It’s no fun to have to change your clothes (or sheets) in the middle of the night, but it 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 medicine physician Donald Ford, MD.
Common causes of night sweats
“There’s no easy way to distinguish different types of sweating, so getting to the root of the cause can help you take steps to preventing or managing if and how you experience them,” Dr. Ford says. Night sweats can be traced to any one of these causes:
- Medication to treat diabetes or depression.
- Hormonal imbalance.
- Neurological issues, anxiety disorders and stress.
- Substance abuse and addiction.
- Some types of cancer.
Night sweats during menopause
Night sweats can be common nightly symptoms in women who are going through menopause — unlike hot flashes which happened during the day. Generally, night sweats symptoms will wake you up after they have already occurred.
However, many women find that they can control night sweats as well as other symptoms of menopause with relative ease through common-sense lifestyle changes like:
- 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 find relief from your symptoms by avoiding triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods and cigarettes, Dr. Ford says.
“Making good health decisions generally will result in occurrences lessening over time — the majority of women who experience night sweats find that they go away within a few years,” he says. “Only a small percentage of women find that they persist beyond that.”
Medications that can cause night sweats
Commonly used medications may also cause night sweats. These include some diabetes medications, where you may experience night sweats if your blood sugar levels get too low.
Hormone therapy and hormone-blocking drugs used to treat certain cancers, as well as some anti-depressant drugs may also cause night sweating symptoms.
Illnesses and disorders that may result in night sweats
Some people have other illnesses or 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.
Some other medical or health conditions that case night sweats include:
- Anxiety or autoimmune disorders
- 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 acetaminophen (TYLENOL®) or ibuprofen (Advil®).
- Abusing or withdrawal from substances like opioids, cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines or alcohol.
- Sleep disorders such as night terrors or obstructive sleep apnea.
Night sweats and night terrors
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 feel anxious.”
What you can do to relieve night sweats
Lifestyle changes relieve night sweats in some cases. While the causes may be varied, relief may come by looking at the cause on a case by case basis.
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.
If you are experiencing perimenopause, menopause or other hormone imbalance-based medical conditions, maintaining your overall health in terms of cardiovascular function, diet and weight can help influence your symptoms. Talk to you doctor for their specific recommendations.
How your diet can affect symptoms of night sweats
“Eating a balanced diet and avoiding extremes in your nutrition is important in your overall health. It can help prevent the onset of some illnesses and help the treatment of certain medical conditions that result in night sweats as symptoms,” Dr. Ford says.
There are some foods to avoid in general since they can only worsen some medical conditions. Some of these include processed foods, spicy foods, alcoholic beverages and caffeinated drinks. Cutting back on all of these in your diet can only help your overall health,” Dr. Ford emphasizes.
When to see a doctor
Most causes of night sweats are 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 or disorder,” 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.”