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  • Writer's pictureTraci Moren

What causes night sweats and hot flashes?

If you are in your 40s or 50s, the most common reason for night sweats and hot flashes is perimenopause. Estrogen levels drop in the years before menopause (the year after your last menstrual cycle). Your brain has become accustomed to estrogen, and when it drops, your brain experiences that as stress and releases norepinephrine, a stress hormone. Norepinephrine is a vasodilator, allowing for more blood to pump through your body, causing a warming sensation, and voila, hot flashes and night sweats!

Woman in bed with a water bottle and fan blowing

You may have started experiencing night sweats in the few days before or the first few days of your menstrual cycle.  In your monthly cycle of sex hormones, this is a time when estrogen drops off. The estrogen drop causes the same cascading of stress hormones, leading to sweating. 

Night sweats can obviously interrupt sleep.  If you are not sleeping well, you are more likely to experience stress during the day, leading to more perimenopausal symptoms such as irritability and rage. While reducing stress and improving sleep quality won’t solve all of your problems, anything you can do to reduce your stress can be helpful. This is where acupuncture, deep breathing, meditation, regular exercise and finding your joy become imperative. 

The following can trigger night sweats on their own, but when piled on top of hormonal imbalance, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll wake up in a puddle.

Triggers night sweats

Trigger #1 - Environment

The most obvious cause of night sweats is a warm bedroom or too many covers, however most people who suffer from hot flashes will distinguish between “night sweats” and “sweating that occurs at night”, reporting that it feels like they’re coming from inside. Hormonal night sweats often originate near the chest. 

Trigger #2 - Diet

Spicy food can cause sweating.  This may seem obvious, but if your nights are interrupted, try cutting out the chili peppers to see if that’s the culprit. 

Trigger #3 - Exercise

Similarly, exercise too close to bedtime can trigger night sweats. Maybe your body is taking longer than usual to cool down. 

Trigger #4 - Wine

Wine causes vasodilation (remember the norepinephrine? It also warms the body through vasodilation!)  This can feel like a hot flash, or because most people drink at night, can cause night sweats. Wine also disrupts sleeping patterns, so you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. 

group of hands holding glasses filled with red wine

As mentioned previously, stress triggers norepinephrine in a fight or flight response, which causes sweating. Chronic stress or heightened alertness can cause high levels of norepinephrine, even while sleeping. 

Tips to fight hot sweats:

  • deep breathing

  • regular exercise

  • finding joy

  • acupuncture!

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause sweating. Make sure you are eating on a regular schedule, and that you get enough protein throughout your day to regulate your blood sugar.  If you are taking insulin or other medication to regulate your blood sugar, check with your doctor if you are sweating more than normal. 

Night sweats can be a symptom of something more serious than hormonal imbalance or lifestyle factors. Usually, other symptoms show up at the same time, so there is no need to panic.  If you are experiencing other symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fever, dizziness or racing heart, check with your healthcare provider. 


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