Night sweats, also known as sleep hyperhidrosis, refers to sweating at night resulting in drenched sleepwear and sheets, unrelated to an overheated sleeping environment.
Night sweats affect approximately 3 percent of the population and can be a sign of a serious disease.
Although the majority of causes of night sweats are non-life threatening, a doctor should always be consulted to determine the underlying cause.
Sweating is the body's natural cooling system to prevent overheating.
The brain's hypothalamus regulates our body temperature eventually leading to the stimulation of over 2 million sweat glands to help keep us cool.
As the watery sweat evaporates from the skin, it releases heat energy, which, in turn, cools the body. In this article, we will cover the common causes of night sweats and any potential treatments.
Causes of night sweats
There may not be an identifiable cause for your night sweats; this is referred to as idiopathic hyperhidrosis.
Hot days and workouts are not the only things that trigger the drive to cool us down. Other conditions can trigger the production of excess sweat, particularly during sleep. Some of these conditions include:
- Infection - tuberculosis is the infection most traditionally associated with night sweats. More common causes include HIV, influenza, and other febrile illnesses.
- Various hormone (endocrine) imbalances that occur with menopause, diabetes, thyroid disease, puberty, and pregnancy.
- Obstructive sleep apnea - a condition where the walls of the throat narrow, restricting breathing. Night sweats occur in individuals with untreated sleep apnea three times more often than the general population.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease - also known as GERD. The primary symptom is heartburn but night sweats are also a common feature.
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse - especially heroin
- Cancer - night sweats can be an early sign of cancer (although other symptoms are normally reported at the same time). Lymphoma and leukemia are particularly associated with night sweats.
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Hypoglycemia - low blood sugar.
- Parkinson's disease
Medication side effects
Many medications such as antidepressants, hormones, diabetes medications, pain relievers, and steroids can cause sweating. Some commonly prescribed (generic) medications that are associated with this side effect include:
- Naproxen sodium
- Nicotine replacement
Individuals should check with their doctor or pharmacist if they have any questions regarding possible side effects of their medications.
Treatments for night sweats
The treatment of choice for night sweats depends upon the underlying cause such as correcting hormone irregularities, adjusting medications, and attending to contributing factors.
If there is no direct, determined cause of the excessive sweating, treatment consists of both prevention and management methods, which include:
Practicing relaxation breathing exercises can help manage night sweats.
- Sleep in a cool environment with light, breathable, non-synthetic nightclothes and sheets
- Apply a clinical strength antiperspirant to the parts of the body that are most sweaty; underarms, hands, feet, hairline, back, chest, or groin
- Avoid over bundling or using a heavy comforter
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and eating 2-3 hours before going to bed
- Avoid a high fat and high sugar diet
- Sleep in an air-conditioned room or use a fan
- Practice relaxation breathing exercises before going to bed and after waking with a night sweat
- Get adequate daily exercise
- Maintain a normal weight
- Drink plenty of water during the day
- Medications known as anticholinergic agents may help reduce sweating - these should only be taken under the advice of a doctor
Night sweats are a common annoyance usually associated with sleeping in warmer than ideal conditions. However, persons with drenching night sweats or a change in their pattern of sweating should speak with a doctor.
Some people sweat excessively throughout the day and night. This is referred to as hyperhidrosis. Many individuals with this condition avoid speaking with doctors out of embarrassment; however, help is available, and a doctor can discuss the options.