hot flashes, it doesn’t mean you will get night sweats. I had about 3 hot flashes during the day in total. The happened before my one day of menopause, so I thought I was in the clear.

If I had to choose between the two, I’d choose hot flashes any day. Yes, they can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but at least they don’t disrupt your sleep.

Myth 7: HRT will cure night sweats

Okay, so this one didn’t come from me. It came from one of my customers, but I thought it was a good one to share – even on hormone replacement therapy, (HRT), some women can still have uncomfortable night sweats. While HRT can significantly reduce their severity, in some cases it won’t eliminate them altogether. That’s where our sleepwear can be your new best friend. As one customer said to me, “the Simone nightgown is the last piece of the sleep puzzle for me.”

I can attest to her experience – in my short-lived use of HRT, my night sweats didn’t disappear completely, but they did reduce enough that I was able to get a better quality sleep. Once I created the Simone prototype and learned how to manage my triggers, my sleep quality improved tremendously.

So, those are the myths about menopause-related night sweats that I discovered. If I had been better prepared for the menopause transition, I would have handled it better and tackled the night sweats head on – instead of the way I did which was remaining completely ignorant of how debilitating night sweats and my other symptoms could be.

If you had any preconceived ideas about hot flashes and night sweats that turned out to be dead wrong, let me know in the comments section. I’m curious to find out if I’m the only one who was so in the dark about the transition.

You might also like:

How Stress Intensifies Night Sweats During Menopause

Night Sweats and Hot Flashes – The Same, But Different

5 Tips to Relieve Menopause Night Sweats Fast

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