When to worry about night sweats
Many of us will have woken up in the middle of the night to find our clothes and sheets soaked with sweat. Here we look at what can cause these night sweats and what to do if you have them.
What are night sweats?
Getting hot and sweaty in the night because your bedroom is too warm or duvet is too thick is normal. Night sweats are when you sweat so much that your night clothes and bedding are soaking wet, even though where you're sleeping is a comfortable temperature.
Night sweats are not related to your sleeping environment and they happen independently of outside temperature. It's important to check whether your night sweats could be a problem, or if you just need to change your sleeping conditions.
What causes night sweats?
Night sweats have many different causes - some of the most common are:
- The menopause.
- Medicine you may be taking.
- Low blood sugar.
- Alcohol or drug misuse.
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
Very rarely night sweats can be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition, including some cancers.
Night sweats and menopause
For women over 40, night sweats are often caused by hormonal changes from the menopause and perimenopause - around 85% of women have hot flushes at the beginning and during menopause1.
Anxiety and night sweats
Anxiety can lead to night sweats when your body reacts to stress - such as when you're scared from a bad dream.
Blood sugar and night sweats
Low blood sugar can make the body produce too much adrenaline, which in turn can lead to night sweats. This is a common problem in those with diabetes, and can also happen if you've drunk too much alcohol before bed.
Medicine and night sweats
Certain medicines can cause night sweats - for example, one study estimated that up to 22% of people taking the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) antidepressants were affected by excessive sweating2. Many other medicines - including those for diabetes or hormone treatment - also list sweating as a potential side effect.
What infections cause night sweats?
Many people get sweats from fever associated with colds and flu. If you are unwell, seek advice from a doctor.
Hyperhidrosis is the clinical word for excessive sweating - during the night or day. This can be a condition in its own right, and doesn't have to be a symptom of something else.
You should speak to your doctor if your sweating is affecting you life or health.
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When to be concerned about night sweats
There are several possible causes of night sweats - and no easy way of differentiating one type of sweating from another. However, doctors will want to rule out more serious causes such as cancer first if this is indicated from the consultation, and then move on to less serious conditions.
To see what is causing your night sweats, your doctor will look at your medical history, and may examine you to see if there is an underlying medical condition. Depending on their findings, they may do further tests such as blood tests or X-rays.
See your doctor if you have night sweats and one or more of these symptoms:
- A very high temperature (fever).
- A cough.
- A pain in a specific area or bone pain.
- Any lumps or bumps anywhere.
- Weight loss.
While occasional night sweats are usually nothing to worry about, you should see your doctor if they do not go away, esepcially if they are every night.
Night sweats and HIV
If you have been diagnosed with lymphoma or HIV, night sweats with unexplained weight loss may be a warning sign that your condition is getting worse.
If your night sweats are due to the menopause, you should speak to your doctor about your hormone replacement therapy (HRT) - and, if you are not taking HRT, then look into whether this may help you.
If your doctor thinks your medication could be causing your night sweats then they can look at prescribing something different.
How to prevent night sweats
Most of the time lifestyle changes will help treat your night sweats.
One of the most effective ways of stopping your night sweats is by making sure your sleeping environment is in the best state it can be, to help you get a good night's sleep.
Certain foods and drink may cause you to sweat at night or have an uncomfortable sleep.
Within a few hours of going to bed you should avoid:
- Hot spicy food.
- Caffeine - including tea, coffee, fizzy and energy drinks, and chocolate.
- Fatty foods.
Other things you can do to help avoid night sweats include:
- Practising relaxation breathing exercises before bed.
- Removing extra blankets from your bed, or using a lighter duvet.
- Leaving your bedroom window open at night.
- Wearing lighter pyjamas or night-clothes.