Sweating at night undermines sleep.

September 16, 2017

Sweating at night undermines sleep.

Do you ever experience night sweats? It’s an uncomfortable feeling, to wake from sleep drenched in sweat, your pajamas and sheets damp and clammy. Sweating at night can be highly disruptive to sleep, keeping you from falling asleep and rousing you out of your sleep repeatedly throughout the night.

Sometimes, of course, we sweat at night because it’s hot outside and in our bedrooms. Summer can bring about plenty of sweaty nights and restless, less-than-refreshing sleep. Warm weather and warm sleep environments are the most common reason for occasional nighttime sweating—and they highlight the importance of controlling temperature during sleep. Sweating is the body’s defense against overheating. A cool bedroom is the best temperature environment for sleep, year round. In the warmer months, that means most of us will need to put some work into keeping bedrooms cool.

How cool? The right temperature really is the temperature at which you can fall asleep comfortably and stay asleep without waking—or sweating. For most people, that’s a temperature in the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit. Fans, air-conditioning, opening the windows at night to let a cooler breeze through the house are all warm-weather practices that can help your sleep. And don’t forget to close curtains or draw blinds in order to keep the sun blocked, and your bedroom cooler, during the day. Wearing light bedclothes—or no clothes at all—can also help keep you cool, and avoid sweating and heat-related discomfort at night. Breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are the best choices for clothing and bedding, when you’re looking to stay cool.

But sweltering temperatures aren’t the only reason people experience night sweats. Sweating during sleep has a wide range of causes. Several different types of medication can lead to night sweats. Anti-depressants, steroids, pain medication, hormones, and medication for diabetes are all types of drugs that have night sweats as a side effect. Often, night sweats are a consequence of another condition or ailment. Here are some of the more common conditions that are linked to nighttime sweating:

Menopause. Night sweats are a frequent symptom for women in menopause, and sometimes for women in perimenopause. Women in menopause and perimenopause often experience sleep troubles, including night sweats, as a result of fluctuating hormone levels. The quality of sleep—and how well you feel during the day—can be deeply affected by night sweats and other menopause-related sleep disruptions. These sleep disruptions last for an average of slightly more than 7 years, according to new research. There are treatment options for women experiencing night sweats, including cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), which research indicates can help alleviate night sweats and other menopause symptoms.

Other hormonal changes and imbalances. People with several different types of hormonal imbalances may sweat at night during sleep. Hormone dysfunction associated with diabetes and with thyroid disorders both can cause night sweats. The hormonal changes of puberty can also lead to night sweats—as can the hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy.

Obstructive sleep apnea. It’s a lesser-known symptom than snoring and daytime fatigue, but night sweats can be a consequence of OSA.

Obesity. Being overweight and obese can make night sweats more likely. Carrying too much weight can pose an array of other problems for sleep, including increasing risks for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.

GERD. Gastroesophogeal reflux disease—most commonly known as acid reflux or heartburn—can bring about uncomfortable night sweats. GERD is problem for sleep in general. People with nighttime heartburn are likely to experience disrupted sleep, including trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Anxiety. Stress and mood problems, including anxiety, may cause sweating at night that makes sleep uncomfortable. Anxiety and other mood disorders can be deeply disruptive to sleep, and stress is among the most common causes of sleep trouble.

Night sweats can also be signs of other medical issues, including infection, adrenal dysfunction and cancer. With such a broad range of possible causes for night sweating, it’s important to speak with your physician if you observe any changes to the typical ways your body sweats at night—if you begin to sweat more frequently, or if your sweating increases in intensity.

There are ways other than keeping your bedroom cool and wearing the right clothes that can help diminish nighttime sweating. They also happen to be strategies that are good for sleep in general, including:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Staying hydrated during the day
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals—especially spicy foods—within 3 hours of bedtime.
  • Taking some time to relax and unwind before bed, using simple breathing or meditation exercises

Don’t suffer at night because of night sweats. This soggy, uncomfortable experience will interfere with how much sleep you get, and how well you sleep. Make sure you’re sleeping in the right environment—cool but not cold, and not overheating in too much clothing or bedding. And discuss with your physician any questions or concerns you have about nighttime sweating.

Michael J. Breus, PhD

Updated September 16th 2017

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