World Menopause Day is recognized on Oct 18, and one Baylor University researcher has been on a 20-year mission to identify safe and effective options to hormone replacement therapy, including hypnotherapy, to help women improve sleep and find relief from hot flashes during the menopause transition.

Gary Elkins, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory at Baylor University, is among the nation’s researchers on hypnotherapy and mind-body approaches, including continued funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to evaluate the efficacy of a self-hypnosis intervention to improve sleep and reduce hot flashes, as well as other outcomes.

“It is important to recognize that hot flashes are a natural part of menopause,” Elkins says in a release. “They are not caused by stress or personality but are due to the decline in estrogen that occurs naturally with aging.”

Perimenopause (the hormonal transition leading up to menopause) and menopause (the cessation of menstrual cycles) is the natural aging process marked by the decline in the reproductive hormone estrogen and progesterone in women and can last anywhere from seven to 20 years. Menopause usually begins around age 52 or can result from breast cancer treatment or hysterectomies.

Although hormone replacement therapy remains the most effective treatment for hot flashes, it is not appropriate for everyone. A major NIH study found that hormone replacement therapy led to an increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease in some post-menopausal women and breast cancer survivors. Elkins’ research is aimed at giving women choices for their own healthcare, including alternatives such as hypnotherapy.

“While hypnotherapy is not widely understood by many people, it can regulate hot flashes and improve sleep by managing how temperatures are perceived and regulated in the brain,” Elkins says in a release. “Hypnotherapy is a mind-body therapy, similar to mindfulness and guided imagery, that involves the focus of attention, a relaxed state, and therapeutic suggestions.” 

Elkins’ research on sleep and hot flashes and hypnotherapy has been clinically shown to reduce hot flashes by up to 80%, more effective than any other hot flash management tool available, with the exception of hormone replacement therapy.

He also has found that hypnotherapy, as a mind-body intervention, can reduce hot flashes to a degree comparable to hormone replacement therapy, improve sleep quality by over 50%, and reduce anxiety while increasing well-being.

“Hypnotherapy involves daily practice of 15-minute hypnotic relaxation sessions that teach your brain to adapt to your body’s changing hormone level. Mental images for coolness and control are used to empower women to take control of the two most troublesome menopause symptoms: hot flashes and sleep,” Elkins says in the release.

Elkins offers the following suggestions for women to empower them and help them find relief from hot flashes, anxiety, and interrupted sleep.

  • Remember that hot flashes are a normal part of the perimenopausal/menopausal transition, and the effects a woman experiences are real.
  • Talk to your doctor about options that may work for you. Everyone is an individual, and it is important to find what works best for you.
  • A combined approach of mind-body hypnosis therapy along with low-dose medications can be helpful for some women.
  • It can be helpful to keep a daily diary of your hot flashes to monitor them.
  • Get good sleep. Poor sleep and night sweats can make hot flashes worse.
  • Be knowledgeable about things that have not been shown to work, such as fans, cold packs, and certain herbs.
  • Seek support from family and friends.

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