What Really Causes Night Sweats in Men
Table of Contents
Sweat can give you a heads-up that you’re having fun. Hiking on a sunny day, shooting some hoops with a friend, or sitting poolside and soaking in some Vitamin D can all cause your sweat glands to activate. But what if you sweat when you’d rather not? In this article, we will break down the most common causes of night sweats in men and what you can do about it.
Stress and Anxiety
Many notice a connection between stress, anxiety, and sweating. Experts say the research agrees. When you get stressed or anxious about a situation, your brain sends out a signal that you’re in trouble and need to get ready to fight off a threat. In response, the stress hormone cortisol floods your bloodstream.
This hormone keeps you awake, increases the amount of sugar in your blood, raises your blood pressure, and — you guessed it — can make you sweat. Just because you’re asleep doesn’t mean your body has forgotten your stress. Chronic stress and anxiety can lead to high cortisol and sweating throughout the day and night.
Alcohol and Tobacco Use
Your body maintains a safe temperature through a complex thermoregulatory system. “Alcohol and tobacco can affect the body’s thermoregulatory system, increasing sweating,” Dr. Liudmila Schafer, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences tells Sleepopolis.
Alcohol can make your blood vessels widen, Schafer adds, which can also contribute to night sweats. When you drink too much over a long period, your body can start to react when alcohol fades from your system. These withdrawal symptoms can include sweating at night.
Like alcohol, the nicotine in cigarettes can also fire up those sweat glands, even after you’ve finished your last smoke for the day. Nicotine is a component of tobacco that raises your body temperature. Nicotine mimics the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, but in an unregulated way that results in causing your brain to release more acetylcholine. The higher levels of this compound and your raised temperature can both lead to more sweat while you sleep.
Caffeine is a popular stimulant found in many delicious beverages and chocolatey treats. But it can also affect your body’s thermoregulation. It does this by widening your blood vessels and increasing your body and skin temperature. Of course, with increased temperature comes more sweat.
Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 10 hours, so if you drink it later in the day, its sweaty effects can follow you into dreamland. Everyone reacts to caffeine a little differently. Some claim they can drink a cup of coffee and sleep deeply all night. Others have to cut themselves off around lunchtime or even before to keep caffeine from affecting their slumber. In general, it’s a good idea to consume your last caffeine for the day 10 hours before you want to be asleep.
When you have sleep apnea, your breathing stops on and off while you snooze through the night. Research tells us 30 percent of people with sleep apnea experience night sweats. But why? Interruptions in your respiratory rhythm make your body temperature fluctuate, says Schafer, which can bring on the sweating.
When breathing gets interrupted, your oxygen levels dip. Your brain notices and wakes you up suddenly to get some more air. If you have sleep apnea, you may have noticed waking up suddenly throughout the night, gasping for air. This reaction can activate your fight or flight system, which can also make you sweat.
Medications can help you with all kinds of symptoms, but they usually come with a side effect or two. “Antidepressants, hormone therapies, and some antipyretic drugs may have night sweats listed as a side effect,” Schafer says. While some side effects may be unavoidable, it’s good to know the main sweat-inducing culprits.
Diabetes medications are used to help keep your blood sugar from climbing too high. But sometimes the balance teeters, and they can send your sugar levels plummeting lower than they should be. When your blood sugar gets lower than 70 mg/dL, you can get shaky, confused, and, of course, sweaty.
As Schafer mentioned, antidepressants of all types can cause nighttime sweating. Older studies have claimed anywhere from four to 20 percent of all people using antidepressants reported extra sweating. But a more recent study from 2020 found that number came closer to 29 percent.
Your brain reacts to antidepressant medications by boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin, which can help stabilize your mood and emotions. But these meds can also disrupt the receptor for another chemical, dopamine. When this happens, your body can react by sweating.
While ladies may take estrogen and progesterone for hormone replacement, men sometimes need treatment to lower their testosterone. During prostate cancer treatment, for example, your doctor may prescribe hormone treatments to lower your testosterone temporarily. Lower testosterone helps slow prostate cancer growth, but can also increase sweating.
Everyone sweats—in fact, your body needs to sweat to stay cool. But sometimes you sweat more than you need to, which is a disorder called hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis can be primary or secondary. Secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by other conditions like those above.
Primary hyperhidrosis is diagnosed when no other cause can be found, according to the Mayo Clinic, which explains this type of hyperhidrosis comes from faulty nerve signals that tell your sweat glands to “go for it.” If you have either secondary or primary hyperhidrosis, there’s a good chance you’re well acquainted with night sweats.
Low Testosterone Levels
Testosterone naturally decreases as you age. Though experts don’t know precisely why, low testosterone can cause your brain to send out signals that tell your blood vessels to widen, warming your skin. This in turn prompts your sweat glands to activate and cool you down.
Low testosterone levels can be a natural part of aging, a side effect of prostate cancer treatment, or caused by low thyroid function. No matter the cause, low testosterone can cause excessive sweating at night, Schafer says.
It will come as no surprise to you that exercise makes you sweat. But can it make you sweat hours after you finish a session? An often-cited older study from 2011 reported that vigorous exercise elevates your metabolism for many hours. It suggested that even after your heart rate goes back down to normal, your metabolism could lead to sweating at all hours. However, other medical experts claim your metabolic rate decreases as your heart rate does, only staying elevated for maybe an hour after you stop exercising.
When you exercise, keep an eye out for excessive sweating later in the day or at night. If you notice this symptom after an intense workout, you can identify the cause and adjust your exercise schedule to stay dry and comfortable while you sleep.
Infection, Illness, and Medical Conditions
Your body’s immune system fights off illness and infection through a complex system of specialized cells. “The release of inflammatory substances during infections, autoimmune diseases, and cancer can temporarily increase the thermoneutral zone (TNZ), leading to chills and shivering,” Schafer says. “This reaction subsequently causes the core body temperature to rise.” Let’s take a look at some conditions that encourage the most nighttime sweating.
Many types of cancer and cancer treatments can cause sweating. Adrenal gland tumors, for example, grow on the kidney in an area that regulates stress hormones like epinephrine. For people with non-Hodgkin’s or Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer cells can produce chemicals that raise your body temperature and cause night sweats.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can cause symptoms for some people and no symptoms for others. Night sweats are one early symptom of HIV infection, and usually pop up around two to four weeks after infection.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, stomach acid regurgitates up into the esophagus and sometimes the throat. A review from 2020 found little evidence to show GERD causes sweating during sleep; however, the study reports many previous case studies have connected the two. More research is needed on the topic.
Neurological conditions can affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. These conditions often cause nerve damage, known as neuropathy, which can result in nighttime sweating. Additionally, some common sweat-producing neurological conditions include:
- Autonomic dysreflexia: causes your body to overreact to stimuli by boosting your heart rate, blood pressure, and sweat production.
- Stroke: blood vessel blockage to the brain can damage nerves that regulate sweating.
- Syringomyelia: a neurological disorder in which a cyst grows on the spinal cord and can potentially cause damage to the nerves.
Your body uses a hormone called insulin to let glucose into your cells so it can be used for energy. If you have diabetes, the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin is impaired. This results in abnormal glucose levels that require management through lifestyle and/or medication.
One common symptom of low blood sugar is profuse sweating. If your blood sugar dips too low at night, your body will give you clues like sweating so you can address the problem.
Tuberculosis is a lung disease caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis. One hallmark symptom of tuberculosis infection is night sweats. This symptom is most likely caused by your immune response to the bacteria, which heats your body to fight off infection.
Tips for Reducing Night Sweats in Men
If you live with night sweats and would rather not, Schafer recommends these tips and tricks to stay dry while you sleep:
- Avoid triggers contributing to night sweats, which may include caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
- Avoid intense exercise close to bedtime, as it may raise your core body temperature and contribute to night sweats.
- Keep a sleep diary to discover patterns and what actions may be associated with your night sweating.
- Keep your bedroom cool and well-ventilated.
- Opt for lightweight and breathable sheets, pillowcases, and pajamas made from natural fabrics like cotton or bamboo.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms and can’t seem to find relief, see your healthcare provider. They can help you rule out any serious conditions that need treatment.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
It is essential to get evaluated by a doctor if your symptoms are new or suddenly worsen, says Schafer. It’s also important, she adds, to get nighttime sweating checked out if you notice other symptoms like weight loss, or if the sweating lasts more than a few weeks.
“Chronic night sweats can be a symptom of an underlying condition that requires medical attention,” Schafer says. Heart attack, for example, can cause sudden cold sweating. If you feel any chest pressure or pain, left arm or jaw pain, or sudden dizziness with your sweating, seek medical care immediately.
When should I be concerned about night sweats in men?
Let your healthcare provider know if your symptoms become too uncomfortable or if they last longer than a few weeks, Schafer says. If you experience chest pain or pressure that radiates to your left arm or jaw, seek medical care immediately.
Why are night sweats a red flag?
Night sweats can point to a medical disorder that has not yet been diagnosed, some of which may need to be treated. Let your healthcare provider know about any new significant sweating at night.
Can prostate problems cause night sweats?
“Prostate cancer, particularly in advanced stages, can sometimes cause night sweats due to hormonal changes or the body’s immune response to the cancer,” Dr. Schafer says.
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
If you frequently wake up dripping with sweat, you may be looking for a way to fix it. Night sweats can crop up from a variety of causes, and sometimes will fade away on their own. If you feel concerned about your sleep sweating, let your healthcare provider know about it. They can work with you to discover the possible cause and potential treatments.
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