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What Is the Difference Between Hot Flashes and Night Sweats?

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difference between night sweats and hot flashes Via Unsplash

“I’m drenched with sweat!” I announced to my husband Cliff in the middle of a January night. “I bet this is menopause.” I’d read about the dreaded night sweats.

“You’ve got too many blankets on your side,” he said. “You always do!”

Our house is cold, so I pile on a mountain of covers. I kicked off a layer or two. Within five minutes, I was chilled.

When it happened again a few nights later, I was even more suspicious. I’d been sleeping with those heavy covers for years. Why was I suddenly sweaty?

Jump ahead six months to the middle of July. We don’t air condition the upstairs of our 180-year-old house. Instead, we cool the old-fashioned way, with fans. The whir reminds me of my childhood summers.

“I’m sweating bullets,” I said, despite the breeze of the fan.

“It’s just hot up here tonight,” said Cliff. “Remember, it’s July!”

Nope. I knew you can’t sweat in summer and winter, many, many nights, and blame it on the bedroom. Night sweats were my first signal that perimenopause, the time leading up to the cessation of menstrual periods, had begun.

I had night sweats several times a week for two years before I had any daytime hot flashes. When I did have hot flashes, they were minimal. The science behind both of them is the same.

Everyday Health explains that “hot flashes and night sweats are caused by a complex interaction that involves fluctuating estrogen levels; the hypothalamus (a region of the brain that regulates body temperature); norepinephrine, a key brain chemical, and specialized receptors in the brain; and the body's blood vessels and sweat glands.”

That’s a complicated explanation for something that can really complicate our days AND our nights!

Night sweats, by definition, occur at night, and hot flashes happen during the day. Unlike the hot flash, where women feel the sensation coming on and building, women usually wake up wet with sweat from a night flash. Some women — like me — only wake up once a night, and some wake up several times.

According to sleep experts at the CoxHealth Regional Sleep Disorders Center, “night sweats may cause a woman to wake up hundreds of times a night in severe cases.” Wow! Talk about a nightmare.

Some women only have hot flashes. Others only have night sweats. Night sweats disturb your sleep and make you feel like you’re living in a swamp, but at least they don’t embarrass you. Women tell stories of hot flashes during corporate board meetings, their daughter’s wedding reception, and parent-teacher conferences.

Which would you prefer: night sweats or hot flashes? Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose, and many women suffer from both.

After a lot of sweaty nights, Cliff finally understood that menopause was approaching. He’s been a supportive partner through the whole process, but it took him a while to realize the years of our marriage had sped by, and I was now a middle-aged woman.

A part of him likes to think that I’m still the 23-year-old he married, and that’s fine with me.


Menopausal Night Sweats and Why They Happen. Everyday Health. Retrieved on July 18, 2015 http://www.everydayhealth.com/menopause/night-sweats.aspx

Quote from CoxHealth Regional Sleep Disorders Center found in Hot Flashes Keeping You Awake? Lifescript. Retrieved on July 15, 2015 http://www.lifescript.com/health/centers/menopause/articles/hot_flashes_keeping_you_awake.aspx

Reviewed July 22, 2015
By Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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