We keep hearing women talk about hot flashes and night sweats and we know they are symptoms associated with menopause. But do you really understand what is going on in a woman’s body that causes these reactions? Surely you know someone who is currently going through this phase. Let us help you better understand what is happening and why.
Hot flashes, or hot flushes, occur during perimenopause. This period precedes menopause and it means that a woman has not had menstruation for the past 12 months. Hot flashes occur during the day and can last from 1 minute to 1 hour, once or several times a day.
While they are not dangerous, nor a sign of an illness, hot flashes are uncomfortable and can ruin the day of a very active woman. The sensation is of a sudden feeling of heat, starting from the head and spreading throughout the upper body, all the way down to the legs and feet. Also, the skin on your face and neck may turn red, making you look flushed. The blood vessels near the skin’s surface may dilate to cool down and you will sweat abundantly to compensate for the sudden temperature increase.
As estrogen levels drop when a woman reaches perimenopause, the hypothalamus, responsible for regulating the body temperature, finds it hard to keep the body in a neutral thermal zone. Excessive sweating is the body’s way of keeping cool during these episodes. Therefore, as annoying as dripping sweat may seem, it is still better than feeling on fire with no reason and no way to cool down.
Normally, hot flashes only last one year into menopause and should disappear by the time menopause is official. Others keep experiencing them three to five years into menopause, or even for the rest of their lives.
Managing hot flashes implies wearing comfortable clothes instead of tight, synthetic materials, staying in a cool environment, avoiding smoking, spicy food, caffeine, alcohol, and heat.
Night sweats are episodes of excess sweating during the night. What tells them apart from normal episodes of sweating throughout the night on account of heat, the bedding, or wearing warm clothes is the fact that they are caused by a hormonal imbalance rather than an exterior condition. They occur in the perimenopause period and can get very uncomfortable if they keep affecting many nights of sleep in a row.
The area most affected by night sweats is the back and the back of the head. Most often, women will wake up in a pool of sweat, their pajamas and bedding soaking wet. Some women even experience them during the day, which is very confusing. However, the main disadvantage of getting night sweats is the disruption of sleep. Not only is waking up wet a discomfort, but having to change clothes and the bedding, getting to a balanced body temperature again, and the fear of it happening again can ruin a few nights’ sleep.
Once again, it’s the hypothalamus that does not know how to read the signs of changes in body temperature and misfires when it has to cool down just a little. In some cases, doctors associate the occurrence of night sweats with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, so regardless of whether you believe it to be caused by menopause, you should check with your doctor also.
To help with night sweats, keep calm and cool. Relaxing by doing some light exercise before bed and avoiding spicy foods, caffeine, and smoking can prevent night sweats. The best thing to do is to write down your daily and night routines to see whether you can discover some triggers.
Hot Flashes vs Night Sweats
So what is the difference between hot flashes and night sweats?
Let’s get the similarities out of the way first. They both occur on the onset of menopause, in perimenopause. Also, they are both caused by an inability of the hypothalamus to regulate body temperature on account of a decrease in estrogen levels.
However, hot flashes occur during the day, while night sweats occur during the night. Also, hot flashes start off as a wave of heat located at the head and neck and traveling down to the lower body along with cascading sweat. Night sweats, on the other hand, mainly affect the back of the head and back areas of the body.
|Hot Flashes||Night Sweats|
|Occur during the day||Occur during the night|
|Affect the whole body, from the head down||Mainly affect the back and the back of the head|
|Are only a sign of menopause||Can also point to a cardiovascular condition|
|Can last anywhere from one minute to one hour and can occur once a week or several times a day||Can occur every night and can ruin a long period of sleep|