July 23, 2015
Night sweats, also known as sleep hyperhidrosis, refers to sweating at night resulting in drenched sleepwear and sheets, unrelated to an overheated sleeping environment.
Night sweats affect approximately 3% of the population and can be a sign of a serious disease. Although the majority of causes of night sweats are non-life threatening, a health care provider should always be consulted to determine the underlying cause.
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Facts about sweating
Sweating is the body's natural cooling system to prevent overheating.
The brain's hypothalamus regulates our body temperature, utilizing over two million sweat glands to help keep us cool.
During periods of exercise, hot weather, or when the body's core temperature goes too high, the hypothalamus triggers the glands to release sweat.
As the watery sweat evaporates from the skin, it releases heat energy, which in turn cools the body.
Causes of night sweats
Hot days and workouts are not the only things that trigger the hypothalamus to cool us down. Other conditions can trigger the hypothalamus to produce excess sweat, particularly during sleep. Some of these conditions include:
- Infection: tuberculosis is the infection most commonly associated with night sweats. Others include HIV, influenza, and other febrile illnesses
- Various hormone (endocrine) imbalances that occur with menopause, diabetes, thyroid disease, puberty, and pregnancy
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Parkinson disease
- Medication side effects: many medications such as antidepressants, hormones, diabetes medications, pain relievers, and steroids can cause sweating. Some commonly prescribed (generic) medications that are associated with this side effect include acyclovir, albuterol, amlodipine, atorvastatin, bupropion, buspirone, citalopram, ciprofloxacin, esomeprazole, glipizide, hydrocodone, insulin, levothyroxine, lisinopril, loratadine, naproxen sodium, nicotine replacement, omeprazole, paroxetine, prednisolone, sertraline, sumatriptan, tadalafil, trazodone, zolpidem.
Check with your health care provider or pharmacist for questions regarding possible side effects of your medications.
Treatments for night sweats
The treatment of choice for night sweats depends upon the underlying cause such as correcting hormone irregularities, adjusting medications, and attending to contributing factors.
If there is no direct determined cause of the excessive sweating, treatment consists of both prevention and management methods, which include:
- Sleep in a cool environment with light, breathable, non-synthetic nightclothes and sheets
- Apply a clinical strength antiperspirant to the parts of the body that are most sweaty; underarms, hands, feet, hairline, back, chest or groin
- Avoid over bundling or using a heavy comforter
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and eating 2-3 hours before going to bed
- Eat a Mediterranean-style diet
- Sleep in an air-conditioned room or use a fan
- Practice relaxation breathing exercises prior to bed and after waking with a night sweat
- Get adequate daily exercise
- Maintain a normal weight
- Drink plenty of water during the day
- Medications known as anticholinergic agents may help reduce sweating.6 These should only be taken under the advice of a health care professional.
Night sweats are a common annoyance usually associated with sleeping in warmer than ideal conditions. However, persons with drenching night sweats or a change in their pattern of sweating should pursue a medical evaluation.
Written by Kathleen Davis FNP