Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
reviewed by Dr Michael Yapko
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Jack Harley, Therapeutic Neuroscience at Oxford University
Thursday, September 23, 2021

Hypnotherapy for hot flashes: the mind-body connection

Contents

One of the most effective hot flash management tools available is literally all in your head. Hypnotherapy, while not widely understood by many people, can help regulate hot flashes by managing how temperatures are perceived and regulated in the brain.

In fact, hypnotherapy has been clinically shown to reduce hot flashes by up to 80%. That’s more effective than any other hot flash management tool available, with the exception of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).  

And while HRT remains the most effective treatment for menopausal hot flashes, it is not appropriate for everyone. Some women shouldn’t take HRT, others prefer not to take HRT, and even more are looking for drug-free alternatives to complement their HRT.

Let’s look at what hypnotherapy is, and isn’t⸺and how it works with the mind and the body to reduce hot flashes.

Why do hot flashes happen?

To understand how hypnotherapy for hot flashes works, you first need to understand why hot flashes occur.

Your hypothalamus (a part of your brain) is your heating and cooling control center, regulating your body temperature. It decides when you’re too cold and warms you up. It also decides when you’re too hot and cools you down.

The ‘neutral zone’ is where your hypothalamus believes your body to be at a great temperature⸺not too hot, not too cold. Before menopause, the neutral zone is quite wide, your body doesn’t react to small fluctuations in temperature. But during menopause, your falling level of estrogen affects your hypothalamus and your neutral zone narrows.

With a narrower neutral zone, your body becomes more sensitive to small fluctuations in temperature and your hypothalamus may believe your body is overheating when it’s not.  It triggers your cooling response: the blood vessels near your skin dilate (that flushed feeling), your blood moves faster around your body (increased heart rate), and heat evaporates from your skin (by sweating).

While it may feel like hot flashes come out of nowhere, it’s actually your hypothalamus that triggers them.

A diagram showing the narrowing of the neutral zone

What is hypnotherapy for hot flashes?

Hypnotherapy for hot flashes works in a few ways. Firstly, it calms down this cooling response, before it even happens.

Have you ever noticed that your hot flashes feel similar to your body's reaction to stress or anxiety. This is your ‘sympathetic nervous’ system in action, stimulating your fight-or-flight response.

Hypnotherapy for hot flashes helps you calm the body's stress response—actively reversing the raised heart rate, the rush of blood,  and the sweating.

Secondly, while you’re in this relaxed and focused state of attention, your subconscious mind can learn new ideas—like adjusting how your brain reacts to normal temperatures. This happens by listening to suggestions for hot flash management, and visualizing cooling situations. We’ll go into this in more detail later.

Finally, hypnotherapy has been shown to also improve many other aspects of life during menopause. This includes improving sleep (by reducing night sweats), reducing stress, and improving mood. Reducing these pressures may also help reduce the number of hot flashes you experience.

What does the science say?

There has now been quite a bit of research done in the field of hypnotherapy for the management of hot flashes⸺and the results are great!

In one study, almost 200 women who reported experiencing at least 50 hot flashes per week were recruited to examine the effectiveness of hypnotherapy for hot flashes. The participants recorded hot flashes in a diary, and also wore sensors that recorded their hot flashes. One group received hypnotherapy, and the other group had an equivalent number of sessions with a doctor where they discussed their symptoms and received education material and encouragement.

The hypnotherapy group received five, 45-minute weekly sessions. In these, the women were guided into a state of hypnotic calmness, then offered imagery created to reduce the intensity of hot flashes, such as of cool environments. The women also received a recording of the hypnotic induction, and were directed to continue practicing at home.

The study demonstrated that women in the hypnosis group reported 74% fewer hot flashes, compared to 17% fewer among the women not receiving therapy. The skin sensors worn by the participants indicated a 57% reduction in hot flashes in the hypnotherapy group, compared to 10% in the women in the control group. In addition, women receiving hypnotherapy reported lower levels of sleep disturbance.

What happens during a hypnotherapy session?

Forget about all the TV shows, movies and cartoons you’ve seen about hypnosis⸺in a hypnotherapy session you will never forget who or where you are, or be under someone else’s control.

You will be asked to lie or sit down, and then taken through a relaxation exercise, perhaps focusing on a spot on the wall, deepening your breath or closing your eyes and relaxing your body, one part at a time. This is focused relaxation. Keeping your mind’s attention on the here and now, while calming the rest of you.

In this state of focused relaxation it becomes easier to ignore outside disturbances and intrusive thoughts and focus on the imagery and suggestions your therapist will say to you.

Once you are relaxed, your hypnotherapist will guide you through some cooling imagery. This might be sipping an ice-cold drink on a hot day, or feeling the sensation of an ice-cube in your mouth. You may be guided to imagine stepping into cool water or other cold environments. The purpose of this cool imagery is to encourage the brain to regain control of its temperature-control mechanisms and in your deeply relaxed state these images may feel very real.

The hypnotherapist may then give you suggestions for managing your hot flashes in your day-to-day life. Such as, “Your hot flashes will bother you less and less, you will gain control over your hot flashes.” These suggestions are designed to give you a sense of control over your hot flashes, whilst also providing a sense of calm.

Finally comes the alerting, where your hypnotherapist will bring you back to your normal state of alertness. You’ll remember everything that happened and hopefully finish with a calmer, cooler body, brain, and mind.

Hypnotherapy and sleep

You may be experiencing hot flashes at night, but even without these night sweats, menopause is often accompanied by sleeping difficulties.

Research by the Center for Disease Control in the United States has shown that a third of menopausal women sleep an average of seven hours a night or less, and nearly half wake up without feeling rested at least four days a week.

The research also showed that one in four menopausal women found it difficult to fall asleep, and one in three had trouble staying asleep throughout the night.

The good news is that hypnotherapy has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration. This approach can allow you to feel relaxed and comfortable at bedtime, rather than feeling anxious and worried. In the hot flashes hypnotherapy study we mentioned earlier, 43% of those who received hypnotherapy reported improved sleep quality, compared to only 4% in the control group.

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Hypnotherapy and mild anxiety and depression

During menopause, it’s not uncommon to experience changes to your mood or mental health.  You may notice more feelings of anxiety or sadness.

Mood swings may be brought about by significant shifts in hormone levels, which can in turn, be worsened by poor sleep and night sweats. These factors, plus general anxiety or failing quality of life due to severe symptoms, can all be factors leading to depression.

Many women who have used hypnotherapy to manage their hot flashes report feeling calmer and less stressed or anxious.

While this form of hypnotherapy is directed at reducing hot flashes, hypnotherapy has been used as a tool to reduce anxiety or depressive feelings and has been shown to improve overall psychological wellbeing after menopause.

Three benefit of using hypnotherapy

Where to get hypnotherapy for hot flashes

Hypnotherapy for hot flashes is a specialized service. If you decide to seek in-person therapy, do your research and make sure you check your practitioner’s qualifications.

In-person hypnotherapy sessions can also become quite expensive. As such, you may want to look into at-home versions of programs, such as hypnotherapy apps.

The Wrap Up

Hypnotherapy has been recognised as one of the safest and most effective tools in managing menopausal hot flashes. Hot flashes are caused by the hypothalamus mistakenly believing your body is overheating and triggering your body’s cooling response. A hypnotherapy session takes you into a focused state of relaxation where suggestions and cooling imagery can help you manage your internal temperature control and reduce hot flashes by up to 80%. Hypnotherapy for hot flashes is available through in-person sessions with a clinician, or at home through an app.



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Our Sources

Mindset Health only uses high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support our articles. We work with experts to ensure our content is helpful, accurate and trustworthy.

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  7. D'Alonzo M, Bounous VE, Villa M, Biglia N. Current Evidence of the Oncological Benefit-Risk Profile of Hormone Replacement Therapy. Medicina (Kaunas). 2019 Sep 7;55(9):573. doi: 10.3390/medicina55090573. PMID: 31500261; PMCID: PMC6780494.
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  10. Rajaee, F. and Eshghi, R., 2018. The effect of behavioral-cognitive hypnotherapy on improving anxiety and sexual performance ofvaginismuspatients. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 9(4), pp.55-69. https://jcp.semnan.ac.ir/article_2904.html?lang=en
  11. The experts do agree on hormone replacement therapy. The North American Menopause Society. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/the-experts-do-agree-about-hormone-therapy Accessed 10 September 2021.
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