Night Sweats: What Are They & Why Do I Get Them?

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Do you fall asleep feeling totally fine, yet wake up drenched in a puddle of your own sweat? If you’re one of the millions of people who perspire excessively at night, you may be experiencing night sweats. Read on to learn about night sweats, what causes them, and how to handle this frustrating phenomenon.

What Are Night Sweats?

Night sweats are bursts of perspiration during sleep, which cause sufferers to sweat through their clothing and sheets and often wake up in a cold sweat. If you’ve experienced night sweats, you know we’re not just talking about the typical perspiration your body creates to keep you cool. Instead, these are intense bouts of sweating, sometimes accompanied by a hot flash, rapid heartbeat, and skin reddening.

Are Night Sweats Normal?

The excessiveness of night sweats is not only annoying, but worrisome. You might wonder whether your night sweats are normal or a cause for concern. Any number of things can cause night sweats. Some are perfectly benign, while others warrant a trip to your doctor’s office.

Some causes of night sweating, like a cold or fever, are acceptable if they only occur while you’re sick. And even some health-related causes of night sweats, such as menopause, aren’t necessarily dangerous. But if you experience night sweats over a long period and don’t know why, it’s time to get checked out and make sure it’s not a symptom of something else.

Potential causes of night sweats that your doctor may want to rule out include the following:

  • Infectious diseases, including HIV
  • Bacterial infection
  • Cancer
  • Neurological conditions
  • Anxiety or panic disorder
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Other, more common causes of night sweats–both medical and environmental–are discussed below.

What Causes Night Sweats?

Many things can make you sweat at night. These vary from the temperature in your bedroom to medication side effects or hormone imbalances. Below, we explore some of the most common causes of night sweats.

Medications

Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is a side effect of many medications. For example, if you take an SSRI for depression or anxiety, this is a common side effect. Other medications that can increase perspiration include pain medications such as aspirin and acetaminophen, diabetes medications, hormone therapy drugs, blood pressure medications, and steroids like prednisone.

This may be unavoidable, especially if your medication is essential and there is no good alternative. Still, it’s worth talking to your doctor to see whether another medication might be effective and not cause night sweats.

Hormones

Our bodies use hormonal signals to maintain body temperature, so it’s no surprise that excessive sweating can result if your hormones are out of whack. Night sweats are especially common for people experiencing hormone imbalances caused by:

  • Perimenopause and menopause
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pregnancy
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

Diet

What you ingest before sleep can impact whether you get night sweats. In particular, alcohol, caffeine, warm beverages, and spicy foods make you more likely to sweat during your sleep. Try to avoid these for a couple of hours before bed to see if diet influences your night sweats.

Room Temperature

Sometimes the best solution to our problem is the easiest one. Many people simply sleep in rooms that are too hot. But what is the best temperature to sleep in?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Your ideal room temperature will vary depending on factors such as mattress breathability, pajama fabric, and personal preference.

What Causes Night Sweats in Men?

Because hormonal issues related to menopause and the menstrual cycle often cause night sweats, it’s easy to gloss over what causes night sweats in men. But while it’s less common, men experience night sweats, too.

Outside of health issues mentioned above that can impact either sex, men can experience night sweats due to low testosterone. Some symptoms to watch out for that could indicate you are have low testosterone levels include:

  • Low sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Decreased testicle size
  • Higher percentage body fat
  • Loss of pubic and armpit hair
  • Hot flashes

As with women, if changes to the sleep environment don’t resolve night sweats, men should visit their doctors to ensure everything is okay.

What Causes Night Sweats in Women?

Hormones are certainly a major culprit of night sweats in women. From menopause to PMS, women’s bodies can experience significant hormonal fluctuations leading to excessive nighttime sweating.

Menopause and perimenopause are two of the most common causes of night sweats. Menopause typically starts in women around age 51, with perimenopause directly preceding it.

The ovaries produce less progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone preceding and during menopause. These hormonal fluctuations can cause the hypothalamus to regulate temperature improperly. This shows up symptomatically in hot flashes and–you guessed it–night sweats.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) also cause hormonal imbalances that can lead to night sweats, as can primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). POI occurs in women whose bodies stop producing estrogen before age 40.

Talk to your doctor if you experience night sweats as well as one of these conditions, as they may be able to offer hormone therapy or medication to help.

How to Stop Night Sweats

Regardless of what’s causing your night sweats, they can be frustrating. Especially if night sweats cause you to wake up frequently, as you’re likely getting lower-quality sleep as a result. Thankfully, there are many things you can try to alleviate your night sweats.

Ongoing symptoms of night sweats without relief should be discussed with your doctor or another medical professional. Often, they can help you control nocturnal sweating and, more importantly, figure out if it’s a symptom of a more serious condition.

Lower the Room Temperature

Even if you prefer the rest of your house to be warm and toasty, a warm bedroom compromises sleep quality. Research indicates that a cooler sleep environment improves our sleep quality. And if you suffer from night sweats, you will especially benefit from a lower room temperature.

You can turn your thermostat down an hour or two before bed, set up a box fan, or close the vents in your bedroom if you have forced-air heating. Anything you can do to lower your room’s temperature will help you sweat less and sleep better.

Try a Cooling Mattress

Your mattress may be the culprit behind your night sweats. Particularly if you sleep on memory foam, which is known for retaining heat, it might be time for a new mattress.

The best mattresses for cooling are innerspring and hybrid beds because they allow for airflow through the coil layers. Memory foam lies on the opposite end of the spectrum, trapping heat. Latex is a great solution if you want some of the pressure relief of foam but also want to sleep cooler. Because latex is a naturally breathable material, it retains much less heat than memory foam.

Some mattresses are made especially for cooling. They do this by integrating cooling materials into the bed itself or by adding a cooling topper. Even memory foam can trap less heat if specifically designed for that purpose, so it’s worth checking out various cooling mattresses, especially if innerspring isn’t your thing.

Use Cooling Sheets

You may have a cooling mattress, but if you use sheets that block airflow, you’re essentially stopping that mattress from doing its job. Instead, try cooling sheets, such as those made with breathable fabrics like bamboo viscose or cotton. The worst types of sheet fabric for night sweats are those that keep you warm and cozy, like flannel, because they retain heat.

Wear Breathable Sleepwear

Synthetic fabrics often trap heat and moisture. To avoid waking up hot and wet, try natural fabrics like cotton. Cotton is one of the best materials for nighttime sleepwear because it’s breathable.

If you still end up sleeping hot, consider wearing less clothing to bed (or nothing at all). Alternatively, bamboo pajamas are a great option if cotton isn’t quite breathable enough for you.

Try Some Relaxation Techniques

Another major cause of night sweats is anxiety. If you are anxious before you sleep, your body may remain in that fight-or-flight state, causing disregulation that leads to night sweats.

Try to wind down using relaxation techniques before bed. Many sleep meditations are available online and via phone apps that can help lull you into a peaceful slumber.

You can also try the 4-7-8 breathing technique created by Harvard-trained medical doctor and integrative medicine specialist, Dr. Andrew Weil. This technique not only calms you down but can help you fall asleep faster. To perform this exercise, inhale through your nose for four counts, hold for seven counts, and exhale through your mouth for eight counts. Repeat until you’re peacefully asleep.

FAQs

What are night sweats a sign of?

Night sweats can be a sign of hormonal imbalances or illness, or they can be indicative of a sleep environment that isn’t allowing you to cool down. If cooling down your bedroom and bed doesn’t decrease or eliminate your night sweats, talk to your doctor about possible causes.

Can anxiety cause night sweats?

Anxiety is a common cause of many sleep problems, including night sweats. In addition to anxiety itself causing night sweats, if you take an SSRI for depression or anxiety, excess sweating (or hyperhidrosis) is a common side effect.

Can stress cause night sweats?

Stress can cause you to experience night sweats. If you fall asleep in a fight-or-flight state, your body stays amped up, and sweating can be part of its reaction. Try relaxation techniques before bed to avoid stress-induced night sweats.

Why does my neck sweat at night?

If you experience night sweats, it may seem like parts of your body that usually barely sweat at all are suddenly sweating profusely–including your neck. If your neck is sweating disproportionately more than the rest of your body, your pillow may be to blame. Try switching to a cooling pillow for relief.

Can pregnancy cause night sweats?

The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can cause night sweats. In addition, other physiological changes during pregnancy can also lead to excess sweating. These include increased blood flow, increased thyroid hormone production, and low blood sugar. While such changes are expected, check in with your doctor if you have any concerns.

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Nicole Gleichmann

Nicole Gleichmann is a freelance writer specializing in biology, sleep, and health. Before her career as a freelance writer, Nicole worked as a nutrition coach alongside fitness icon Thomas Delauer, helping people reach their health and fitness goals. When not at her computer, you’ll find Nicole hiking, traveling, and spending time with her new baby and two pups.