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Night Sweats: 7 Reasons You May Be Sweating at Night

March 3, 2020 - Katie McCallum

Whether you're exercising, it's hot outside or you're just overdressed, you expect to sweat — sometimes a lot. When you're sound asleep, you do not.

If you experience night sweats, you're probably all too familiar with waking up damp (or drenched) in sweat. You've probably also said to yourself, more than once, "This can't be normal."

"It's normal to experience variations in your body temperature while you sleep, and sometimes this can lead to sweating," says Dr. Aarthi Ram, neurologist and sleep medicine expert at Houston Methodist. "While they're understandably annoying, night sweats are sometimes harmless — and there are steps you can take to reduce the amount you sweat while you sleep."

Here are seven things that may be causing your night sweats, as well as ways to counteract them.

1. Drinking before bedtime

Having a drink or two in the evening may sound relaxing, but it can lead to increased body temperature — and therefore sweating.

"While alcohol is often referred to as a 'depressant,' it's not really that simple," Dr. Ram explains. "Alcohol relaxes the airways, which can make breathing harder. In addition, it also acts as a stimulant in that it leads to increase heart rate. Both of these can increase your body temperature."

If you suffer from night sweats, Dr. Ram recommends limiting alcohol before bedtime.

2. Your stress level

If you're feeling anxious or stressed, you've probably experienced the dread that comes with trying to fall asleep (or back to sleep after waking up).

"An overactive mind revs up your brain and body, which can result in sweating," says Dr. Ram.

Dr. Ram's tips for reducing stress before bedtime:

  • Build in time to wind down. Before bed, take a warm shower, avoid screen time and devices, or try reading a book.
  • Set up a relaxing atmosphere. Make sure the lights are low, sound is limited or soft, and the room is cool.
  • Talk to your doctor. Recurrent or long-lasting stress and anxiety could be a sign of a more serious mental health issue, such as anxiety disorder or depression.

 

3. Your sleepwear and sleep environment

Everyone likes a cozy sleep environment. But, sometimes, there's a fine line between being cozy and overheating.

Dr. Ram says that the most common reason for night sweats are:

  • Bedding, sleepwear or even a mattress that doesn't "breathe"
  • A sleep environment that's too warm

 

"In fact, if you're sweating excessively at night for these reasons, we don't actually consider it true night sweats," says Dr. Ram.

Dr. Ram's tips for avoiding overheating while sleeping:

  • Keep your bedroom cool. Lower your thermostat and/or leverage a fan.
  • Dress light. Don't overdress and choose moisture-wicking materials if you need to.
  • Choose lightweight bedding. Avoid fleece, flannel, down and synthetic fibers.
  • Consider your mattress. Foam materials can limit airflow.

 

4. The medications you're taking

"Some medications can affect the parts of your brain that control your body temperature or your sweat glands," explains Dr. Ram. "This means these medications can also induce night sweats."

The types of medications associated with night sweats include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antiretrovirals
  • Hormone therapy drugs
  • Hypertension drugs
  • Hypoglycemia medications

 

"Talk to your doctor if you're experiencing night sweats as a result of a drug you're taking for another health condition," Dr. Ram advises. "In some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative version of the drug."

5. You're going through menopause (or you're about to)

You've heard of hot flashes, right? Well, menopause also comes with night sweats.

"About 75% of perimenopausal women report having night sweats," says Dr. Ram. "The frequency typically peaks in the first few years following menopause and then declines over time."

Dr. Ram's tips for reducing menopausal night sweats:

  • Avoid triggers. Things like alcohol, spicy foods, caffeine and smoking can be sweating triggers.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and sleepwear light. Adjust the thermostat, use fans, open windows (if it's cold outside), wear breathable pajamas and use lightweight bedding.
  • Cool yourself down. If you wake up in a sweat, uncover your feet and neck, drink a glass of cold water, place a cool washcloth on your head or run cold water over your wrists.
  • Consider lifestyle adjustments. Watching your weight and limiting stress can reduce the frequency or severity of night sweats.

 

"Talk to your doctor if the above home remedies don't help limit the amount you're sweating at night during or after menopause," says Dr. Ram. "There are some medications that can be prescribed to reduce night sweats."

6. You have a sweating disorder

While incredibly rare, it's possible you may suffer from hyperhidrosis — a condition in which your body produces excessive sweat for unknown reasons.

Dr. Ram's tips for individuals with hyperhidrosis:

  • Invest in quality antiperspirants. Also, keep in mind, deodorants do not reduce sweating.
  • Consider your clothing. Opt for loose-fitting clothes that are more breathable, such as those with open knit or loose weave, made with thin materials, moisture-wicking or quick-drying properties, or containing mesh panels or air vents.
  • Avoid heavy shoes and tight socks. If you sweat from your feet, choose shoes that use little to no synthetic materials and socks that are moisture-wicking.

 

"Less than 3% of the population suffers from primary hyperhidrosis, and the cause is typically unknown. This isn't a serious condition, but it can be embarrassing," says Dr. Ram. "However, several medical conditions, some of which are potentially serious, can cause what's called secondary hyperhidrosis."

7. You have an underlying medical issue

In some cases, night sweats occur as a result of a medical condition or disease, including:

  • Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma and prostate cancer
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Hyperthyroidism (also known as an overactive thyroid)
  • Obesity
  • Prostate cancer
  • Serious infections, such as endocarditis and tuberculosis
  • Sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea

 

"Sleeping and sweating are both very complex processes that respond to many cues, and they can definitely influence one another," says Dr. Ram. "If you're regularly waking up soaked in sweat, experiencing sudden night sweats accompanied by weight loss or if your night sweats are keeping you from getting quality sleep, it's time to talk to your doctor."

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