Understanding Night Sweats

One of the most common and most disturbing symptoms of menopause is the dreaded night sweat.  By definition night sweats are excessive sweating which occurs during the night.  In essence, a night sweat is a severe hot flash that occurs while you are asleep.  This typically results in your clothes and bedding getting soaked which then wakes you up.  Often this leads to significant sleep disturbances and may even contribute to the insomnia that so many women suffer from during menopause.  Approximately 70% of women going through menopause report experiencing night sweats.

Just like hot flashes, night sweats are a vasomotor response triggered by fluctuations in hormones.  The thermoregulatory center of the brain, or hypothalamus, detects reductions in circulating estrogen and responds by giving the body the false signal that it is too hot. The body then tries to rid the body of this fictional excess heat by dilating the superficial blood vessels of the skin and generating lots of sweat.

Night sweats are most common during the perimenopause, but there may be many other causes besides alterations in estrogen.  Alternative causes may include certain chronic illnesses, some medications, and alterations in other hormones such as testerone.  Many women may be surprised to learn that men can experience night sweats and hot flashes, too!

So, what can you do to alleviate this frustrating phenomenon?  Simple solutions may include reducing the environmental temperature in the bedroom, wearing lighter bedclothes and using lighter bedding, and keeping a glass of cool water close at the bedside.  Other non-medical solutions include regular exercise and weight loss, which may not be simple but are effective strategies.  Ultimately, severe symptoms resulting in inadequate sleep, irritability, moodiness, difficulties focusing or forgetfulness may warrant medical intervention.   In these cases hormone replacement or the use of certain SSRI antidepressants have been clinically proven to be beneficial.
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