Coping with Hot Flashes

Patient Expert

Perhaps your first hint that you're approaching, or in, menopause is the hot flashes you get: feelings of intense heat all over your skin, so much so that you think you're going to melt. It's embarrassing -- you sweat all over, sometimes perspire on your face, and if you're fair-skinned like I am, your face and neck get red. You feel so uncomfortable that you lose focus on what you're doing -- nothing matters except cooling down.

This feeling often doesn't last long and isn't medically dangerous or significant, but it consumes you while it's going on. Hot flashes often happen several times a day and seem to be worse at night, along with night sweats. For me, night sweats wake me up and I thrash around the bed trying to get cool. Of course, thrashing around just makes it worse.

I've found a few coping mechanisms for hot flashes, especially at night, and I haven't seen these anywhere else but they sure helped me. They are not conventional "treatments," they're the kind of tactics that one friend passes along to another. They can't hurt you, and they might help.

Six Tips for Coping with Hot Flashe. No matter what time of year it is, consider getting a down comforter or blanket. Yep, they're expensive, but I've found my down comforter to be my best friend at night, winter and summer. It's incredibly lightweight, so you can toss it off easily. It's warm in the winter and cool enough in the summer, especially when I've got a fan going or air conditioning in the room. When a hot flash hits me, I just toss the down comforter off, and when the chills take over, I toss it back on. I got mine when it was on sale. It was a great investment, really. I even take it with me when  camping and on vacations.

2. Ok, I know this is another expensive item, but the other best friend I have for night sweats is high-quality cotton bed linens. I have decided life is too short for those cheap bed sheets made of a little bit of cotton and mostly synthetics. Sweaty bodies stick to them. Yuk. Splurge at a factory store or on seconds (who cares if they don't match or aren't perfect?). Same thing goes for pillowcases. The higher the thread count, the more luxurious they feel.

3. While we're on the subject of sleeping (or, more correctly, waking up), reconsider your sleepwear. If you wear anything at all, make sure it isn't tight around you. Hot flashes or night sweats along with a tight-fitting nightgown or pajamas make me feel like I'm in a burning building. (I'm a little claustrophobic anyway). I've gone to loose-fitting short nightgowns, but for you, try anything that doesn't form-fit around you in any place, like your waist or bust or hips. Old T-shirts were just too confining for me. Again, I prefer cotton but silky synthetics can be nice too. I'm told silk, of course, is awfully nice. The main thing is-loose. And because you may soak through anything you have on, I suggest putting a fresh nightgown (or whatever) on the floor next to your bed, so you can sweat through one gown and put on another in one smooth motion. During the day, dress in layers. Each morning remember that sometime during the day, you'll want to strip to almost nothing, and plan your wardrobe accordingly. Those camisole tops or tank tops (with attached bra) that are so popular now can be great as a first layer, with a blouse or sweater over it. That way you can strip to your underwear (at least on top) and no one will look at you funny.

4. I always have an electric fan on my nightstand pointed right at me. I may turn it on several times a night. I shopped around for the right one-it is about 8-inches in diameter, makes very little noise and the switch to turn it on and off is in the front, for easy access in the dark. Don't be afraid to try a fan in the store to assess noise level. I have several small fans gathering dust in the basement because they made so much noise at night. When I found one I liked, I bought two-one for my office. I should have bought three, one for the kitchen, too.

5. Every night before bed, I fill a Thermos full of cool water and put it on the nightstand. When I awake with a hot flash or even worse, a real soaking night sweat, I take a few sips (more like gulps) of the water to cool me off. When you're blazingly hot on the outside, cool water on the inside speeds the cooling-down process, or so I believe.

6. Experts say to limit your intake of alcohol, and I agree that too much liquor before bed can make your night worse (in many ways) but a glass of wine or the occasional margarita probably won't hurt.   They also say to avoid spicy hot food, and, of course, if you smoke, that'll make the hot flashes worse.

More on coping with other menopause symptoms next time Good luck!