Sleep is a simple—and necessary—joy in life, but if you’re someone who constantly wakes up drenched, you may be wondering what the heck is causing your night sweats and how to put an end to the misery. There are tons of things that can make you sweaty while you snooze, namely that old A.C. unit that keeps giving out or that recurring nightmare you just can’t shake. Medically speaking, though, you go from “sweaty at night” to “night sweats” once you reach the seriously-soaked territory. “Night sweats are severe episodes of excessive sweating that can drench your pajamas and sheets,” internal medicine specialist Keri Peterson, MD, a physician at Northwell Health in New York City, tells SELF.
This type of sweating tends to be persistent and is typically tied to an underlying health issue, according to the Mayo Clinic. So if your night sweats are paired with other new or unusual symptoms, like sudden snoring, Andrew Varga, MD, a neuroscientist and physician at The Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center in New York City, tells SELF that that’s your cue to start a conversation with your doctor
The good news? “In most cases, night sweats are not a dangerous thing,” Douglas S. Paauw, MD, a general internist at UW Medicine, tells SELF. But chronically waking up feeling like you just stepped out of a (not-so-great) shower likely means there’s something deeper that needs to be addressed. Below, experts explain the various causes of night sweats you should consider—so you can take the first step in finding sweet relief.
Night Sweat Causes
You have to pinpoint the underlying issue that contributes to your night sweats before you can get to the solutions. Here are 9 possible causes of night sweats.
Hyperhidrosis, a condition that is characterized by excessive sweating, comes in two forms: primary and secondary.1 Primary hyperhidrosis happens when there is no underlying cause, like a health condition or medication, for your amped-up sweating. Secondary hyperhidrosis is when your excessive sweating happens because of a specific medical concern, whether that’s a health issue or a drug you’re taking to treat one.
While primary hyperhidrosis usually only happens when you’re awake, secondary hyperhidrosis can flood your body with night sweats, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. To treat night sweats caused by secondary hyperhidrosis, you’ll have to address the underlying medical issue at hand. If you have no idea if a medical issue is to blame, it’s time to start a conversation with a doctor to narrow it down. A primary care physician or a board-certified dermatologist is a good place to start.
2. Anxiety disorders
People often think having anxiety is only about experiencing excessive worry and fear, but those emotions can trigger a whole host of physical symptoms too. One of them can be, you guessed it, sweating way too much, especially if your anxiety escalates into panic attacks. (Other physical side effects of anxiety can include muscle tension, a rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing, and stomach issues like nausea and diarrhea, among others.)
If you’ve been feeling heavy stress or anxiety and believe it may be causing your night sweats, try to bring that up to your doctor—perhaps a primary care physician if you don’t regularly see a therapist or a mental health professional. They can ask you some questions to figure out the best way to treat your anxiety, which might involve therapy, antianxiety medications, lifestyle changes, or some combination of these options.
“If someone is having night sweats, my first thought is to ask them about their periods to see whether they are menopausal,” Barrie Weinstein, MD, an assistant professor of endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, tells SELF.
Menopause can happen at any point in a person’s 50s, 40s, or even as early as their 30s if they experience premature menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic. Thanks to fluctuating hormones—specifically, reduced estrogen and progesterone—menopause can cause a slew of unpleasant symptoms, including hot flashes that lead to night sweats, chills, irregular or absent periods, mood changes, vaginal dryness, a slower metabolism, and thinning hair, per the Mayo Clinic.
Menopause is a completely normal condition that doesn’t automatically require treatment (unless it starts too early, which can be a different story), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options if symptoms like night sweats are interfering with your life. “If patients are having night sweats that are intolerable, they can discuss with their doctor whether hormone replacement would be a good option for them,” Dr. Weinstein says. Different kinds of hormone therapy can help relieve various menopause symptoms, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But if that’s not something you’re interested in or your doctor doesn’t recommend it as a safe choice for you, there are other medications, including some low-dose antidepressants, that can help decrease those dreaded hot flashes, according to the National Institute on Aging.
4. Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a common sleep disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start briefly while you’re snoozing.2 If you have OSA, your throat muscles relax when they shouldn’t, which interferes with your airway’s ability to get enough oxygen while you sleep.
And yes, it can make you sweat. “One of my colleagues says it’s like you go to the Olympics every night because you’re working so hard to breathe,” Rafael Pelayo, MD, a clinical professor in the division of sleep medicine at Stanford University and author of How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night, tells SELF. Besides night sweats, other symptoms of OSA include loud snoring, excessive fatigue during the day, abruptly waking up during the night while gasping or choking, morning headaches, mood changes, a lower sex drive, and more. If that sounds concerning, well, you’re right on target. OSA can be serious and requires prompt treatment.
Treatment options include lifestyle changes like using a nasal decongestant before you sleep, avoiding sleeping on your back, using a mouthguard or sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep your airways open, and more intensive options, like surgery to remove the tissue that’s blocking your airways.
5. Acid reflux
Acid reflux happens when stomach acid travels back up into the esophagus, which commonly triggers the feeling of heartburn.3 When this happens chronically—more than twice per week—it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Anecdotally, some people who have acid reflux or GERD experience night sweats, which tend to resolve once the acid reflux is treated, Dr. Paauw says. There are very few studies exploring the link between night sweats and acid reflux, so experts aren’t 100% certain why the two are connected. However, Dr. Paauw believes acid reflux may trigger the autonomic nervous system,4 which regulates bodily processes such as breathing, to increase heart rate. And an elevated heart rate may lead to excessive sweat, he says. When someone is lying down, they don’t have the benefit of gravity to help keep stomach acid from flowing into the esophagus, which may explain why people with acid reflux experience night sweats, Dr. Paauw says.
Thankfully, there are several over-the-counter medications that help minimize acid reflux. You can try an H2 blocker to help reduce stomach acid production (such as Pepcid), or proton pump inhibitors (like Nexium or Prilosec), which are stronger acid blockers that experts use as a frontline treatment for GERD, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prescription-strength versions of these medications are also available. Additionally, making lifestyle changes, such as eating at least three hours before bed and avoiding common reflux-inducing foods like coffee, tomato sauce, and chocolate, among many others, is also key to reducing symptoms, the Mayo Clinic explains.
6. Medication side effects
“A number of medications can potentially cause night sweats as a side effect,” Adam Perlman, MD, an integrative medicine physician at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, tells SELF. That can include some antidepressants such as SSRIs, drugs to treat diabetes, cancer drugs, some high blood pressure medications, and some over-the-counter pain relievers, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
See your doctor if you think a drug you’ve recently started taking might be causing your night sweats; they can recommend potentially altering your dosage (if that makes sense for your situation) or looking into another drug altogether. No matter how tempting it may be, don’t just quit the medication if you’re concerned about night sweats or other side effects. Going cold turkey can potentially bring on some serious ill effects, depending on the drug. Stopping antidepressants suddenly, for example, can lead to antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, which happens when a sharp decrease in your levels of certain neurotransmitters causes symptoms like dizziness, insomnia, irritability, headaches, and, actually, excessive sweating.5 Talking to your doctor first is always the best option.
7. Infectious diseases
Some infections are known to cause night sweats. That’s because any type of infection—whether it be bacterial, viral,6 or fungal—can cause a fever, which is triggered when the part of your brain that governs body temperature (your hypothalamus) causes your internal temperature to rise, the Mayo Clinic explains. As a result, you might experience chills or shivering, dehydration, and yes, night sweats. Technically a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater is considered a fever. You may also feel warm to the touch.
Generally speaking, a fever is a good thing—it’s a sign that your body is fighting an infection. But if your temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or if you have recurrent fevers, especially alongside other new or unusual symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid—a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that plays a role in how your body uses certain hormones for energy—lets loose too much of the hormone thyroxine into your system, the Mayo Clinic says. That can lead to symptoms like night sweats, unintended weight loss, an increased appetite, a racing heart, anxiety, and more.
If your doctor thinks you might have hyperthyroidism (not to be confused with hypothyroidism, in which your body doesn’t release enough thyroid hormone, causing different symptoms, per the Cleveland Clinic), they can test your blood to see if you have too much thyroxine and too little thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is a signal your levels are out of whack, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you do, in fact, have a thyroid condition, there are a lot of treatment methods to choose from, including drugs that stop your thyroid gland from churning out too high a level of thyroxine, beta-blockers that can slow a racing heartbeat, and more.
9. Certain autoimmune conditions
Your immune system is known for fighting off invaders such as viruses and bacteria that can make you sick. If you have an autoimmune disease, however, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue, spurring widespread inflammation.
And inflammation can cause a fever, which may lead to night sweats. There are many types of autoimmune diseases—common ones include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus—and the symptoms vary for each one. Generally, though, autoimmune diseases can cause recurring fever, fatigue, joint swelling or pain, and/or swollen glands, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you experience recurring fevers and other new, mysterious symptoms that you’re having a hard time explaining, then it’s worth scheduling a doctor visit to get checked out.
How to stop night sweats
If you’re constantly waking up sweaty, Dr. Varga recommends running through a basic sleep hygiene checklist before you reach out to your doctor. First, make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature. This can be subjective, but experts say somewhere between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is likely to be the most comfortable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You should also purchase sheets and pajamas that feel lighter on your skin, Dr. Paauw says. Breathable materials, such as linen, bamboo,7 or cotton, may help you sweat less, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In terms of sheets made of “cooling fabric,” the experts SELF spoke to say those claims usually aren’t verified. In other words, you need to test them to see if they actually help you sleep more comfortably.
If you have a partner, another thing to consider is whether you’re “sleep compatible,” Dr. Pelayo says. If one of you likes to be ice cold at night and the other shivers at any temperature below 70 degrees, the partner who gets night sweats might just not be sleeping in the right environment. A potential fix: Try separate blankets.
When should you see a doctor about night sweats?
“Night sweats are a really common complaint,” Dr. Weinstein says. “If it is really bothersome and interfering with life, it’s time to see a doctor.” If your night sweats come along with fever, unintended weight loss, any new pain (such as joint or muscle pain), diarrhea, coughing, or other symptoms that are new or possibly concerning, then you should schedule an appointment with a doctor. Some types of cancer can cause night sweats and unexplained weight loss, so it’s really important not to overlook sudden symptoms.
With so many potential causes of night sweats, it may seem like NBD, but you are well within your right to consult a doctor—even if it’s simply to assuage your concerns. In most cases, your doctor will review your symptoms, do a physical exam, and probably do some bloodwork or other lab exams as they see fit. From there, you and your physician can work together to get you closer to sweat-free sleep.
Story via Self
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