Hot flashes are the most common symptom of the climacteric and occur in about 75% of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women in Western societies. Although hot flashes accompany the withdrawal of estrogen at menopause, the decline in estrogen levels is not sufficient to explain their occurrence. Elevated sympathetic activation acting through central alpha(2)-adrenergic receptors contributes to the initiation of hot flashes, possibly by narrowing the thermoneutral zone in symptomatic women. Hot flashes are then triggered by small elevations in core body temperature acting within this narrowed zone. A relaxation-based method, paced respiration, has been shown in 3 controlled investigations to significantly reduce objectively measured hot flash occurrence by about 50% with no adverse effects. In 6 studies of physical exercise, however, investigators did not find positive effects on hot flashes, possibly because exercise raises core body temperature, thereby triggering hot flashes. Although many epidemiologic studies have found increased reports of sleep disturbance during the menopausal transition, recent laboratory investigations have not found this effect, nor have they found that hot flashes produce disturbed sleep. Therefore, sleep complaints in women at midlife should not routinely be attributed to hot flashes or to menopause.