Night Sweats: How to Fight the Damp-Pillow, Menopause Blues

By on April 8, 2011

By Kimberley Jace –

 You wake up realizing that your pillow case is soaking wet (again) and you need to change into a dry nightgown (again). It’s night sweats, one of the more bothersome of menopausal symptoms. Daytime hot flashes give you a chance to switch on a fan or sip a cold drink, but when your internal body temperature takes a sharp spike at night, it usually catches you asleep—and if you have to change bedding or night clothes, or even take a shower, it might be a while before you can get back to sleep. Night sweats can rob us of important, restorative rest.

Why do night sweats happen?

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Researchers believe this issue is closely linked to daylight hot flashes. It can all be traced back to the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls both hormone balance and body temperature. When estrogen levels begin to decline, it upsets the delicate feedback loops that signal the hypothalamus, which can cause the series of body temperature glitches. Most women experience a few years of night sweats during perimenopause and menopause, but once the estrogen decline reaches the bottom, the hypothalamus adjusts. On the bright site, few women over age 65 have these problems.

That means you’ll eventually outgrow your night sweats. In the meantime, learn how your body reacts so you can keep the night sweats to a minimum. A little detective work is in order. After another damp night, or while you’re waiting to fall back to sleep, jot down the conditions in your bedroom—room temperature, bedding used, and what you’re wearing. Also make a note of what you ate and drank in the hours before going to bed and how high your stress level was. After you’ve recorded the conditions of a few sweaty nights, look for patterns.


Limiting night sweats can be a simple matter of adjusting your bedroom temperature and switching to a different kind of sheets and pajamas. Many women find relief by bumping the thermostat down and using bedding and night clothes made of breathable cotton fabrics. Be sure your sleepwear isn’t confining or tight; sleep nude, if you’re comfortable doing so. Your sleep partner also may be generating excess body heat and might need to switch to loose, lightweight, natural-fiber night clothes, too.

If you’ve been experiencing periodic night sweats, prepare by leaving the overhead fan on when you retire and using two thin sheets instead of a blanket, so you can throw off some layers if you wake up hot. If your sweating affects mostly your head (as many women report), consider using a natural-fiber pillow and pillow case, or even a water-filled pillow like the “Chillow,”which is designed to stay cool. Some women swear these pillows have eliminated their sweating.

Food and night sweats

Your diet can also play a role in this condition. While each woman will have individual night sweat triggers, hot or spicy foods for dinner might mean night sweats at 3 a.m. Drinking anything hot—including a cup of calming herbal tea—within the three hours before bedtime may trigger night sweats. Caffeine is a common culprit, and so is alcohol. Iced, caffeine-free herbal tea is a safe nightcap during the night sweat years.

Taking Vitamin E and a multi-B vitamin may help you with night sweats. Whole grains such as brown rice contain both these important nutrients. Some nutritionists suggest adding soy to your diet because it contains compounds similar to estrogens—but because almost all soy commercially available now is genetically modified, and because adding estrogen-like food to your diet can further unbalance your hormones, think twice before using soy products.

Bathing and night sweats

A warm, relaxing bath or shower in the evening has long been considered an easy way to get a better night’s sleep. The body warms in the warm water, then cools off when the bath or shower is over—and a drop in body temperature signals the body that it’s time to sleep. But in menopausal women, this routine can backfire; because the hypothalamus isn’t picking up body temperature cues as well, a warm shower or bath can elevate your body temperature and leave it there. So skip the nightly soak or use cool water if you want to head off night sweats.

Chill out to fight night sweats

And don’t forget to manage your stress. This is easier said than done for many women because of the responsibilities and worries of middle age, but finding a way to stay calm is often the essential weapon in fighting night sweats. A leisurely walk every night after dinner, at least three hours before bedtime, can go a long way toward reducing your overall stress. (If you can manage a nightly swim, you’ll get the benefits of exercise AND cool water, which will keep your body temperature down.) Yoga can be a lifesaver; take a weekly class and then practice the breathing techniques each night for a few minutes before shutting off the light. A thoroughly relaxed body is less likely to toss and turn and therefore less likely to heat up during the night.

Night Sweats S.O.S.

Let’s say you’ve done everything you can think of to keep your cool, but you still wake up sweating. What can you do? The first imperative is to get your body temperature down. Strip, turn on a fan, or climb into a cool shower. Drink a small glass of ice water. Wring out a washcloth in cold water and drape it over your eyes, or use one of those gel-filled eye masks or a sachet (lavender-filled) eye mask that you store in the freezer. You can also refrigerate a peppermint foot lotion and massage it into your soles; some women say this helps cool them quickly. Or sit on the edge of the tub and run cold water over your feet. Applying cold to your temples, ears, and throat, where your blood is close to the surface, can cool your core temperature quickly.

Get Help

If your night-time sweating is an occasional nuisance, you might try any or all of these lifestyle changes to stay cool. But nobody should endure years of sleepless nights. If your night sweats don’t respond to home treatment, consider acupuncture, which research has proven to be effective for many women in regulating the body temperature.

If you have night sweats and other troubling menopause symptoms—such as depression, forgetfulness, and low sexual energy—read one of Suzanne Somers’ books (or online articles) about bio-identical hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Getting your hormones back into a balanced state is an art form, but there are doctors who know how to do it. Expect to undergo regular blood and urine tests to monitor how your body is responding to hormone replacement. Expect to write some checks to your specialist, because HRT isn’t inexpensive–but it can change your life. The advantage of bio-identical hormone replacement is that, if it works for your night sweats, it probably will also eliminate other menopause symptoms, too.

Kimberley Jace, editorial staff



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Night Sweats: How to Fight the Damp-Pillow, Menopause Blues