Well, it’s simple really. It’s because of all the hormonal changes occurring in the body during peri-menopause and menopause and these changes effect the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the gland in the brain responsible for heat regulation. Under normal hormonal conditions, the hypothalamus regulates body heat according to the surroundings. If it is hot outside, it prompts the body to release heat, and if it is cold outside, it prompts the body to retain heat.
It is the declining levels of the estrogen hormones related to menopause that are responsible for the malfunction of the hypothalamus. This, in turn, detects the increased body temperature, releases chemicals causing the blood vessels in the skin to dilate allowing heat to be released. These changes in the hormone levels signal the hypothalamus to start overproducing heat. It is this overproduction of heat that causes the cold feet, night sweats and sleeplessness.
Insomnia is the inability fall asleep, stay asleep or sleep through the night. During perimenopause in particular, women can wake up in the early hours and find it difficult to get back to sleep. This sleeplessness can often be accompanied with night sweats and cold feet.
Night sweats can wake you up in the middle of the night feeling cold and clammy and with the sheets drenched in sweat, often with the feeling that your heart is about to pound out of your chest. It can be difficult to cool down, calm down and get comfortable again, and it is also difficult not to be irritated and frustrated by the interruption to a good night's sleep. The stress of not sleeping further adds to the inability to fall back to sleep creating a vicious cycle.
According to JoAnn Manson, MD, MPH, PhD, an endocrinologist and professor of women's health at Harvard Medical School, about 80 percent of women in menopause experience some hot flashes and night sweats. She adds, "Of those women, 15 to 20 percent will have symptoms severe enough to warrant medication if they want it."
- Keep a regular schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate the body, which can help improve the ability to sleep better.
- Give yourself some "wind-down" time before you go to bed. Take a half-hour or so before bedtime to relax!
- Try a relaxing bath or warm shower before bedtime. This first causes the body temperature to rise then go back down to normal, which can help induce the feeling of sleepiness.
- Try some deep breathing or relaxation exercises before going to bed. Just a few minutes can quiet the thoughts and stresses of the day making it easier to fall asleep.
- Cool bedroom. A cooler bedroom will support deeper, more restful sleep. Plus, the cooling effect of the fan helps alleviate the discomfort of night sweats.
- No stimulants. Stay away from stimulants like caffeine or nicotine for several hours before bedtime. These stimulants rev up the body and interfere with your body’s sleep mode.
- No nightcap. An alcoholic "nightcap" may hurt more than it will help. Alcohol might make you feel drowsy at first, but it interferes with the body’s ability to sleep soundly.
- Relaxing drink. Try drinking a cup of chamomile or sleepy time tea in the evening, instead of an alcoholic nightcap. It’s calming, soothing and will help the body relax and sleep better.
- Eating habits. Avoid eating too late in the evening or right before bed. Also avoid hard-to-digest foods several hours before bedtime. Foods like onions, beans, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, protein and spicy foods might disturb sleep.
- Exercise every day. Just thirty minutes of exercise daily can help your body de-stress, but don’t exercise before bed. Some research indicates that increasing cardio-respiratory fitness, including walking and yoga, could be a way to reduce menopausal symptoms. One study found, for example, that women who engaged in regular physical activity had fewer and less severe night sweats.