Sweating is normal and is a way that the body regulates temperature. When you're working out or in the sauna, profuse sweating is expected. Waking up sweating in the middle of the night is another matter and not normal. Night sweats can be defined as sweating in excess of that required by the body to regulate body temperature.
Night sweats can occur during sleep and without physical exertion. They don't have another cause such as a heavy blanket or warm room, but instead are rooted in other health issues. They can reduce sleep quality and concern your bed partner, as well as be the root of severe discomfort. Continue reading to find out more about what night sweats are and what you can do about them for better sleep.
What are night sweats?
Night sweats are episodes of excessive perspiration that happen during sleep. They are described as soaking or drenching and may require individuals to change sheets or even clothes. Night sweats are not just overheating, which is caused by a heavy blanket or high bedroom temperature.
They are also different than hot flashes which are sudden feelings of warmth. They occur at any time during the day, but when they occur at night, can be classified as night sweats. Flushing is the sudden reddening of the skin from increased blood flow. Flushing doesn't provoke intense sweating.
Night sweats are most common in people 41-55.
Common causes of night sweats
There are several causes of night sweats, but it's important to distinguish external causes from internal causes. External causes of night sweats indicate there is excess temperature in the room or perhaps you're wearing too many clothes. Optimal sleeping temperature is 68 degrees. Warmer rooms may make it more difficult to sleep throughout the night. Wearing excessive clothing or having too heavy bed coverings can also lead to excessive sweating.
Internal causes, however, cannot be addressed by changing something in your environment. The temperature regulation system is so complex, that it can be hard to pinpoint one direct cause of night sweats. The most common four reasons include menopause, medications, infections and hormone problems.
Menopause is when women stop having their menstrual cycle. It happens between 40-60 years of age and involves significant changes in the body's production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Hot flashes are the hallmark of menopause, affecting 85% of women. They actually begin in the transition period right before menopause, also known as perimenopause and can continue once a woman is postmenopausal.
These hot flashes normally last a few minutes and can occur multiple times per day, including at night. It's common for hot flashes to continue occuring for several years, and some women experience them for a couple of decades.
Many women report sleep problems and higher rates of insomnia during perimenopause and menopause. Night sweats are not the only cause of sleep problems, but can contribute to poor sleep, especially when they are severe.
Certain medications are associated with night sweats including SSRIs, steroids, medicines that lower fever (aspirin or acetaminophen) that may cause sweating. Caffeine can cause generalized sweating and alcohol and drug use can also increase the risk of night sweats.
Many infections are associated with night sweats, normally due to the fever that is associated with them which can lead to sweating. Tuberculosis, bacterial and fungal infections and HIV are a few examples of infections for which night sweats are a significant symptom.
Changes in the endocrine system can be related to sweating at night. The endocrine system controls the release of hormones and hormones can affect sweating. For example, overactivity of the thyroid, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and elevated blood sugar and abnormal levels of sex hormones can all contribute to night sweating.
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulate body temperatures and is also involved in the endocrine system. Hypothalamic dysfunction can be an underlying issue of hormone imbalances and night sweats.
Other conditions affecting the endocrine system such as pheochromocytoma and carcinoid syndrome can also be the cause or associated with night sweats.
Other than these four common causes, other conditions may give rise to night sweats. Hot flashes may be more common during pregnancy and post-partum. Anxiety and panic attacks have also been correlated with night sweats.
Hyperhidrosis is a condition of excessive sweating that may affect people during the day and at night. Even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has been identified as a potential cause of night sweats.
Night sweats can be a symptom of certain types of cancers or cancer treatment. Hot flashes may occur in people with lymphoma and can frequently arise as a result of hormone therapy for women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer. Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also provoke night sweats.
How to stop night sweats and get better sleep
Night sweats can be worrying and bothersome as well as very disruptive to your sleep. Because there are multiple potential causes for night sweats, there is no one approach to solving the problem.
One thing you can do is check your environment and make changes to your sleepwear. If you still find that you're breaking out in night sweats regardless of a cool room and cool pajamas, then the problem could be internal. Also think about what behavioral or substance changes you may have had recently: medication, alcohol, caffeine, drugs, etc.
If your night sweats persist, then it may be time to talk with your doctor, especially if they are:
- persistent over time
- interfering with your sleep
- affecting other aspects of your daily life
- occurring with other health changes like weight gain or loss, hair loss, skin changes
Meeting with your doctor is important because they can help determine the most likely cause and order tests to get to the bottom of the situation. Based on that information, doctors can create a treatment plan that works for your symptoms and health.
The most effective treatment will vary between individuals, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication may be a great option. CBT can reduce the frequency and improve mood and quality of life in menopausal women. CBT is compatible with other approaches like behavior modifications and likely has the greatest effect on night sweats when combined with other approaches.
As far as medication, for menopausal women, several types of drugs, like hormonal therapies, can reduce night sweats.
If sweating is severely interfering with your ability to sleep, it's important to speak with a professional about what to do. Please click the orange button to take a free online sleep test and speak with a sleep professional.