Night Sweats: Common Causes and Tips for Prevention
Don't let your night sweats interrupt a good night's sleep. Learn how to sleep through the night without losing your cool.
Jan 22nd, 2021 •
Expert Insights from Dr. Anna Pickering a medical writer who received an honors baccalaureate of science in biochemistry and biophysics, minoring in chemistry, from Oregon State University and her doctorate in cell and molecular biology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Waking up with your pillowcase, sheets, and sleepwear drenched in sweat may not just be your body’s normal response to an overheated room or your bed partner’s preference for heavy covers. It may be an indication of a serious medical condition or a reaction to some medications.
A bit of sleuthing and a visit to your doctor can help determine the cause and uncover potential solutions. Whatever the cause of your excessive sweating at night, rest assured there are some surefire ways to turn down the heat and keep those troublesome night sweats under control.
In this guide we’ll help you understand common causes for your night sweats and direct you to some methods that can help you put them to an end once and for all.
“Night sweats” is another term for excessive perspiration in your sleep. Oftentimes, night sweats are associated with weight loss, fever, infectious diseases, coughing, pain, and other health issues.
What’s the difference between night sweats and just being hot?
“If you occasionally sweat in your sleep, there’s likely no cause for concern,” says Dr. Pickering. “But if you experience chronic perspiration in your sleep, you may be experiencing a case of night sweats.”
Sweating in your sleep every now and then doesn’t warrant for a panic, but if you notice increased sweating in your sleep over time with no sign of relief, this can be a sign of chronic night sweats. If you experience night sweats chronically, you may have other symptoms of a deeper lying issue such as unexplained weight loss and fevers.
To determine the cause of your excessive sweating in your sleep, speak with your doctor to help diagnose the cause. It could be as simple as needing to turn down the temperature or changing your pajamas, or it may be as serious as changing medications or diagnosing a more serious medical condition.
Many times, sweating in your sleep is not connected to a serious medical issue. Something as simple as your bedroom temperature rising in the summer time could lead to night sweats. Here’s a look at some of the most common causes for your drenched sheets.
A Hot Bedroom
Before you worry yourself with an amateur medical diagnosis, recognize that many people sweat profusely at night because their bedrooms are too warm for sleeping. What’s comfortable during the day may be too warm for you at night when your body needs to be cool in order to get ready for sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the optimal bedroom temperature is a cool 60° to 67°. So, if you regularly keep your bedroom in the 72° to 75° range, well, that might be your problem.
If you continue to sweat profusely during the night after turning down the temperature, consider some of the common medical causes of night sweats and consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis.
True night sweats, unlike those caused by too many bedclothes or high bedroom temperatures, are associated with fever, weight loss, localized pain, cough, diarrhea, or other symptoms.
“Night sweats can be caused by certain health conditions including diabetes, obesity, bacterial infections, or hormonal changes,” says Dr. Pickering.
There are many medical conditions that can cause night sweats, some of the most common being:
- Acid reflux (heartburn)
- Hormone changes due to perimenopause or menopause
- Idiopathic hyperhidrosis
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
- Low blood sugar
- Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Bacterial infections
- Neurological conditions such as autonomic dysreflexia, post-traumatic syringomyelia, stroke, autonomic neuropathy
If you have any of these conditions, your night sweats are another way your body is telling you something is not right.
As always, it’s best to pay attention to the signals your body gives you. If you experience symptoms of any of these conditions or other symptoms that are concerning, see your doctor.
Several commonly used medications can also cause night sweats. These include:
- Certain diabetes medications
- Medicines taken to lower fever
- Niacin (used for lipid disorders)
- Tamoxifen (anti-estrogen)
- Nitroglycerine (used to prevent chest pain related to certain heart conditions)
- Sildenafil (for treating erectile dysfunction)
Night sweats have also been identified as an indicator of impaired detoxification in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Impaired detoxification occurs when primarily the liver and kidneys are unable to sufficiently remove toxins from the body leading to an accumulation of toxins in fat-based tissues of the body, brain, and organs. Night sweats may be an alternative method for removing toxins from the body when the other mechanisms malfunction or are insufficient to the task.
Night sweats are a common symptom of menopause due to the hormone changes associated with perimenopause and menopause. These hormonal changes are a leading cause for night sweats in women. Menopause hot flashes can happen in the day or night and lead to heavy sweating.
How to Treat Night Sweats
“Oftentimes the best way to treat night sweats is to identify the cause,” says Dr. Pickering. “Once your doctor uncovers the trigger for your night sweats, you can treat that condition accordingly by the advice of your doctor.”
Treating night sweats targets the underlying cause of your excessive sweating at night. Night sweats that are caused by infection, cancer, or fevers are not preventable as long as the condition persists. Resolving the medical issue will eliminate the night sweats associated with it.
When hormone changes due to perimenopause lead to severe hot flashes and night sweats, hormone therapy may be prescribed when appropriate. This symptom of perimenopause usually resolves after menopause.
Night sweats that are a side effect of medications will subside once the medication is discontinued. If the medications are used to treat a chronic condition, your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative that is less likely to cause night sweats.
If you think you may be experiencing chronic night sweats, it’s best to talk to your doctor and refer to your detailed medical history. Beforehand, there may be a few simple solutions to hold you over so you don’t have to suffer through your sweats.
1. Cool Down Your Bedroom
Set your thermostat to the optimal temperature for sleeping, somewhere between 60° and 67°.
2. Cool Down Your Body
Lowering your body temperature will signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Taking a shower or bath 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime is a soothing way to cool down at night.
The warm water will initially raise your body temperature, but as you dry off and the water on your body evaporates, your body temperature will drop, giving you a cool start to the night.
3. Minimize Your Bedclothes
Light-weight, loose-fitting pajamas made of 100% cotton or another breathable, natural fiber will help to dissipate your body heat and keep you cooler at night than synthetic fabrics or form-fitting pajamas. Sleeping naked is a simple alternative to PJs.
4. Avoid Certain Foods
Caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods all contribute to raising your body temperature and causing you to sweat at night.
5. Choose a Cooling Mattress
Innerspring mattresses may be old fashioned, but they can be the best for keeping you cool at night. With lots of space around the coils for air to circulate, they are the perfect solution for people who sleep hot or struggle with night sweats.
Keep in mind that many innerspring mattresses include a layer of foam on top – we refer to these as hybrid mattresses. Make sure the foam has breathable layers or uses some other type of cooling technology.
Memory foam is notorious for absorbing body heat and retaining it. In fact, your body heat is one factor that helps memory foam perform its characteristic contouring. The contouring is great for relieving pressure points but really bad for dissipating body heat.
So if you’re set on memory foam, make sure the mattress is constructed with breathable layers that let heat escape or cooling technology that dissipates heat instead of trapping it.
Latex mattresses have contouring benefits similar to those of memory foam mattresses without the troublesome heat absorption. They are a good choice for people who need help sleeping cool.
See Mattress Advisor’s top picks for the best mattress for night sweats.
6. Surround Yourself with Natural Fibers
When it comes to staying cool and dry at night, what you put on your mattress is just as important as what goes into your mattress. Start with a mattress pad made from 100% cotton to keep air circulating and body heat dissipated.
Or for a truly cutting-edge sleep experience, try a Slumber Cloud mattress pad that uses tiny cooling beads developed by NASA to absorb and release heat before it can build up in your mattress.
Then top your mattress pad with sheets made from 100% cotton, linen, or another natural fiber with a medium range thread count of 300 to 400. The combination of lower thread count and natural fibers makes a more breathable sheet.
7. Keep Your Head Cool
Finally, keep your head cool with a memory foam pillow made with a cooling technology such as cooling gel layer or beads. We love the Leesa Hybrid Pillow with a ventilated gel layer that is cool to the touch and a fabric cover that chills five times faster than other pillows.
Whether you battle occasional night sweating due to temporary illnesses or treatments or know that your night sweats are here to stay because of a chronic condition, making your sleep environment as comfortable as possible can help you weather the nightly deluge of perspiration.
8. Drink Cool Water
Sipping cool water throughout the night may help cool you off. Although, this may also make you need more bathroom trips throughout the night!
Sleeping cool and dry is not an impossible dream, even for people dealing with chronic conditions. You may not be able to eliminate the cause of your night sweats, but you can help give your sweat glands a rest, so you can get the rest you need.
What’s your favorite way to stay cool at night? Share your story in the comments below. We love to hear from our readers.
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Dr. Anna Pickering is a freelance medical writer based in Portland, OR working for The Med Writers. She received an honors baccalaureate of science in biochemistry and biophysics, minoring in chemistry, from Oregon State University and her doctorate in cell and molecular biology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. Before transitioning to writing she completed a year of postdoctoral research at Oregon Health and Science University and worked briefly at the biotech startup Ayumetrix.