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Night sweat causes can range from sleeping environment and lifestyle to various medical conditions.

Do you frequently wake up drenched in a pool of sweat — like you just left the sauna or gym? Waking up overheated with a rapid heartbeat and chills post-night sweats (not to mention wet bedding) is uncomfortable, can be disconcerting and can disrupt a good night’s rest.

The severity of night sweats can vary from mild to extreme. Some people have them sporadically and others more regularly. While many times this common nuisance can be cured with adjustments to your sleeping environment, frequent night sweats can be indicative of various medical conditions, ranging from infections to hormonal changes to certain cancers.

“Night sweats aren’t typically cause for concern if they are mild, happen infrequently and do not accompany daytime symptoms,” says Erin Connolly, MD, a Geisinger family medicine physician. “But, if your night sweats are paired with other symptoms, such as fever, weight loss, pain in a specific area or diarrhea, it may be a sign of an underlying condition and you should talk to your doctor.”

Night sweat causes

Several factors — ranging from sleeping environment, lifestyle and underlying medical conditions to side effects from certain medications — can lead to night sweats.

Sleeping environment and lifestyle triggers

Choices you make throughout the day and leading up to bedtime could be to blame for your night sweats. Some examples include:

  • Room temperature is too warm. For most people, a comfortable bedroom temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees. 
  • Excessive bedding, comforters and blankets. Even if the bedroom temperature is comfortable, materials and thickness of comforters and blankets can cause sweating. Also, memory foam mattresses can trap heat, increasing your body temperature.
  • Heavy pajamas. Thicker, heavier fabrics in your pajamas can retain heat more than others. Also, synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, aren’t breathable and can trap heat.
  • Caffeine and alcohol consumption. Drinking too much caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can cause night sweats due to spikes in body temperature.
  • Eating spicy foods. Foods high in spice can cause indigestion and increases in body temperature.
  • Hot showers or exercising too close to bedtime. Doing strenuous physical activity or taking a hot shower raise your body temperature.

Medical conditions

Anyone can have night sweats, no matter your age or gender, but they are more common in women due to hormonal changes during menopause, pregnancy or a monthly menstrual cycle.

“A drop in the level of reproductive hormones, such as estrogen, can cause an uncomfortable increase in body temperature," explains Dr. Connolly. “Women who are nearing menopause or who have gone through it can have both night sweats and hot flashes during the day to help cool the body down. If your menopausal hot-flash symptoms are debilitating, talk to your doctor about ways to find relief.”

Other medical conditions that can cause night sweats include:

  • Fever and infection. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, viral infections like the flu and bacterial infections such as endocarditis can lead to night sweats. Running a fever can cause sweating as the body tries to cool itself down.
  • Hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid can cause poor heat regulation in the body and lead to night sweats.
  • Hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can cause sweating due to a spike in adrenaline. That’s why people with diabetes who are taking medications to lower blood sugar, like insulin, can have sweating at night.
  • Some cancers. Night sweats can be early indicators of certain cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, if they are paired with other symptoms, including fever and unexplained weight loss. In addition, side effects from cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation also can result in night sweats.
  • Anxiety disorders and panic attacks. The same reason that chronic stress and anxiety cause sweating during the day — an elevated heart rate that increases body temperature — can have the same effect at night.
  • Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea causes increased levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in the blood when breathing stops. Elevated levels can cause the body temperature to rise.
  • Obesity. Body fat acts as an insulator and keeps heat in, which can overheat the body at night and cause sweating.

Side effects from medications

Side effects from certain medications, such as antidepressants, diabetes drugs, high blood pressure medications, hormone treatments, opioids and steroids can cause night sweats.

If you're taking one of these, talk to your provider or pharmacist about potential side effects and how to reduce them. Never stop taking a medication without checking with your care team first.

Tips on how to stop sweating in sleep

You can start by eliminating practical causes of night sweats from your daily routine and sleeping environment to help manage symptoms and improve your sleep quality.

Dr. Connolly suggests wearing lighter, loose-fitting pajamas made of natural, breathable fabrics like cotton and using a fan to help or alleviate sweating in sleep. Also, sleep in a cool bedroom with layers of lightweight bedding that can be removed when it’s too hot. You might consider getting a cooling mattress or topper.

In addition, make sure you’re exercising and taking hot showers earlier in the day so your body temperature can regulate by bedtime. Also, watch your consumption of caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime, and avoid tobacco products and drugs. 

“Taking a few sips of cool water before bed can help decrease your body temperature and reduce your chances of night sweats,” she adds.

When to call the doctor about night sweats

If you have night sweats frequently that are disturbing your sleep and causing daytime fatigue, and they are accompanied by other symptoms, talk to your doctor. Night sweats with a high fever, cough, diarrhea, pain in a certain area or unexplained weight loss may be a sign of a serious medical condition and treatment can help.

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. For menopause-related night sweats, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy. If side effects from a medication are causing the discomfort, there may be an alternative option your doctor can prescribe.

“Your doctor can assess your symptoms and recommend strategies to prevent or treat your night sweats,” says Dr. Connolly. “The good news is most cases aren’t serious.”

Next steps:

Learn about primary care at Geisinger
Rethink your bedtime routine with these tips
What’s behind frequent nighttime bathroom trips?

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