While night sweats, the nocturnal cousin of hot flushes, can be uncomfortable and disruptive, they don’t usually signal a more serious underlying condition. In fact, night sweats are one of the most common symptoms of menopause which typically begins in a woman’s late 40s to early 50s. Scientific studies suggest that as many as 75% of menopausal women experience night sweats.
When a woman approaches menopause, she may have many questions about the potential symptoms, including night sweats. Understanding what to expect, why these symptoms occur, and how to manage them can help a woman best prepare for this transitional period.
Night sweats during menopause
Night sweats, medically termed “sleep hyperhidrosis”, are episodes of nighttime sweating, which can range from mild to profuse. Night sweats are similar to the hot flashes that can affect menopausal women during the waking hours.
Oftentimes, night sweats can be so intense that they interrupt a woman’s sleep, which can affect many aspects of her daily life. Common symptoms of night sweats include: sudden and intense heat, irregular heartbeat, nausea, flushing, chills, and headaches.
Women with menopause-related night sweats may experience anywhere from mild to severe symptoms of these night sweats, varying in duration, during their usual sleeping hours.
Who is affected?
Many women in their 40s and 50s develop night sweats, which often begin before the actual cessation of the menstrual cycle. One study found that approximately 19% of women aged 40 to 55 who still had regular periods experienced night sweats. Most women begin to develop symptoms three to ten years before actual menopause, during the span of time called perimenopause.
Research shows that not all women are affected the same. Age, race, and other factors can influence how likely a woman is to develop night sweats during menopause.
Night sweats and sleep
The symptoms of night sweats can drastically disturb sleep patterns, making it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Because of this, women who suffer from night sweats often experience:
- Sleep disorders
- Trouble concentrating
- Heightened levels of stress.
What causes night sweats during menopause?
Many women who experience night sweats want to know the reason behind this symptom of menopause. While the exact cause of night sweats is unknown, most experts point to hormonal imbalance as the primary culprit.
During menopause, levels of the hormone estrogen become erratic and eventually begin a steady and permanent decline. This change in estrogen levels affects the hypothalamus in the brain, which is responsible for the regulation of body temperature. As a result, the hypothalamus often prompts a series of physiological reactions, which women experience as hot flashes or night sweats.
While hormonal imbalance is by far the most common cause of night sweats in menopause, there are also rare medical causes, such as diabetes, anxiety, neurological conditions, sleep apnea, cancer, and thyroid disorder.
Night sweat triggers
Certain factors can intensify night sweats or make them more frequent. Avoiding these triggers can help to alleviate both hot flushes and night sweats.