Growing up in the humidity of Alabama, I remember stepping out of the shower and immediately feeling hot and sticky within minutes of toweling off. It was one of the reasons I shifted to a drier climate so many years ago. Perimenopausal hot flushes and night sweats, right now, have me feeling like I have been transported straight back to that heavy, sticky, oppressive Alabama humidity. Only this time, I can’t move to escape it. And I can’t seem to get a decent night’s sleep either.

So why do they happen and why are they happening to ME?!

Well first, know if they’re happening to you, you are not alone. 85% of women transitioning to menopause experience hot flushes and night sweats. If you’re not one of them…count yourself incredibly lucky! As for why they happen—we don’t really know. Crazy, right?! What we do know is that there is a complex interplay between falling level of oestrogen, the nervous system and our internal thermostat. There are even studies investigating links between oestrogen, hot flushes and glucose transport to the brain.

Just as why they occur isn’t all that clear, neither is the “Why me and not the other 15%?”.  A study done in 2016 suggested some women may be genetically predisposed to getting hot flushes. Others suggest the severity of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms are linked to certain brain chemicals, weight, mood (yes, mood!) and physical activity. And as a clinical nutritionist specialising in women’s health and hormones, I see diet and lifestyle triggers and influences too. Which brings me back to the “why ME?”.

Early last year I had a brief return of hot flushes after about a 12-month absence. After that, I really felt like I had nipped it in the bud. In fact, I was getting all ready to do develop my course on navigating the transition to menopause and BAM!–three weeks ago, the hot flushes returned. And this time they brought their night-time equivalent—the night sweat.

Hoping for a good night’s sleep…

The first thought that ran through my head was “How many women are going through this right now and don’t understand why?”, followed by “It’s time to come out of my pandemic-induced fog and reconnect” and share what I know. And finally, the “What’s changed for ME?” And truth is, a lot:

  • Social summer gatherings. After the lockdown daze of the last two years, I’m having socially distanced summer drinks with nears and dears. Alcohol is a known hot flush trigger as it causes something called vasodilation (an expansion of blood vessels) that causes a rush of blood to surge through the body and can affect your core temperature. Minimise alcohol intakes and stay hydrated with sparkling water, cooling kombucha (if that’s your jam) or enjoy one of the many low to no-alcohol drinks available on the market.
  • Hot, humid, Alabama-like weather. It’s not just my night sweats that make me feel like it’s Alabama-time. This summer has been one of the most humid in recent years. And hot, humid weather especially at night, whether a cause for more flushes or not, can certainly make them worse. If you’re already finding it hard to regulate temperature, external heat sources and possibly the dehydration it causes, will add to your sweating woes. Sleeping with a fan or the air con set to 18C and finding lighter-weight, breathable, cotton bed sheets can be supportive (goodbye 1000 count luxury). Be sure to have a lightweight blankie you can yank on and off for the variance you’re likely to experience.
  • Lifting lockdown stress. Going from “no-go to go-go” has been a stressful time. Here in Melbourne, we’ve spent the better part of two years with constraints on movement and like it or not, coming out lockdown can be fraught with concerns. For me, it’s been navigating social re-entry, alongside managing the flow of my clinic to ensure client and practitioner safety. Stress is a common hot flash trigger. The hormones cortisol and adrenaline are both elevated in stress and both increase heart rate and blood pressure. In turn, heart rate and blood pressure can increase your core body temperature, triggering a hot flush. Stress can be difficult to manage but the tools I use to get me through include deep breathing, grounding (or earthing), meditation or a nature walk. Finding what works for you can go a long way to supporting your perimenopausal symptoms and your sleep.

While these are a few of my triggers, it’s important to start to recognise your own to manage them effectively. Tracking your sleep and symptoms through diet and lifestyle journals can be a good place to start (I’ve included a templates for you to download below).

While hot flushes are a part of the natural transition to menopause for many of us, they don’t come without long-term risks to health for some. Stay tuned for upcoming posts to discover what your hot flushes may be telling you about your overall health as well as my fave foods for flushes.

And just in case you missed our post on “Changing with the Change” and the free 5-day meal plan to battle the belly bulge in perimenopause, you can see it here.