Medical Disclaimer: The following content should not be used as medical advice or as a recommendation for any specific supplement or medication. It is important to consult your healthcare provider prior to starting a new medication or altering your current dosage.
Everyone sweats when sleeping from time to time. Sweating is the body’s way of keeping its temperature within comfortable limits, a process that continues day and night. In most cases, sweating during sleep can be in response to a bedroom that is too warm or to sleeping with too many blankets.
For some people, night sweats are far more uncomfortable than occasional nighttime perspiration. Generally, the term “night sweats” refers to unusual and heavy sweating during sleep. Night sweats are not uncommon. Research suggests that they affect between 10% to 41% of all people, though mostly those between the ages of 41 to 55.
Night sweats are sometimes related to hot flashes, which are sudden episodes of warmth, flushing, and sweating that can be caused by hormone changes in the body. When a hot flash occurs during sleep, it can produce night sweats. Hot flashes and night sweats occur frequently during and after menopause, as well as among cancer patients and survivors.
Excessive nighttime sweating can be unpleasant and interrupt sleep, but for most people, it is not a sign of a serious health problem. Learning what might be causing night sweats can be the first step in finding relief and getting a better night’s sleep.
What Causes Night Sweats?
Night sweats happen when the body produces more sweat than it needs in order to regulate body temperature during sleep. Night sweats can occur even when the bedroom is a comfortable temperature, leading to soaked sheets and night clothes. They may disrupt sleep, disturb your bed partner, and affect your overall quality of life.
Researchers have uncovered a wide range of health conditions, medications, and other factors that can cause excessive sweating at night and affect the quality of a person’s sleep.
Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can trigger a cycle of chills and fever that can result in night sweats as the body fights off infection.
Notable infections that are known to produce night sweats include tuberculosis and HIV. Other infections such as malaria, brucellosis, and endocarditis may also cause night sweats.
Night sweats and hot flashes are among the first symptoms of menopause in women and people who menstruate. They are also the most common symptoms, affecting up to 85 percent of menopausal and postmenopausal people. They can begin in the years before a person’s last period and continue for years afterward. Each hot flash may last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes.
Nights sweats can cause significant sleep disturbances for people going through menopause. In one study of perimenopausal women, almost 70% of hot flashes were associated with waking up.
A number of prescription and non-prescription medications can cause night sweats in addition to other side effects.
Antidepressants, fever-reducing medications, and drugs used to lower blood sugar in people being treated for diabetes can cause night sweats. Other examples of medications that produce excessive nighttime sweating include cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy, opioid painkillers, and steroids.
Withdrawal from certain addictive substances can lead to excessive sweating as well. While opioids such as heroin and oxycodone are notorious for their withdrawal symptoms, alcohol and cocaine withdrawals can also cause night sweats.
Night sweats are a symptom of several forms of cancer. Lymphoma, a group of diseases that begins in the immune system, is the type of cancer that is most often associated with night sweats. In particular, drenching night sweats can be an early symptom of both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Other common cancers known to cause night sweats include kidney cancer, prostate cancer, germ cell tumors, thyroid cancer, and leukemia.
Many health conditions affect the endocrine system and alter the balance of hormones in the body, including the hormones that are involved in the regulation of body temperature. An imbalance of these hormones can lead to hot flashes and night sweats.
Hormone disorders that are known to cause excessive sweating at night include hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid and primary ovarian insufficiency.
Numerous additional health problems have been linked to night sweats, including obstructive sleep apnea, nervous system disorders and injuries, mercury poisoning, pesticide exposure, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is also known as GERD.
In some cases, doctors are unable to find an underlying cause for night sweats.
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing frequent night sweats, you should contact your doctor. This is especially true if you are also experiencing other symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea, heartburn, or headache. You may also want to consult your doctor if you have a greater risk for conditions known to cause night sweats.
Because so many conditions can cause night sweats, your doctor will likely ask you detailed questions about your health, medication use, and travel history. They may also perform a physical exam and laboratory tests to evaluate hormone levels and check for infectious diseases. These can help determine what lifestyle changes or medical treatments might be best.
If you are going through menopause, or if you have been diagnosed with a condition that can cause night sweats, your doctor can help you develop a plan to relieve your sweating and reduce its occurrence.
How to Prevent Night Sweats
Various nonmedical and medical approaches may be used to prevent or control night sweats and help people get a better night’s sleep. The most effective method will depend on the individual and the reasons behind their sweating.
Adjust Lifestyle and Sleep Habits
Making changes to your bedtime routine and bedroom environment, commonly referred to as sleep hygiene, can prevent some instances of night sweats and lessen the severity of others. Sleep hygiene practices may be helpful when used on their own or in conjunction with medical treatments recommended by a doctor.
- Check the bedroom temperature: A cooler bedroom is ideal for good sleep in general, and particularly so if you deal with night sweats. Consider experimenting with lowering the temperature within your range of comfort.
- Wear loose, light clothes: Wearing tight clothing to bed can raise your body temperature during the night. Loose-fitting clothes that are made of a breathable material, such as cotton, can help you stay cool at night.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods before bed: Some foods and beverages can worsen the symptoms of menopause and increase sweating in people with hormone and nerve disorders.
- Drink cold water: Small sips of cold water may relieve night sweats that can interrupt sleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Various types of meditation, mindfulness, and other relaxation practices have been shown to help.
If lifestyle changes are not enough to relieve night sweats, your doctor may consider medical treatments. The most appropriate treatment can depend on what is causing your night sweats. Successfully treating any underlying condition, such as infection or GERD, may offer relief.
You and your doctor should go over the side effects of any medicine you may be regularly taking. If your doctor believes medication may be the culprit, you can discuss whether changing your dosage is likely to decrease the frequency or severity of your night sweats.
Hormone replacement therapy for people going through menopause can help relieve night sweats. But this treatment also increases the risk of certain health conditions, including cancer and heart disease. If menopause is the most likely cause of your night sweats, discussing the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy with your doctor can help you decide whether this is the right option for you.
Doctors may also prescribe non-hormonal treatments for menopause symptoms, such as certain antidepressants. On the other hand, if antidepressants are causing night sweats, doctors may prescribe additional drugs to minimize the unwanted side effects. For example, other drugs may help relieve sweating caused by methadone.
Some people consider using holistic approaches as remedies for night sweats. However, in some cases, more research is needed to clarify how helpful or effective these methods are in treating excessive nighttime sweating. For example, acupuncture has been shown in some studies to relieve night sweats and hot flashes, but other studies found that acupuncture had little to no effect in preventing or reducing symptoms.
Dietary supplements and herbal preparations may also be used for excessive nighttime sweating. At this time, there is little evidence that any of these are effective treatments for night sweats. In fact, some may even be harmful. Dong quai can interact with blood thinners, while kava and black cohosh may increase the risk of liver damage.
Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements are not evaluated to determine whether they are safe and effective for the treatment of any health problem. If you are considering adding herbs or supplements to your diet to prevent night sweats, you should discuss this decision with a medical professional.
Frequently Asked Questions About Night Sweats
Does COVID-19 Infection Cause Night Sweats?
Some people infected with the omicron variant of COVID-19 have come forward to say they experienced intense night sweats while sick. Their accounts have been widely reported in the news media. However, published studies do not show night sweats to be a common symptom of COVID-19. Since these studies concerned earlier COVID-19 variants, more research will be needed to understand how symptoms may be changing.
Do People Experience Night Sweats Before or During a Menstrual Cycle?
People who menstruate sometimes report having night sweats and hot flashes before their periods begin. One study showed that night sweats and hot flashes are frequently a part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and can be similar to menopausal symptoms. At this point, though, there have not been many scientific studies in this area.
Do People Experience Night Sweats During or After Pregnancy?
Night sweats and hot flashes can happen during pregnancy and after giving birth, which is called the postpartum period. In one study, 35% of the subjects reported hot flashes while they were pregnant and 29% reported hot flashes after having their babies. This may be related to hormone changes that happen during and after pregnancy, but more research is needed to fully understand the cause.
- Menopause: This resource from the Office on Women’s Health offers menopause information and tips.
- Side Effects of Cancer Treatment: The National Cancer Institute provides information on common cancer treatment side effects and how to manage them.
- HIV Basics: This CDC page includes links to HIV prevention testing, treatment, and more.
- Basic TB Facts: The CDC offers answers to questions about tuberculosis including how it spreads, symptoms, prevention, and more.
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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!