How To Deal With Night Sweats
Table of Contents
If you’ve ever had the flu, a nightmare, or been a little overzealous with the blankets in your bed, you’ve probably woken up feeling a little more moist than when you dozed off. All of the above can lead to night sweats, and as you might suspect, they’re pretty common. But vivid dreams and fleece blankets aside, night sweats could be a sign of something more ominous. Ahead we checked in with Dr. Denise Pate and Dr. Laura DeCesaris to pull the covers back on night sweats, and, perhaps more importantly, we got some pointers on how to deal with night sweats.
What Are Night Sweats?
Night sweats are repeated episodes of very heavy sweating during sleep. And while some sweating at night is normal, night sweats are usually drenching — heavy enough to soak your pajamas, night clothing, or bedding. They’re usually quite uncomfortable and can lead to disturbed sleep. Night sweats can occur in both men and women and seem to be fairly common, with 10–14 percent of seniors and up to 41 percent of adults reporting excessive sweating at night.
What Causes Night Sweats?
Dr. Denise Pate, board-certified physician and Medical Director with Medical Offices of Manhattan walks us through some of the most commons causes of night sweats, noting it can happen for a number of different reasons, including underlying medical conditions, medication side effects, hormonal imbalances, and sleep disorders.
“As a result of the extra effort required to breathe at night, people with sleep apnea may develop night sweats,” says Pate. While researchers aren’t quite sure if the condition directly contributes to night sweats, research shows that up to a third of people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) experience regular night sweats.
Pate tells Sleepopolis that “some prescription drugs, including antidepressants, cause night sweats.” Research has linked selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) with night sweats, but it remains unclear whether night sweats are caused by the medications specifically or stem from the underlying conditions they’re treating, such as depression or anxiety. In addition to SSRIs, night sweats may be triggered by other drugs, including albuterol, opioids, and steroids.
Night sweats are a common symptom of hormone disorders, including pheochromocytoma, carcinoid syndrome, and hyperthyroidism. Moreover, Pate adds, “When the thyroid gland works too hard, it raises body temperature and metabolism, causing people to sweat.”
Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can cause sweating. People who are taking diabetes medications like insulin may experience hypoglycemia and night sweats.
Night sweats can indicate a variety of illnesses, including tuberculosis, bacterial infections like endocarditis, and viral infections such as HIV.
Pates says, “Night sweats may be a symptom of certain cancers, such as lymphoma,” or a side effect of its treatment. While night sweats can be caused by fevers and tumors related to cancer, they’re quite common among patients who have been treated for breast cancer or prostate cancer.
If you drink before going to bed, your body will try to metabolize the alcohol, which may cause you to sweat.
Night Sweats, Pregnancy, and PMS
Hormonal fluctuations throughout women’s menstrual cycles often play a huge role in night sweats. Dr. Laura DeCesaris tells us that it’s indeed the usual suspects — progesterone and estrogen.
“Amongst other roles, the hypothalamus is responsible for helping control our body temperature,” says DeCesaris. Ultimately, “The drop in estrogen that occurs in the second half of your menstrual cycle (around the time you might experience PMS-related symptoms) can cause the hypothalamus to start sending out a signal to start sweating so you cool your body down, even if there’s just a slight temperature fluctuation.”
And just as hormonal changes often trigger night sweats during the menstrual cycle, DeCesaris tells us they’re also the culprit for night sweats during pregnancy.
“Fluctuating hormone levels cause the hypothalamus to try to “cool” the body, even if it’s not really needed,” says DeCesaris. She also notes that night sweats “are more common in the first and third trimester, as well as for a few weeks after birth.” But pregnant mamas can take heart — DeCesaris says night sweats during pregnancy are only temporary and typically stop once the woman’s hormone levels balance out.
Night Sweats and Menopause
DeCesaris says that like PMS and pregnancy, hormonal shifts, specifically fluctuating and declining estrogen levels, are usually to blame for menopausal night sweats as they “throw the hypothalamus into some confusion.” Affecting anywhere from 50-75 percent of women, menopause is by far one of the most well-known causes of night sweats.
If you’re one of the 50-75 percent currently experiencing night sweats or hot flashes as a symptom of menopause, we have good news and bad news. The good news is some women only experience these symptoms for about 3.5 years; the bad news — hot flashes and night sweats can linger for up to a decade. Sorry, ladies.
How Are Night Sweats Treated?
“Night sweats are typically treated by a combination of at-home lifestyle changes and steps to address any identified cause,” says DeCesaris. “Ultimately, the treatment will differ depending on the root causes of your night sweats.”
Night Sweat Treatment for Menopause
A combination of lifestyle factors (like keeping the bedroom cool and managing stress) and, if needed, hormone replacement therapy may be suggested to alleviate night sweats related to the hormonal changes occurring during menopause.
And don’t forget the critical role your diet plays here too. Just as research shows that caffeine, spicy foods, and sugar can exacerbate night sweats, research also shows that limiting your intake of any of the above can not only reduce the frequency of night sweats, but those dietary changes can do plenty to improve your overall quality of sleep as well.
Night Sweat Treatment for Medication Use
Your doctor may adjust your dosage or try to find an alternative without the side effect of night sweats.
Night Sweat Treatment for Anxiety/Stress
Creating routines and rituals to unwind and “let go” of daily stressors are helpful. Much like the treatment for menopause, dietary changes could have a profound effect on anxiety symptoms, including night sweats. Beyond that, your doctor may recommend supplements, breathing exercises, or medication to help you manage anxiety as well.
Can Night Sweats Be Prevented?
While it may not be possible to completely prevent night sweats, DeCesaris tells us that all is not lost. “Identifying any triggers (certain foods, exercise patterns, alcohol use) and avoiding those can help prevent or reduce the incidence of night sweats,” she says. If you think your menstrual cycle may influence your night sweats, DeCesaris adds that you track your hormone levels at home (at-home period trackers are a good resource here) and discuss your concerns with your doctor.
How to Deal with Night Sweats – At-Home Treatments
Your first step in treating night sweats is to rule out any serious health issues. Once you know that you don’t require a doctor’s immediate care, DeCesaris shares the following sleep hygiene tips for treating night sweats at home.
Some things to try include:
- Cooling your bedroom down in the evening and limiting heavy bedding
- Exercise daily, though not too close to bedtime
- Create a sleep ritual that helps you unwind, relax, and de-stress
- Wear loose-fitting clothing that’s lightweight and breathable
- Use pillows or mattress covers with cooling gels
- Ditch common night sweat triggers like alcohol, smoking, spicy foods before bed, or exercising right before bed
When to Call Your Doctor
“You should visit a doctor immediately if your night sweats persist for more than a few nights, or if they are accompanied by other symptoms like fever, weight loss, exhaustion, coughing, or chest pain,” says Pate. She adds that it’s important to “let your doctor know about your night sweats if you have a history of cancer or are presently receiving cancer treatment. They could be a sign of the disease or a side effect of the medication you are taking for it.”
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Drenching your pajamas and bedding thanks to nightsweats is a wholly unpleasant experience both men and women are vulnerable too. Luckily there are some condition-dependent solves, as well as sleep products that might make night sweats just a bit more tolerable. Remember, infrequent night sweats are probably not a cause for concern, but you may want to check in with your doctor if your night sweats persist or if they’re accompanied by fever, weight loss, exhaustion, or pain.