Written by Cassie Hart
Hot flashes and night sweats are hallmark symptoms of menopause. They sometimes even begin during perimenopause, which can last as long as 10 years before reaching menopause.1 It's one of those situations in life that just doesn’t seem fair. Do you know what else isn’t fair? Hot flashes in hot, summer weather. But instead of complaining about the unjustness of this intensified menopause symptom during the warmer months, let’s review what causes hot flashes in the first place and learn how to be more comfortable so you can enjoy your summer.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
Those unfortunate moments when your body feels like someone turned the thermostat up to 100 degrees are largely caused by hormonal changes. Estrogen levels drop during menopause, and the hypothalamus—the area in the brain that stimulates hormone production and regulates body temperature (among other things)2—can become “confused." The hypothalamus then sends a message to your brain that signals your heart, blood vessels, and nervous system to cool off your body. This increases heart rate, dilates blood vessels, and signals sweat glands to release moisture to cool you down.3
Why Are Hot Flashes Worse in Summer?
When you experience a hot flash on top of an already heated environment, things can get really uncomfortable. Dr. Stephanie Faubion, Director at the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health and Medical Director for The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), says, "Warm things can trigger a hot flash. Therefore, we sweat and feel hot when our temperature swings too far out of the normal range.” She adds that our actions can sometimes make things even worse: “Things like blow drying your hair or trying to exercise in the heat of summer can [also] trigger a hot flash for some women.”
How Can I Prevent Hot Flashes in Summer?
While the heat and humidity of summer can exasperate hot flashes, there are steps you can take to help reduce their severity. Lifestyle changes may be necessary to combat the intensity of menopausal hot flashes during the summer, and Dr. Faubion recommends several actions to help manage your fluctuating body temperature:
- Maintain a healthy weight; heavier women tend to have more hot flashes. Body fat acts as an insulator, which can trap heat and interfere with heat dissipation.4 Warm summer weather can aggravate these already elevated body temperatures.
- Avoid stress, which is a potential hot flash trigger. Practice yoga or meditation to help you relax.
- Dress in layers during the hotter months and shed them when necessary. Light, breathable fabrics like cottons and linens are best.
- Keep a water mister bottle or portable fan with you to help keep you cool when outdoors.
- Limit alcohol intake and avoid warm beverages and spicy foods – coupled with the already hot weather and your shifting hormones, this can create a perfect storm for increased hot flashes.
- Don’t smoke. Studies have shown cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of menopausal hot flashes.5
What About Night Sweats?
Waking up with drenched clothing and bedding from night sweats is no fun, and it often disrupts a perfectly good night’s sleep. This may also occur more frequently in the summer, when the heat of the day can bleed into the night, increasing menopausal night sweats and leaving you tossing and burning. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this symptom, too:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule and dress appropriately; you may want to reconsider your sleepwear, especially on warm nights.
- Set your air conditioning to 65 degrees or colder and use layered bedding that can be easily removed during the night if you start to experience night sweats.
- Keep a fan running at your bedside.6
Can My Healthcare Provider Recommend Something to Help?
Women can find relief from hot flashes during the summer months from prescription medications or dietary supplements. Because estrogen is the primary hormone used to reduce hot flashes, hormone therapy, often referred to as HRT, is sometimes prescribed.7 However, hormonal treatments can come with risks, so be sure to discuss this option thoroughly with your healthcare provider first.
Some women prefer more natural options and may find success with dietary supplements for managing their menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. Common options include vitamin E, which has been shown to provide some symptom relief for mild hot flashes,7 and B vitamins, which can potentially alleviate the severity of symptoms due to their ability to support the nervous system. Many women have also found relief using a proprietary blend of Swedish flower pollen, such as the one found in Bonafide’s Relizen®, which has been clinically shown to help alleviate both the frequency and intensity of menopausal hot flashes and night sweats.*
As always, it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement or over-the-counter remedy. Your provider may also have other lifestyle tips to help you stay comfortable if summertime hot flashes and night sweats are disrupting your daytime and sleep routines.