Waking up to soaked night clothes and bedding is very uncomfortable.
But more than being uncomfortable, it can be a sign something is wrong.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines night sweats as “episodes of excessive sweating that occur during sleep.”
It can be common during menopause but can also be related to an illness, your diet, a medical condition, or the side effect of a medication.
In this article, I’ll talk about what night sweats are and what causes them. I’ll also go over treatment options and when you should seek medical attention.
What Are Night Sweats?
Night sweats can occur anytime there is a rapid change in your body’s temperature, specifically when your core becomes very warm. This can be triggered by internal and/or external factors.
The sudden increase in body heat causes your body to break out into a sweat in an attempt to cool the body down.
Some night sweats are harmless however, night sweats can mean something more is going on.
Piling on too many blankets or sleeping in a hot room has caused many people to experience night sweats at one time or another.
This type of night sweating, although uncomfortable, is not a sign of anything serious.
Sleeping in a cool environment can help your body get better sleep and stop night sweats.
Stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems including trouble with sleeping.
The nervous system is disrupted during times of extreme stress which can cause tossing and turning and sweating during the night.
It’s important for your overall health to learn how to cope with your stresses or eliminate the main stressors in your life.
Hot flashes are common when going through the menopausal transition. When your hot flashes happen at night they will feel like night sweats.
These types of night sweats are not harmful but can be disruptive to your sleep.
Talk with your medical provider about them; there may be a treatment that could help you.
Some tips to help:
- Sleep in a cool environment
- Layer your bedding so it can easily be adjusted
- Try sipping cold water right before bed
- Turn on a fan for some circulating air
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food as these can make night sweats worse
Some beverages or foods you are eating may be causing you to sweat more at night.
The following are known to increase sweating:
- Spicy foods
Decreasing or avoiding these might help stop your night sweats so you can get back to that comfortable night of rest.
You may also consider working out during the day or in the morning rather than at night.
Exercise heats your body which could potentially cause night sweats if the exercise is done right before bed.
Underlying medical conditions
- Infection: While your body is fighting an infection, it is common for night sweats to happen. Tuberculosis is an infection that is known to cause night sweats. It’s accompanied by weight loss, rust colored sputum, fevers, and severe cough. Tuberculosis is often seen in areas of close proximity-college dorms, prisons, etc.
- Cancer treatments: Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause night sweats. Those being treated for breast or prostate cancer are more likely to have night sweats because these treatments are usually hormone-based.
- Low blood sugar: Blood sugar that is too low can cause sweating. People who take insulin or diabetic medications before bed may experience low blood sugar during the night which may cause them to sweat. A snack before bed and help prevent low blood sugar at night.
- Hormone disorders: Some hormonal disorders such as hyperthyroidism or abnormal female hormone levels can cause you to have night sweats.
- Hyperhidrosis: This is a medical condition that causes people to sweat excessively and unpredictably even in cool conditions or when they are resting. Sweating can occur at any time, including at night.
Medication side effects
Certain medications are known to potentially cause night sweats as a side effect.
If you are experiencing night sweats and have recently been put on a new medication, talk with the provider who ordered it for you. There may be an alternative medication you can try.
The following medications are known to have the side effect of night sweats.
- Tamoxifen is used to treat breast cancer.
- Aromatase inhibitors are used for decreasing the risk of breast cancer.
- Antidepressants have been shown to cause excessive sweating.
If your night sweats are frequent enough to be disrupting your sleep or are occuring on a consistent basis, talk with your medical provider about it.
They may want to do an assessment and ask you some questions about your symptoms.
After that, they may want to run a few tests if they think there could be an underlying condition.
Treatment is based on the underlying caused and how that needs to be treated.
Things you can try yourself
Here are some ideas of things you can do to try and keep you cool at night:
- Hypnosis: A therapist can help you relax and focus on feeling cool. Other benefits include lowering your heart rate, decreasing stress, and balancing your body temperature.
- Relaxation techniques or stress reduction: Learning how to decrease your anxiety and stress may help you have fewer hot flashes.
- Acupuncture: Some researchers have found that this can help with hot flashes. However, not all research supports this. You can try and see if it works for you.
- Move air through your home: Keep a window open and a fan running to circulate air in your home.
- Adjust your clothing: Wear loose-fitting clothes made out of cotton, which is more breathable than other fabrics.
When To Seek Medical Attention
If you have frequent night sweats and you have no explanation for them, be sure to call your medical provider.
If you experience any of these other symptoms along with your night sweats, be sure to notify your healthcare provider of these, as well:
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
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Aromatase Inhibitors for Lowering Breast Cancer. (2021).
Bryce, C. (2020). Persistent Night Sweats: Diagnostic Evaluation [Abstract].
Cancer Treatment: Dealing With Hot Flashes and Night Sweats. (2020).
Creating a Good Sleep Environment. (2020).
Hot Flashes. (2021).
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats-Health Professional Version. (2021).
Hot Flashes: What Can I do? (2021).
Kalmback, D., et al. (2018). The Impact of Stress On Sleep: Pathogenic Sleep Reactivity as a Vulnerability to Insomnia and Circadian Disorders.
Night Sweats. (n.d.)