Night Sweats

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If you frequently sweat in your sleep or wake up sweating, you may be experiencing night sweats. While night sweats can sometimes be provoked by warm weather or bedding, they can also be a sign of an underlying disorder. We examine what causes night sweats and share advice for staying cool while you sleep.

What Are Night Sweats?

Night sweats are repeated occurrences of sweating during the night. Some people with night sweats may become so sweaty that they drench their bedding. If you are experiencing night sweats for no identifiable reason, it is natural to be concerned.

Night sweats are linked to daytime fatigue and a lower quality of life. People with night sweats are also more likely to have other sleep symptoms.

In and of themselves, night sweats do not alter life expectancy. However, if you are unsure why you are experiencing night sweats, you may want to ask your doctor to screen you for any undiagnosed medical conditions.

Symptoms of Night Sweats

Night sweats themselves are considered a symptom, and they may occur due to another health condition. Additional symptoms may be present depending on the underlying condition causing night sweats. These may include:

  • Anxiety or other mood changes
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • A bitter taste in your mouth upon waking up
  • Muscle cramps or an overwhelming urge to move the extremities
  • Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale or flushed skin
  • Sleep issues
  • Daytime fatigue

The additional symptoms you experience depend on what is causing your night sweats. For example, a person experiencing night sweats due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may experience a bitter taste upon waking up, while someone with hyperthyroidism may be more likely to experience diarrhea.

What Causes Night Sweats?

Sweating in general occurs when the body feels it is becoming too warm. In many cases, sweating may occur due to an overly warm bedroom or an unnecessary amount of bedding and pajamas. Athletes may be more prone to night sweats after an evening training session. Night sweats may also be associated with an underlying condition, including but not limited to:

  • Menopause and perimenopause
  • Anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, and pneumonia
  • Leukemia or lymphoma
  • Pregnancy

A large number of medications may also cause night sweats. Consuming alcohol, tobacco, or a diet high in sugar and fat may raise the risk of night sweats.

Who Experiences Night Sweats?

Night sweats are most common in middle age, although younger and older people can also experience them, particularly if they have other conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea or anxiety. One study found that up to 41% of people who seek treatment from a doctor may experience night sweats.

Night Sweats in Men vs. Women

Both men and women can experience night sweats. Night sweats are often linked to perimenopausal and menopausal hot flashes, which can occur among women in their late thirties to early sixties. Approximately 85% of women experience hot flashes during menopause, which often manifest as night sweats if they happen during sleep. Men with hypogonadism may also experience hot flashes that can lead to sweating.

Diagnosing Night Sweats

To identify the cause of your night sweats, your doctor may ask about your bedroom environment. They may also review your medical history and perform a physical exam to determine if you have symptoms consistent with one of the common underlying causes for night sweats. For example, they may ask about your travel history and take your temperature to rule out an infection. They may examine your lymph nodes to assess your risk for certain cancers, or check the back of your mouth to gauge your likelihood of having obstructive sleep apnea.

If needed, your doctor may order additional testing or refer you to a specialist. In the meantime, they may recommend you keep a diary of your symptoms. During this time, try to cut back on any behaviors that may cause night sweats, such as drinking or smoking. Ask your doctor about alternate medications if any of the ones you are taking are associated with night sweats.

Treatments for Night Sweats

In many cases, night sweats resolve when the underlying cause is addressed. For example, treating heartburn for those with GERD or using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for people with obstructive sleep apnea have both been shown to reduce night sweats.

Doctors may prescribe different medications depending on your personal medical history and the underlying condition causing your night sweats.

Tips for Better Sleep

You may be able to reduce the occurrence of night sweats by avoiding situations that raise your body temperature.

Keep Your Bedroom Cool

The optimal bedroom temperature for sleep is on the cooler side, approximately between 66 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a warm climate, consider using a ceiling or bedside fan, opening the windows, turning on the air conditioning, and using breathable bedding and pajamas.

Try Relaxation Exercises

Anxiety and stress can stimulate the sweat glands and disturb sleep. Consider trying deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques before bedtime.

Avoid Drinking and Smoking

Not only do tobacco and alcohol disrupt your sleep, they also increase your likelihood of experiencing night sweats, so they are best avoided in the afternoon and evening.

If you are having trouble sleeping due to night sweats, or if they are accompanied by other symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can help you understand what is contributing to your night sweats and provide additional recommendations for managing them.

References

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  4. 4. Accessed on October 11, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33334958/
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  6. 6. Accessed on October 11, 2021.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29797753/
  7. 7. Accessed on October 11, 2021.https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/relaxation-techniques-what-you-need-to-know
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