An introduction to night sweats and menopause
Night sweats frequently trouble women during the menopause. It is related to the symptoms of excessive sweating and hot flushes during the day and as a group, these are the most common symptoms experienced by women going through the menopause.
It would be incorrect to think of night sweats as a separate menopause symptom - it is only a night-time manifestation of hot flushes and sweating experienced during the day. But because night sweats occur whilst women are sleeping or not able to take 'evasive action', they become more noticeable.
It is not uncommon for a woman experiencing night sweats to wake up with her bedclothes drenched in sweat. Night sweats are not only embarrassing but also disturb your sleep and that of your partner.
As with hot flushes, women will experience menopausal night sweats and excessive sweating in different ways. Some suffer night sweats quite severely, whereas others don't appear to be bothered by excessive sweating or night sweats at all.
When can I expect night sweats?
Night sweats, as with hot flushes, are extremely unpredictable. Some women will experience night sweats as their main or only menopausal symptom, others will find that it is one of a whole host of other symptoms.
There is no particular time of night in which night sweats occur. In practice however, they are more likely to happen if your bedroom is too warm - this can sometimes lead to marital differences!
The number of night sweats suffered each night is variable and often unpredictable. The one consolation is that, generally speaking, night sweats are usually accompanied by hot flushes - and they do not last as long.
Causes of night sweats
Night sweats are very commonly associated with the menopause, as with hot flushes and excessive sweating - the root cause of these menopause symptoms is probably the same.
As levels of oestrogen fall during the menopause, the normal functioning of the area of the brain that acts as the body's thermostat (the hypothalamus) is thrown off-course. Although not fully understood, it is believed that the drop in oestrogen confuses the hypothalamus, making it think that the body is overheating.
This brings about all the usual responses the body would normally use to keep cool - the skin reddens (the hot flush) and the sweat glands begin to work (excessive sweating and night sweats).
Night sweats can also be caused by conditions other than the menopause. These may be experienced by both men and woman and do not usually indicate a health problem. However, occasionally, night sweats can be a sign or symptom of an underlying health condition.
If you are a man or a woman not going through the menopause, it would be wise to seek advice from your doctor if you suffer from unexplained night sweats.
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Night sweats - how to help yourself
There are a number of factors that can make the problem of night sweats worse:
- It is obvious that night sweats are made worse in a warm bedroom. Turn off the central heating, open the window and bring out the lighter duvet
- Night sweats can be triggered by sudden changes in temperature
- Avoid hot drinks, caffeine and red wine at night
- Avoid chocolate, refined or spicy foods
- Avoid becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Smoking can make night sweats worse
- Emotional upset and stress increases adrenaline levels, making your sweat glands work harder
- Using an extract of sage such as Sage tablets can provide relief from excessive sweating and night sweats.