Night Sweats: How You Can Find Relief

Don't let sweating keep you up at night

It’s no fun to change your sheets in the middle of the night, but that may be a common occurrence if night sweats are disrupting your sleep.

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Night sweats are drenching sweats that can soak your clothing and bedding, regardless of the temperature in your bedroom. Various factors may cause them, but most of the common causes are treatable, says family physician Donald Ford, MD.

Common causes of night sweats

Night sweats are common in women who are going through menopause, but they also have many other potential causes. They can be traced to infections, medications, hormonal problems, neurologic problems, substance abuse or even cancer in some cases. “Commonly used medications that can cause night sweats include antidepressants and some diabetes medications,” says Dr. Ford.

Some people have other disorders that cause excessive sweating (known as hyperhidrosis) at any time of day or night, but night sweats are different – and they may be temporary or recurring.

“There’s no easy way to distinguish different types of sweating,” Dr. Ford says. “We have to look at the whole picture.” For example, viral illnesses such as colds and the flu cause night sweats, but they resolve on their own. And the associated fever and sweating typically respond to anti-fever medications, such as Tylenol or Advil, he says.

Making changes for relief

Lifestyle changes relieve night sweats in some cases. For example, if gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is causing your night sweats, Dr. Ford’s advice is to avoid eating right before you go to bed and to raise the head of the bed.

Excess alcohol use can also cause night sweats. “In that case, cutting back on alcohol use helps,” Dr. Ford says.

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Many women find that they can control night sweats, as well as other symptoms of menopause, with relative ease through common-sense lifestyle changes:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising regularly
  • Protecting the skin from sun damage
  • Taking the right vitamins and supplements (particularly vitamin D3 if you live in a northern climate)
  • Staying actively involved in life

If you’re going through menopause, you may also find relief from your symptoms by avoiding triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and cigarettes, Dr. Ford says.

When to see a doctor

Most causes of night sweats are benign, meaning they’re not serious, Dr. Ford says. “But there are enough other causes that patients should get evaluated if their symptoms last more than a week and they’re not obviously related to a viral illness,” he adds.

Medical treatments for night sweats vary depending on the cause. Treating the underlying cause is the way to relieve the symptoms. “Almost all causes of night sweats are treatable,” Dr. Ford says. So if you have persistent night sweats, go see your family doctor.

The difference between night sweats and night terrors

Dr. Ford says some people confuse night sweats and night terrors. Night terrors (also known as sleep terrors) are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly wakes from sleep in a terrified state.

“Sweating can be a symptom of night terrors, but night terrors are defined by the emotional upset that occurs, with or without sweating,” Dr. Ford says. “Night sweats in other conditions don’t usually involve anxiety, although having night sweats can make a person anxious.” 

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Will the sweating ever end?

And speaking of anxiety, women who experience night sweats during menopause often worry that they are never going to stop. But Dr. Ford says night sweats do stop for most women.

“The majority of women who experience night sweats find that they go away within a few years,” he says. “A smaller number of women find that they persist beyond that.”

Unfortunately, other women may have night sweats, at least to some degree, for life. “But they generally lessen over time,” says Dr. Ford.

 

Tylenol™ is a registered trademark of McNeil Consumer Healthcare. Advil™ is a registered trademark of Wyeth Consumer Healthcare.

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