Surviving night sweats

Published on Feb 28, 2020
Medically reviewed by Charanjeet Singh, MBBS
Woman feeling night sweats in bed.

Do you often wake in the middle of the night feeling hot and drenched in sweat? As if someone has thrown a bucket of water over the bed?

Night sweats are a common symptom in menopause that can have a significant effect on your sleep quality – not to mention adding to your laundry pile. We explain more about night sweats, their possible causes, and share some practical tips to help you manage them.

What are night sweats?

Night sweats are the nocturnal sister of hot flushes. Women often describe feeling heat, flushing and intense sweating that result in waking at night and bedsheets soaked in sweat, almost as if they’ve run a marathon in their sleep.

Night sweats are one of the most common menopause symptoms, and they affect around 80% of women for up to 5.5 years.1

One Australian study found that women report night sweats more often during late perimenopause – the years before the final period – and up to three years after menopause.2

Along with profuse sweating, many women experience reddening of their skin, nausea, a racing or pounding heartbeat, and heavy breathing. Unsurprisingly, night sweats can alter sleep patterns and lead to feelings of tiredness, fatigue and stress, which increases the risk of insomnia and mood disorders.

What causes night sweats?

Scientists are puzzled by the causes of night sweats, but it’s believed that they occur because of changes to the hypothalamus – the part of our brain that controls temperature – during menopause.

Normally the hypothalamus tells the body to cool-down by sweating when it reaches certain temperature thresholds, and warm-up by shivering when drops to certain temperature thresholds. But during menopause, these thresholds grow closer together.

This means you may react more extremely to warm temperatures, which causes you to sweat more often and more profusely – especially if you sleep under a warm doona or snuggled up to your partner.

What can be done to help?

Thankfully, there is plenty you can do to lessen the chance of night sweats and ease their effects:

  • Individual sweating patterns tend to be consistent, so it can be helpful to understand and avoid your personal triggers. Spicy food and hot food or drinks, using a hairdryer, hot baths, cigarettes, caffeine and alcohol are common culprits.
  • In the bedroom, wearing light cotton night clothes, swapping a heavy doona for layers of sheets and blankets, keeping a small fan by the bed and putting an ice pack under your pillow can help to ease night sweats.
  • If night sweats and hot flushes are affecting your daily life, it's time to talk to your doctor and take back control. Your doctor can consider the different symptoms you are experiencing, your age, and your overall health – and then talk with you about management options that suit your individual needs. 

References

  • 1. NPS Medicinewise. Managing hot flushes in menopause. Accessed 10 January 2020.
  • 2. Dennerstein, L., Dudley, E.C., Hopper, J.L., Guthrie, J.R. and Burger, H.G. (2000). A prospective population-based study of menopausal symptoms. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 96(3), pp.351-358.
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