While sweating a little during the night is nothing to worry about, sweating so much you have to change the sheets is a different story. And it’s not just how uncomfortable that sweaty feeling is, it’s the sleep disruption that comes with it that can impact your life.
Even if the act of sweating itself isn’t affecting your sleep, the underlying cause may well be, which all too soon leads to you not feeling and performing your best each day.
Read on to find out what might be causing your night sweats and what you can do to stop them from happening.
Sweating at night and night sweats are actually two slightly different things. While there’s no official definition, some experts say that true night sweats are characterized as sweating so much that you need to change your bedding. Other definitions say it’s simply when you’re sweating at night even though your bedroom isn’t particularly warm.
You may sleep through this and only notice in the morning, or you may wake up in the middle of the night to find yourself covered in sweat for no apparent reason.
“Night sweats are a nonspecific symptom that patients commonly experience but rarely discuss with their physicians without prompting,” says Carl Bryce, MD, from Abrazo Family Medicine Residency in Phoenix, Arizona, in the journal American Family Physician.
And while night sweats can be a sign of something more serious, Bryce adds: “Most patients who report persistent night sweats in the primary care setting do not have a serious underlying disorder.”
Even if you don’t experience drenching sweat, waking up sweaty is never a nice feeling. And if it’s waking you up in the night, it’ll easily start impacting your days, so it’s worth finding a fix.
It can be hard to figure out what exactly is causing it, but here are the most common causes of night sweats:
If your sleep environment is too warm, your body will sweat while you sleep. It may sound obvious, but it’s not always easy to get the temperature right. Everything from your pajamas to your bedding to the weather will affect the temperature of your sleep environment.
Plus, our body temperature fluctuates throughout the night — meaning you may be cool enough at one point and sweating at another.
Stress and anxiety manifest in many ways, and one of those ways is night sweats. Stress can also cause nightmares and panic attacks at night, which can cause excessive sweating.
That’s right. The nightcap that feels like it helps you drift off may actually be waking you up in the night and causing you to sweat more than usual. Alcohol increases your heart rate and relaxes your airways, making it harder to breathe — both of which can increase your body temperature, making you sweat.
Hot flushes, also called hot flashes, are a common menopause symptom and are caused by changing hormone levels. They can happen at any time of the day and night, and they usually last for a few minutes, leaving you hot, red, and sweaty.
Women can also experience hot flushes in the transition period before the menopause, also called perimenopause, as well as during pregnancy or after birth.
Some medications can cause excessive sweating at night as a side effect. These include antidepressants, painkillers, diabetes medications, and even some dietary supplements, like calcium and niacin.
Certain medical conditions can also be the cause of night sweats. These include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperhidrosis, hormone disorders like hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), bacterial infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, neurologic conditions like stroke, and some cancers, like leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma.
Night sweats are also a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, the sleep disorder that causes your airways to relax and breathing to stop momentarily during sleep.
Luckily, you don’t have to put up with sweating in your sleep. Here are six ways to reduce the chances of night sweats.
Aim to keep your bedroom at a cool 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust the thermostat, buy a fan, or — if you live in a quiet area — leave a window open while you sleep.
Even if a warm sleep environment isn’t the reason for your night sweats, keeping your bedroom cool will help reduce the symptoms, and make it easier to fall back to sleep if you wake up sweating in the night.
We cover more ways to hack the best temperature for sleep here.
Try to sleep with fewer blankets and opt for bedding made from natural, breathable fabrics. You can also try cooling sheets and a more breathable mattress. Opt for thinner, moisture-wicking pajamas — or skip sleepwear altogether.
Alcohol, caffeine, exercise, and meals all increase your body temperature, something you don’t want to do before heading to bed. The RISE app can tell you the best time to stop doing these things each day based on your circadian rhythm, so they don’t impact your sleep.
Spicy foods may be linked with night sweats as they too can increase your body temperature, so it’s worth opting for something more bland for your final meal of the day to see if it reduces how much you sweat in your sleep.
Setting aside time to unwind before bed can help calm a racing mind and ease stress and anxiety at night, key triggers for night sweats. Engage in relaxing activities before bed like reading, journaling, or yoga. If you often worry about the things you need to do the next day, try writing them all down before bed.
In the RISE app, you can write down your to-dos before bed and get a summary of them the next morning, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything important.
If switching up your sleep environment and making lifestyle tweaks doesn’t change the amount you sweat at night, speak with a doctor to rule out underlying causes and medication side effects.
You should also speak with a healthcare professional if you find yourself regularly sweating a lot at night, especially if you also have symptoms like:
Not only will a doctor be able to rule out other causes of night sweats, they can recommend treatment options such as medication, hormone therapy, or even cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
One study found both group and self-help CBT helped to reduce night sweats in women experiencing menopause.
Sweating is how you reduce your core body temperature and is completely normal. So, if you’re trying to sleep in a very hot room or under a lot of blankets, for example, sweating in your sleep is to be expected.
However, night sweats often happen when you’re not even hot. While they’re relatively common — one study found 41% of participants said they’d experienced night sweats in the past month — it’s still worth trying to get to the root cause of the problem.
Not only can night sweats have an underlying cause you should address, they can also easily disrupt your sleep, and therefore have an impact on how you feel and function during the day.
If you’re only experiencing excessive sweating in your sleep every now and again, it probably isn't anything to worry about. However, even though studies suggest night sweats themselves aren’t damaging to your health, the disruption they bring to your sleep is.
When your sleep is disrupted, it’s all too easy to not meet your sleep need — the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night — and to build up sleep debt — the amount of sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. The higher your sleep debt the worse you’ll feel and perform each day, so anything that’s disturbing your sleep is worth looking into.
If you’re experiencing night sweats regularly, or it’s seriously impacting your quality of life, it’s worth speaking to a doctor to test for health issues and discuss treatment options.
It’s not just the act of sweating that can disturb your sleep, even just being too warm at night can impact it.
Your core body temperature naturally rises and falls as part of your circadian rhythm over a roughly 24-hour cycle. In the hours leading up to sleep, your body temperature drops as the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin starts to be released. It stays low all night — reaching its lowest at about 4 a.m. (the exact time will depend on your chronotype) — and then it starts to rise again in the morning.
Overall, our bodies run 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit cooler at night than during the day, which may be a way of conserving energy while we sleep. So, being too hot can stop you falling asleep, and even wake you up in the night.
This is why a warm shower or bath before bed can help you fall asleep. Warm water increases blood flow to the palms and soles of your feet, which may help body heat escape more quickly, decreasing your core body temperature.
And it’s also why keeping your bedroom cool is so important. If your bedroom is too warm, your body simply can’t cool itself down enough, resulting in a less than optimal night’s sleep.
Heat can even change the structure of our sleep. Heat exposure at night can decrease the amount of slow wave sleep, also known as deep sleep, and rapid eye movement sleep (REM), the sleep stage where you dream, you get.
Research also shows your sweat rate increases during deep sleep compared to other sleep stages. During REM, on the other hand, your body’s sweat rate decreases and sweating is actually delayed, making you much more sensitive to heat as your body can’t regulate its temperature as well.
Sweating in your sleep can be caused by your sleep environment being too hot or by things like stress, alcohol, or the menopause. Night sweats can also be a sign of something more serious, so it’s worth speaking to a doctor if it’s a common occurrence.
RISE can help you feel your best each day, even if you find yourself sweating at night. The app helps you pay down sleep debt and sync up with your circadian rhythm, giving you more energy to tackle each day.
Sweating a certain amount at night is normal, especially if your bedroom is warm. But drenching night sweats are worth looking into as they may have an underlying cause and they can easily disrupt your sleep.
You should be worried about sweating in your sleep if you also experience symptoms like unexplained weight loss, a cough, or a high fever and chills. If you find yourself often waking up drenched in sweat, you should speak to a doctor to get to the root cause to minimize sleep disruption.
If you’re sleeping in a cold room, but still sweating in your sleep, the cause of your night sweats could be alcohol, stress, anxiety, menopause, pregnancy, certain medications, or certain medical conditions.
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