Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with your pajamas and bedding drenched in sweat? You become restless as everything is so wet that you want to get up and change your clothes and bedding right away. Anxiety kicks in, and going back to sleep seems impossible, so you end up getting insufficient sleep. Most people have experienced this episode at least once in their lives, but it is usually a result of a hot summer night, unbreathable clothes, or too many covers. The problem exists when these events are not connected to the warm environment, night sweats occur frequently, and in that case, they are most likely the sign of some underlying health condition.
Although night sweats are fairly common in both men and women, there are some things you can do to prevent them from happening. They include adapting your sleeping environment to better suit your needs, keeping a healthy diet, exercising, and having regular medical examinations to check if there is any underlying health problem that might be causing the excessive sweating during the night.
What Are Night Sweats?
True night sweats are also known as sleep hyperhidrosis, and they refer to persistent sweating throughout the night that drenches your pajamas and bedding, interferes with your sleep, and it is not related to environmental factors such as a bedroom that is too warm. That last part is crucial as it is a difference between night sweats that are benign and that can be resolved easily, and symptoms of a more serious condition.
It is also important to note that the flushing (redness and warmth) of face and trunk can be hard to distinguish from actual night sweats. Even though flushing can appear on its own, it is a condition that often accompanies night sweats. Many disorders can cause these events, so doctors usually need to check your medical history and medication use to find out what might be the reason for these sleep disturbances.
Causes of Night Sweats
There are many causes of night sweats, but warm pajamas and bedding, high bedroom temperature, and temporary illness such as a cold, are not one of them. True night sweats can be a result of:
- Hormone imbalances
- Anxiety disorders
- Untreated sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Idiopathic hyperhidrosis
- Neurological disorders
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Substance abuse, especially alcohol, cocaine, and heroin
In additions, many medications such as antidepressants, hormones, pain relievers, diabetes medications, and steroids can be the cause of night sweats. Some commonly prescribed meds with this side effect are:
- Naproxen sodium
- Nicotine replacement
Individuals who are using certain medications should talk to their physicians or pharmacist about the possible side effects, and consider an alternative if the treatment is causing problems.
Menopause is one of the most common causes of night sweats in women. Hormones are fluctuating during this period, and reduced estrogen and progesterone are causing many symptoms including hot flashes, chills, irregular or absent periods, vaginal dryness, mood changes, thinning hair, slower metabolism and many more. Women enter menopause at age 51 on average, but it can happen at any point in a person’s 50s, 40s, even earlier. However, it is estimated that only 1% of women have menopause before their 40s, so if you are younger than that, menopause is most likely not the cause of your night sweats. Menopause is an entirely natural condition, and it usually doesn’t require treatment. However, if the symptoms are severe, or your night sweats are causing too many sleep disturbances, you can talk to your physician about hormone replacement therapy. This treatment can help battle a lot of symptoms connected to the menopause, so be free to speak with your doctor about it.
Hormone imbalances like menopause can cause flushing and sweating. For instance, pregnancy is the time when the hormones are going wild, and night sweats are pretty frequent during this time. Some adolescents can experience them as puberty is a time when hormones are all over the place. Hormone disorders like hyperthyroidism, carcinoma syndrome, and pheochromocytoma can be to blame for night sweats as well.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition when your thyroid gland that plays a role in how your body uses energy produces too much thyroxine. That can lead to night sweats, unintentional weight changes, increased appetite, racing heartbeat, anxiety, and more. A doctor can offer many treatments if this condition causes your problems, one of which includes beta blockers to slow down your heart. Carcinoid syndrome is caused by too much of some hormones, that are the result of tumors in the lungs and gastrointestinal system. Pheochromocytoma is a condition when tumors appear on adrenal glands that produce hormones called catecholamines. Adrenaline and cortisol play a lot of roles in our bodies, and their disbalances can cause excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, headaches, paleness, tremors, shortness of breath and many more. Good news is that this condition is extremely rare and fairly treatable with either meds or surgery.
Anxiety disorders are much more than feeling worry and fear, as these emotions can trigger many physical consequences. They include sweating too much, fatigue, muscle tension, breathing problems, racing heartbeat, stomach issues like diarrhea and nausea, and many more. Most common conditions under this range are a panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If the night sweats are frequent, mention it to your therapist or a physician so that they can figure out how to battle the symptoms.
Obesity is simply bad for your health. It leads to several health disruptions, and it impairs your sleep. It also increases chances of developing certain sleep conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, that can additionally cause night sweats if it’s left untreated. Furthermore, additional fat prevents proper thermoregulation, so you retain more heat, which causes your body to sweat excessively while trying to cool itself down.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder that causes full or partial cessation of breath during sleep. This results in snoring, choking, or waking up gasping for air. Proper ventilation is essential for thermoregulation, so if the affected individuals don’t seek out appropriate treatment, they are at risk at sweating excessively during the night among other things. CPAP and BiPAP treatments include wearing a mask during the night that provides a continuous flow of pressurized air, which enables the patient to get the needed oxygen during the night.
Infections, whether they are viral or bacterial can cause night sweats. Tuberculosis is the most common infection connected to excess nocturnal sweating, but there are many others including HIV, endocarditis, osteomyelitis, and brucellosis. These are all serious diseases that need proper medical treatment. Endocarditis is inflammation of the heart valves, while osteomyelitis represents inflammation of the bones due to infection.
It might seem that tuberculosis is not around anymore, but it is very much present, and it can attack your lungs, kidneys, and parts of brain and spine. It leads to various symptoms including fever that contributes to chills and night sweats, loss of weight and appetite, and a cough that lasts for three weeks or more. It is transmitted by getting in contact with the infected person, but the good news is that it is treatable with the course of antibiotics prescribed by physicians.
Brucellosis is an infection picked up from animal, usually by using unpasteurized dairy products, but it can also be from contact with an infected animal. The symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, sweating, fatigue, joint, muscle and back pain, headaches, loss of appetite and more. Brucellosis is pretty rare in the United States, but if you are traveling somewhere abroad, you should make sure to stay safe. Treatment includes six weeks of antibiotics prescribed by the doctor to eliminate the bacteria from your system, along with any additional measurement to fight the rest of the symptoms.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is estimated to affect 1.1 million Americans. It is spread through bodily fluids including semen, blood, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk. The virus attacks a person’s immune system by damaging their T cells, which are in charge of fighting off infection. When left untreated, it develops into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) which makes you vulnerable to many diseases. Your immune system is so weak at this point that things that were easily fought off before can now lead to fatal consequences. After a month or two after contracting an HIV, people experience flu-like symptoms including rash, fever, muscle and joint pain, headaches, swollen lymph glands, and sore throat. Fever causes night sweats, and people with AIDS may experience them often, along with chronic diarrhea, fatigue, unintended weight loss, and more. Good news is that medicine has come a long way, and people can now lead normal long lives, even after contracting the virus. But that is not an excuse to be irresponsible, so always practice protected sex! There are also preventive drugs like PrEP, which people can take if they are at a higher risk of obtaining the virus, like having a partner that is HIV positive.
Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can have night sweats as a side effect. People who take insulin and other oral diabetes medication can often experience drops in blood sugar levels during the night, which leads to night sweats.
Idiopathic hyperhidrosis is a condition that induces excess sweating in individuals, but doctors do not understand the cause of it. It usually involves key areas like your forehead, armpits, soles of your feet, and palms of your hands
Cancers could be to blame for night sweats as well, as they are one of the first signs of lymphoma, leukemia, prostate, and thyroid cancer. There are always other symptoms accompanying it like unexplained weight loss and fever.
Neurologic disorders although rare can be the cause of night sweats. They include posttraumatic syringomyelia, autonomic neuropathy, stroke, and autonomic dysreflexia.
When to Be Concerned About Night Sweats?
Night sweats are one of the most common complaints in people. They can affect anybody, men and women, children and elderly. Changes in sleepwear or bedroom environment can often resolve them, but if they are persistent, you should see a doctor. Other symptoms such as an unexpected weight loss can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, and you should see a doctor right away if they appear. They will give you a physical exam, as well as blood and other tests if needed to diagnose the cause of night sweats. Most night sweats are resolved by getting appropriate treatment for the disease that’s causing them, but there are some things you can do to prevent them from happening.
How To Stop Night Sweats?
These tips can help you prevent excessive nocturnal sweating, or at least lessen them.
- Lower your bedroom temperature. Our bodies prefer bedroom temperature at around mid-60s degrees Fahrenheit. If you are prone to sleeping hot, you can even go a few degrees lower.
- Get a bedroom fan. Light breeze with a combination of lower temperature is an excellent environment for sleeping cooler.
- Reduce sleepwear or try sleeping naked. Sleeping naked is good for you, but if you are not comfortable with that, wear light sleepwear made from a breathable material.
- Use less bedding. Fewer layers made from a breathable material like linen or cotton will help your body regulate its temperature better.
- Get a cooling mattress. Memory foam mattresses tend to trap heat, and they are not suitable for hot sleepers. Instead try latex, innerspring, or a hybrid mattress, with a top layer made out of the cooling gel. You can also consider getting a cooling pillow or a cool comforter.
- Eat well and exercise. Proper diet and regular exercise, along with a good night’s rest are essential for health. Gaining weight ads extra fat layers that trap body heat, and cause excess sweating. Also, avoid eating spicy foods or drinking alcohol before bed, as they can cause night sweats and disturb your sleep. Consider leaving a glass of cold water on the night table for refreshment, if you wake up feeling hot during the night.
- Reduce stress. Stress sends your nervous system into overdrive, and anxiety is just terrible for refreshing rest. It can increase the frequency of night sweats so try practicing a relaxing activity before bed, such as reading, listening to soothing music, light yoga, meditation, or a warm bath. Regular exercise also keeps stress levels low, but make sure not to do it too close to bedtime, as it can be counterproductive.
Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.