Dealing with Hot Flashes and Night Sweats: Technology to the Rescue

Patient Expert

My goal with my first few posts on this site is to go through the major symptoms of menopause and discuss strategies for coping with each one, strategies that I've used or that others have used effectively. Since my last post, I've heard from others about something I said earlier that can be amended in the most positive way

Hot flashes and night sweats are often the MOST uncomfortable part of menopause. I suggested investing in yourself a little bit by reviewing what you sleep in and your bed linens, getting away from sticky polyester and opting for cool, comfortable cotton. But I've found something better! American business ingenuity is really amazing, and a bunch of companies have figured out that a huge market exists among women who are in peri-menopause (sort of like pre-menopause) and in full-blown menopause. They've adapted a technology that's been popular in the active outdoor arena for many years: moisture-wicking apparel. These companies are marketing sleepwear and underwear that actually take sweat AWAY from your body - "wicks" it away - leaving you cool as a cucumber. Well, maybe not that cool, but at least not soaking wet.

I don't know why I didn't think of this before. As an outdoor-person, I have lots of "wicking" underwear. Usually I use it when skiing or hiking or doing anything outdoors where I'm going to be sweating. The material is a polyester microfiber formulation that actually sucks the moisture away from your skin to the outer surface of the fabric, where it evaporates. Normal fabrics keep the sweat in the fabric and cotton is notorious for staying wet the longest. Think about how long it takes cotton T-shirts to dry in your dryer versus any other fabric.

For serious hikers, skiers and climbers, we have a phrase: "Cotton kills."   When you sweat in cotton and the moisture stays close to your skin, you are at risk for hypothermia, even in summer. That's because once your skin gets wet, the moisture starts to evaporate to keep you cool. More and more sweat means more and more moisture, and when temperatures drop even a little in the outdoors, you can get so cold that your core temperature drops.

How does that relate to night sweats? Many women (including me) say that after the terrible hot condition is over, we get a chill that won't go away. This might be physiologic and it might be the sweat evaporating, I simply don't know. However, this "wicking" underwear or sleepwear takes the sweat from the skin, pulls it to the outside of the fabric, where it can evaporate without leading to wet, cold, clammy skin.

I slept in one of my wicking T-shirts from a local outdoor shop, one I usually wear when out for a hard day of rock climbing. It worked. The hot flashes still woke me up but I didn't feel as wet, and afterward, not as cold or clammy. So I typed the phrase "moisture-wicking sleepwear" into Google search and up came a number of companies that sell pajamas, nightgowns, underwear and even bed sheets that wick away moisture.

The technology isn't all that new. You've seen it in action before.   Think about the last time you wanted to pull moisture away from the skin. It was probably on a baby's bottom. This process was originally used by diaper manufacturers. It's also used by sanitary pad manufacturers. In clothing, the fabrics are made of water-repellent synthetic fibers, such as the much-maligned polyester, that are specially woven to create "sweat corridors."   These function somewhat like capillaries, kind of like how plants draw water to their leaves.

This is all fine for me-I already have wicking T-shirts. But what if you don't have one? My quick internet research showed that the nightshirts and pjs start at about $40, maybe a little less. That can be a considerable investment, especially if you want more than one, so shop around. Moisture-wicking apparel is very popular in outdoor stores (think: LL Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, REI) and is discounted when out-of-season. It also can be found at chain stores such as Target.  I've seen T-shirts in the $20 range. Buy one first, to see how it works for you, then another if you like it. Not sure if everyone has a thrift store (such as Salvation Army) in the neighborhood but I live in a small college town in New England and we have three used-clothing stores nearby; I actually paid just $3 (for a bright orange one) at one of them! Maybe someone you know is outdoorsy and would loan you one to try.  If it works, maybe buy one or two.

These shirts or nightgowns dry so fast that you can quickly rinse them out in the morning, hang them on a towel rack and they'll be ready to wear that night. Plus these clothes last forever. If you wash them in the washing machine, don't use fabric softeners or dryer sheets in the dryer. Fabric softener or dryer sheets coat the fabric and keep it from wicking away moisture. If by mistake you use fabric softener, just wash the garments again a couple of times without softener to remove the residue.

I haven't worn moisture-wicking underwear during a normal workday to see if it works - if anyone out there has tried it, please let us know!

Stay cool.