Lori* called me the other day because she is having horrible night sweats and wanted to get advice about hormone free remedies that might help. She is desperate to have more sleep at night and feels as if she’s popping up out of bed every hour to stand in front of her fan or the open fridge. She’s given up on changing the sheets, but has been running cold water on her wrists to try and get some relief.
Lori’s in her early 50’s and is still having regular periods, so was surprised when I mentioned that her night sweats sound suspiciously like she’s in the midst of what I affectionately call the wild hormonal roller coaster ride of Peri – Menopause.
Peri-Menopause and Night Sweats
In my talks on the hormone free remedies for night sweats and hot flashes, I typically show slides that include photos of burning buildings and wild fires. That’s what it feels like. The photo of a woman standing over a steaming table always elicits lots of knowing nods.
If you’re waking up more than once every night and the back of your neck is wet or you’re drenched, or you find yourself stepping outside in the cold night air or standing in front of an open fridge or freezer just to cool off, girl, you’re having night sweats.
Sure, get your thyroid tested and talk to your health care provider. But don’t wait, because night sweats have a domino effect. They do the following:
- Interfere with sleep
- Leads to less REM sleep, where restful nights are just a fading memory
- Leads to irritability = the desire to throw objects at loved ones when the toilet seat is left up
- Eventually leads to a little memory loss: Where are those keys?
- After a few months, night sweats can make you feel as if you’ve lost your mind
- Chronic exhaustion is a torture technique, and people can do crazy things, when they’re sleep deprived.
- Loss of excitement and pleasure in ordinary life
Hormone Free Remedies
Many women are understandably hesitant to use hormones. Though the risks of serious side effects are rare, still the idea of any risk of breast cancer, blood clots and strokes leaves many women looking for alternatives that are hormone free. Here’s a list of what is available and has been shown in research to be better than placebo.
In study after study on what works in menopause, the placebo effect is high– As much as 33 to 50% of women do just as well on placebo as on any given treatment. My advice is if it works for you AND it’s safe, talk to your health care provider about using it.
Yoga Breathing – Taking 6 deep breaths in a minute not only helps you relax, it can shorten a hot flash or night sweats.
Avoid Hot Flash and Night Sweat Triggers – You can find my list of what to avoid here.
Acupuncture – We don’t know how it works, but it does help a woman get her “chi” or life force in balance and decreases the frequency and severity of hot flashes and night sweats for some women.
Soy – A recent study in the Journal Menopause found that women who have 2 servings of soy food each day have fewer hot flashes and night sweats. 1 cup of edamame, or 1/2 cup roasted soy nuts, or 1 cup of milk = 1 serving.
S-equol – This is a soy metabolite that not only helps with hot flashes, but also improves wrinkles. Research has shown that women who are able to metabolize soy into it’s natural metabolite, S-Equol, have fewer hot flashes and night sweats. This is available on-line free of charge right now as the manufacturer, Nature Made completes their sampling trial, and should be on shelves in the fall of 2014.
Black Cohosh – The research on black cohosh is mixed. Some studies have found that this herb helps and others haven’t. In my own experience with patients, we find that women either do very well or have no response. Some experts believe that there may be a certain as yet unidentified receptor at work here that some women have and others don’t. If you want to try black cohosh, try Remifemin, which has the highest level of quality assurance of any preparations available.
Paroxetine, Brisdelle – This is the first non-hormonal prescription medication that has been approved by the FDA to treat hot flashes and night sweats. The active medication, paroxetine has been used in higher doses to treat depression and OCD. In the lower doses, menopausal women found relief. We believe that paroxetine may help reset a woman’s thermostat so that she can remain cooler.
Gabapentin – Though not approved by the FDA, many breast cancer survivors who are on medications that worsen hot flashes have found relief by using gabapentin at night for their night sweats. One of the benefits of using gabapentin at night is that it can also cause drowsiness which helps women sleep better.
Disclosures: * Names are changed. I have no financial relationships to disclose.
For more tips, please check out my new book, The Hot Guide to a Cool Sexy Menopause. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, for E-readers, wherever books are sold and through Basic Health Publishing.