Also known as sleep hyperhidrosis, night sweats are an unwanted problem associated with sleeping where the sufferer experiences persistent sweating that drenches their sheets and/or pajamas, and occurs independently in all climates and isn’t associated to environmental factors.
What Causes Night Sweats
In truth, there are a number of potential causes for night sweats. Traditionally, this condition is defined as persistent sweating or flushing that:
- Occurs regardless of the room temperature and other environmental factors
- Causes disruption in sleeping pattern
- Covers pajamas and sheets with sweat
When discerning between night sweats and general sweating, the first bullet point is especially important. When there’s a heatwave and our rooms are hotter than normal, we can all sweat in bed from time to time. When it occurs in all weathers, this suggests a more serious problem.
When menopause causes hot flashes and excessive sweating, this is considered true night sweats because there’s a medical cause. When you’re wearing pajamas during warm weather, the problem would clearly disappear with lighter clothing and a change in weather.
Not Actually Night Sweats
To begin, let’s look at three environmental factors that can cause sweating and are of no medical concern.
Illness - As the third reason for non-threatening night sweats, we could be a little under the weather. When ill, our body temperature tends to increase as the immune system works overtime. Just like the first two, this is a problem easily handled and it will go away once you’re feeling better.
Hot Bedroom - If you’ve got the central heating on or if heat is coming in from outside, the body expels sweat and this can disrupt our sleep.
Warm Bedding/Clothing - You could be sweating as a result of heavy bedding and/or thick clothing. In recent years, scientists have discovered that sleeping naked is actually better for us because it allows for thermoregulation. In other words, our bodies can maintain a healthy and consistent temperature throughout the night.
We know that the circadian cycle and thermoregulation are tied together; while our bodies are warmer in the day for energy purposes, they cool in the evening to help sleep. Before we can sleep, our body temperature needs to drop slightly, and this is why it’s so difficult to sleep during warmer weather.
If the night sweats continue despite changing clothing, reducing the thermostat, getting over illness, and the weather getting colder, this may suggest an underlying issue, and this is when you should contact a medical professional.
Health Conditions That Cause Night Sweats
Now we’ve seen the causes that shouldn’t cause concern, let’s look at the health conditions that drenched sheets may suggest.
Pregnancy - As we mentioned earlier, pregnancy comes with all sorts of hormonal changes and this can manifest in strange health changes, one being night sweats. According to some sources, as many as 35% of pregnant women are affected by night sweats and it can continue after birth too. Sometimes, it’s a simple case of the body expelling fluid.
If you look online, you’ll find a wonderful community of parents with home remedies for night sweats. While some use cooling pads and sheets, others swear by staying hydrated and setting up a fan.
Substance Abuse or Withdrawal - When substances are abused on a regular basis, excessive sweating is a common concern. As we try to lose the dependence, the sweats continue and can even get worse.
If you struggle with specific substances or know somebody who does, medical attention is essential. Recovery is tough alone and the withdrawal symptoms are difficult to manage, so get the help you need and recover in a safe manner.
Neurological Problems - We’re reaching the rarer causes with this one, but it’s still worth mentioning since night sweats are linked with some neurologic conditions. This includes stroke, autonomic dysreflexia, autonomic neuropathy, and post-traumatic syringomyelia.
Infections - Night sweats are commonly recorded with HIV, tuberculosis, brucellosis, and other bacterial infections.
Medications - With some anti-fever medications, antidepressants, psychotropic drugs, and even chemotherapy medications, night sweats are listed as a side effect.
Cancer - Sadly, cancer affects the body in a number of different ways. In the past, a number of cancer patients reported night sweats as early symptoms. In particular, they’re common in thyroid cancer, lymphoma, prostate cancer, and leukemia. Of course, the night sweats are accompanied by other symptoms.
Takayasu’s Arteritis - Causing inflammation and damage in the blood vessels, this particular disorder is another that remains a mystery to doctors. We know that it’s probably an autoimmune disease and that infections trigger the disorder, but we aren’t sure why.
As soon as the immune system recognizes danger, it has several tools to attack and temperature regulation is one of them; this is useful, but it also causes problems with health conditions such as night sweats and fever.
Idiopathic Hyperhidrosis - Affecting a little under 3% of Americans, idiopathic hyperhidrosis is often diagnosed when all other avenues have been exhausted because it literally describes chronic sweating with no explanation.
Hypoglycemia - Also considered low blood sugar, one side effect of hypoglycemia is night sweats. For those who rely on insulin during the day, blood sugar can drop through the night which causes sweating.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - You might associate GERD with heartburn, but some sufferers also experience night sweats. As we lay prone, stomach acid travels up to the esophagus which damages the tissue and also causes sweating as we wake. Fortunately, management of this disease has improved dramatically. If it does occur, a simple solution is to buy a wedge pillow to elevate your torso and prevent acid from travelling up the body.
Anxiety - As times goes on, we’re learning more about anxiety and this includes its impact on sleep. For those with disorders, they have what’s called a chronically activated nervous system. As well as the mental and emotional effects of anxiety, this leads to flushes and night sweats. In control of the bodily processes, the vagus nerve is to blame - this also controls heart rate, temperature, and digestion.
Sleep Apnea - Stopping breathing during sleep, obstructive sleep apnea is a scary health concern; especially when it leads to gasping and choking in the middle of the night. Luckily, these days, we have access to BIPAP and CPAP machines which monitor and control breathing as we sleep.
However, when the problem isn’t diagnosed or handled effectively, it has the potential to cause sweating. For many years, researchers have been looking for a reason for this, but we’re still none the wiser. As a best guess, oxygen deprivation causes a spike in blood pressure which then results in sweating.
Obesity - Next up, those carrying extra weight will also have problems since thermoregulation becomes difficult. What’s more, obesity also increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea and this can cause night sweats and many other sleep-related issues.
Hormone Imbalances - You may have a hormone imbalance or disorder causing flushing and sweating. If you’ve experienced pregnancy, this is probably something you recognize. Elsewhere, sweating can arise from carcinoid syndrome, hyperthyroidism, and pheochromocytoma.
Menopause - Women going through menopause may experience night sweats. As hormone levels fluctuate, this can cause hot flashes and, in turn, increased body temperature and adrenaline. Not only does this soak the sheets, it wakes the sleeper up and makes them feel uncomfortable.
How to Stop (or Reduce) Night Sweats
Now we understand night sweats and the different ways that they form, how do we deal with the problem?
First things first, it’s important to distinguish between non-medical and medical causes. If the sweating continues despite the changing environment and getting over an illness, this suggests a deeper problem. After contacting a doctor and receiving treatment for a problem, there may be steps you can take to make the sweats either less frequent or less severe.
Use Your Bedside Table - As well as drinking some cold water before bed, keep some cooling items on the bedside table whether it’s an ice pack, ice cubes, a cooling spray, or even a damp towel.
Lose the Drink - Alcohol can certainly make us feel tired, but the effects will eventually wear off and your body will react with a jump in temperature. Suddenly, you’re awake and facing another night of sweating. Of course, there’s also the risk of alcohol dependence (and unhealthy side effects).
Avoid Spicy Foods - That’s right, spicy foods not only taste hot, but they can also heat up our bodies, so avoid them in your diet in the hours before bed.
Diet and Exercise - Failing all of these solutions, you could go back to basics and introduce a healthy diet with a solid exercise plan. Whenever we carry extra weight, this can affect our thermoregulation. With a strong diet and exercise, you can keep healthy and also limit stress.
Manage Stress - Easier said than done, but you’ll be surprised how big the relationship is between stress and sleep. When stress strikes, our nervous system takes the hit. As it goes into overdrive, our body temperature increases to meet the incoming physical threat.
Throughout the day, try to take breaks from work and other stressful situations. Find what helps you to relax whether this is music, yoga, or writing your thoughts in a diary.
Use a Cooling Mattress - Did you know that there are special mattresses that sleep cooler than most others? While a memory foam mattress might conform to the body, it also retains body heat. In our experience, innerspring and latex mattresses are the best options alongside any hybrid bed that has cooling layers built in. As heat distributes more efficiently, you can sleep in comfort and hopefully stave off night sweats.
Limit Bedding - As you lose the pajamas, try to reduce the amount of bedding you use too. Go down to the minimum, and then look for breathable cotton or linen for your sheets.
Sleep Naked - It makes sense that taking off layers reduces the intensity of sweating, right? As we mentioned earlier, sleeping naked is also advised by scientists to avoid getting too hot or too cold while sleeping.
Buy a Fan - Simply put, a fan will decrease the temperature in your bedroom and reduce the likelihood of night sweats.
Reduce Room Temperature - If you can keep your room around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll create the perfect environment for sleep. If a health condition keeps you hotter than normal, go a few degrees lower.
When It’s Time to See a Doctor
In many cases, people are able to help themselves with our advice above and night sweats disappear. If you’ve tried several of these tips and there’s still no improvement, it’s time to contact a doctor. Assuming there’s no heatwave, and you aren’t sleeping in a coat, they will run tests and ask questions to identify the underlying issue.
In preparation for your appointment, we recommend keeping a diary of all night sweat occurrences. With information regarding your diet, sleep schedule, night sweats, and exercise routines, the doctor will have everything they need to start working towards a solution. With any luck, you’ll soon have a treatment plan and you’ll be able to say that night sweats are a thing of the past!