Want another reason for eating healthy and staying fit?? An active lifestyle, nutritionally motivated eating, and a healthy weight are excellent ways to promote health and decrease your risk for experiencing night sweats.
Night Sweats Defined
Night sweats/nocturnal hyperhidrosis /night time hot flashes that result in soaking your pajamas, sheets and disrupt your sleep occur in just over 40% of people. That is a lot of people. There are many conditions, medications and situations that can result in this disruption and I will discuss this in this post, as well as give your some ideas about how to manage them.
Since we all want to be able to sleep well without persistent and regular night time interruptions first we must identify our own risks. Here are some causes of night sweats; do you have any of these conditions?
What Can Cause Night Sweats?
People with the following conditions are more likely to experience night sweat:
• Sex hormone changes: menopause, pre-menopause and pre-menstrual
• Obstructive Sleep Apnea
• Low thyroid/high thyroid
• Infections (HIV, abscesses)
• Low blood sugar
• Autonomic nervous system dysfunction (strokes, dysreflexia)
• Other endocrine disorders (adrenal gland issues)
• Depression medications
• Anti-psychotic medications
• Common medications: Tylenol, steroids, and aspirin
As you can see from this list, some of the conditions can be modified, others cannot. Some of them can be treated with medication, some may require medication changes, others may require a cure, and still others can be avoided altogether.
Let’s review them more in-depth.
Aging and hormone changes, particularly for females, can result in night sweats that disrupt sleep. Imbalance of estrogen, estradiol, progesterone and testosterone is thought to be the cause. A visit to your ob/gyn should help and they can determine if you would benefit from hormonal therapy.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where there is a physical obstruction causing oxygen deprivation while sleeping. One study¹ revealed that the night sweats resulting from this condition can be improved with regular use of a CPAP machine that forces air into the upper airway to keep it open. A visit to your primary care doctor can begin the processes of assessment for this condition. Maintaining a normal healthy weight, avoiding alcohol before bed and losing weight can also improve this condition.
Thyroid disorders, whether low or high have been implicated in nighttime sweating. A visit to your doctor and a blood lab test will identify if there is an issue with your thyroid. Both low and high thyroid levels can be treated.
Untreated infections can also result in night sweats initially. HIV, TB and abscesses have been implicated. If you are at high risk for HIV or TB visit your doctor to be tested. Abscesses may be harder to find, but a physical exam and lab work is the place to start.
Low Blood Sugar
Low blood sugar can cause night sweats. If you are being treated for diabetes and are on medicine perhaps the medicine is causing a low blood sugar at night. Notifying your doctor is important to be able to manage this cause. They may order a continuous blood sugar monitor for you to determine if indeed you are becoming hypoglycemic at night. This can be very dangerous and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Some cancers can cause night sweats as an initial symptom. Evaluation is warranted especially if you are experiencing fatigue, and unintended weight loss. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and lab evaluation.
Nervous System Dysfunction
Autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysfunction is most often a secondary dysfunction caused by other conditions. The ANS system is responsible for heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and body temperature regulation. When this system is damaged it will malfunction. The more common conditions that are implicated in ANS dysfunction include autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, alcoholism and Parkinson’s disease. Maintaining a healthy body weight to avoid lifestyle related diabetes and avoiding excessive alcohol intake can reduce your risk of damaging your ANS.
Endocrine disorders other than thyroid and sex hormones can also cause night sweats. The adrenal gland is responsible for a variety of hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Adrenal gland malfunction which results in altered levels of the glands main hormones can cause many sleep issues. It has been implicated in causing low blood sugar which we discussed earlier as a cause of night sweats. If there is a tumor or other significant issue with the adrenal glands this must be addressed by a doctor and possibly a surgeon. There is a condition called adrenal fatigue that is popular in the alternative medicine group that provides supplemental adrenal support. I recommend ruling out a serious condition before opting to choose the alternative approach and using an herbal supplement.
Night sweats have been associated with some depression medications. I recommend reading the insert of the medication and bringing this adverse effect to the attention of your prescribing doctor if the night sweats are disrupting your sleep. Do not stop taking these medicines suddenly and only wean yourself off of these under medical supervision. Staying healthy, eating wholesome foods, being active and living for a purpose are actions that you can take to decrease the need for depression medications.
Antipsychotic medications may also cause night time sweats. Discuss this side effect/adverse reaction with your prescribing doctor to see if there is an alternative. Never stop taking these medications without approval and guidance from your doctor.
Common over the counter medicines like Tylenol, aspirin and other can also cause night sweats. Eliminating them may improve your symptoms. You may stop these medicines at any time. Addressing the issue for which you are taking these medicines for can help reduce your need for them.
As you can see there are many causes of night sweats, and ruling out the most serious is of utmost importance prior to self-treating. While it may seem that night sweats are benign, you can see that not identifying some of the more serious conditions that cause them could result in serious illness or even death.
Without the identification of serious medical conditions causing the night sweats there can still be some consequences of persistent disruptive night sweats and these may include the following.
Severe night sweats could result in:
• Dry skin
• Sleep deprivation
Symptoms of Night Sweats
In general symptoms of night sweats include clothing and sheet drenching sweating and that interrupts sleep.
When to Seek Care
Seek care for persistent and disruptive night sweating. In addition to seeking care for night sweats seek care immediately if you experience fevers, palpitations, irregular heart beat or weight loss. These additional complaints could mean that something more serious is occurring.
The treatment of the night sweats will depend on the primary cause of the sweating. A visit to your primary care doctor as discussed earlier, to rule out serious illnesses is necessary. A thorough health history, physical examination and blood work should be performed for this complaint.
While there is no medication to take to stop the night sweats, by identifying the cause and addressing the identified issue, the night sweats should improve. One study in China in 2015 showed that acupuncture improved hyperhidrosis and this might be a viable option.
Reduce your Risk
To reduce your risk of experiencing night sweats not related to causes like cancer, infection, endocrine or nervous system issues it is important to maintain overall health. This can mitigate significant and disruptive night time sweats.
A healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising intentionally every day for 30-45 minutes may reduce your risk of experiencing disruptive night sweats.
Sleep Hygiene Practices
Sleep hygiene activities performed can help decrease the chances of night sweats if there is no serious cause. Take these steps to help:
• Sleep in a cool room (65-68 degrees)
• Use light layered bed clothes
• Use light sleeping attire
• Avoid added sugar
• Eat a diet high in fruit and vegetables
• Use herbal supplements as needed
• Exercise daily (preferably in the morning)
• Increase water intake
• Attain and maintain a normal healthy body weight
If you want help to reduce your risk for diabetes or want help finding the best activity check out my book, Second Chance at Health- Learn to Love Active Living and Clean Eating.
1. Night Sweats: Retrieved from https://sweathelp.org/where-do-you-sweat/other-sweating/night-sweats.html
2. Types of Autonomic Disorder: Retrieved from https://nyulangone.org/conditions/autonomic-disorders/types
2. Menopause Night Sweats: A Complete Guide. Retrieved from ttps://www.consumerhealthdigest.com/menopause-center/menopause-night-sweats.html
3. Nocturnal Sweating- a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea: the Icelandic sleep apnoea cohort. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3657640
4. Acupuncture as a Treatment Modality in Dermatology: A Systemic Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26115180