Sweating is a normal function that helps your body regulate its temperature. You probably sweat at the gym, on a hot day, and in similar situations. If you wake up in the middle of the night sweating profusely, you might have night sweats.
What are night sweats?
If you occasionally wake up and are too hot or are a little damp with sweat, you don’t need to worry. Night sweats are periods of excessive sweating while you’re asleep. They’re not caused by heavy blankets or warm air; rather, they are caused by underlying issues. You will know if you have night sweats because you will be soaked in sweat, and your clothes and sheets might be drenched and need to be changed.
There isn’t an exact estimate for how many people have night sweats. A study done in primary care offices and tracking more than 2,000 patients reported that 41% of people had recently experienced excessive sweating at night. The majority of these people were between the ages of 41 and 55.
Night sweats vs. hot flashes
You might have heard the terms “night sweats” and “hot flashes” used interchangeably. Although both make you feel hot, these are not exactly the same. Hot flashes give you sudden, intense feelings of warmth. They can happen day or night, and they are also considered night sweats if they happen at night and make you sweat heavily.
Night sweats vs. night terrors
Night terrors are also commonly confused with night sweats. Night terrors, also referred to as sleep terrors, occur when you quickly wake up from sleeping in a scared state. This sleep disorder can cause sweating, but it’s more widely defined by the emotional terror and anxiety that it causes.
Causes of night sweats
Your body works hard to regulate its temperature. Its system for regulating temperature is complicated and influenced by a variety of factors. Because it is a complex process, trying to learn why someone has night sweats isn’t always straightforward. Common causes of night sweats include menopause, infections, medications, and hormone issues.
Although it might be frustrating, sometimes, there’s no obvious cause of night sweats.
Night sweats and menopause
When women go through menopause, many changes affect the body’s production of hormones. As estrogen and progesterone levels vary, hot flashes are often triggered. Almost 85% of women experience hot flashes before, during, and after menopause. You could experience regular hot flashes for as little as a few years or as long as a few decades.
When hot flashes occur at night, they can easily turn into night sweats. Almost 64% of women claim to have trouble sleeping and to experience insomnia, challenges that night sweats could cause or contribute to.
Night sweats and medication
There are certain medications associated with night sweats. Medicines that can result in severe sweating at night include:
- Antidepressants in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Aspirin, acetaminophen, and other medications that reduce fevers
Night sweats and infection
Night sweats are a common side effect associated with infections. This is because infections often result in fevers and overheating infections that come with sweating at night. Bacterial and fungal infections, human immunodeficiency virus, and tuberculosis are common infections that might give you night sweats.
Night sweats and hormones
Your endocrine system controls your hormone levels, and changes in your endocrine system can result in night sweats. Hormone problems that could make you sweat excessively at night include:
How to stop night sweats
If you’re experiencing night sweats as a part of menopause, there are a few things you can do to control them:
- Eat well
- Exercise regularly
- Protect your skin from sun damage
- Take appropriate vitamins and supplements
- Avoid triggers like caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and cigarettes
Your healthcare provider can look at your specific case of night sweats to help you find relief.
When to get help
Night sweats are common and harmless enough that you don’t need treatment. However, you should see your healthcare provider to make sure you don’t have any other alarming symptoms or underlying conditions. If you take medications regularly, you might need a new prescription that won’t give you night sweats.
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American Osteopathic Association: “Excessive sweating keeping you up at night? Know when it's time to see your doctor.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Frustrated By Night Sweats While You’re Sleeping?”
National Health Service: “Night sweats.”
Sleep Foundation: “Common Causes of Night Sweats and How to Fix Them.”
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Night sweats are severe hot flashes that occur at night and result in a drenching sweat. The causes of night sweats in most people are not serious, like menopause in women, sleep apnea, medications, alcohol withdrawal, and thyroid problems. However, more serious diseases like cancer and HIV also can cause night sweats. Your doctor will treat your night sweats depending upon the cause.
You may experience other signs and symptoms that are associated with night sweats, which depend upon the cause, but may include, shaking, and chills with a fever caused by an infection like the flu or pneumonia; unexplained weight loss due to lymphoma; women in perimenopause or menopause may also have vaginal dryness, mood swings, and hot flashes during the day; and low blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Other causes of night sweats include medications like NSAIDs (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), antidepressants, sildenafil (Viagra), and abuse of prescription or illegal drugs and drug withdrawal; hormone disorders like pheochromocytoma and carcinoid syndrome; idiopathic hyperhidrosis; infections like endocarditis, AIDs, and abscesses; alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal; drug abuse, addiction, and withdrawal; and stroke.
A doctor or other health care professional can treat your night sweats after the cause has been diagnosed.
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