Causes of night sweats: Experts explain why you sweat during sleep

Q: Why do I sweat while sleeping?

You fall asleep at a comfortable temperature—not too hot, not too cold—only to be drenched in sweat after a few hours. Sometimes, your pajamas get wet, and you might even feel the need to change your sheets before going to sleep. You are wet, uncomfortable and probably a little worried. What is happening?

Night sweats “are an odd symptom, mostly because they’re harmless, but every once in a while, they’re not, so it’s definitely something we always take seriously,” says an author of Family Medicine. Associate Professor Dr Kate Rowland said. at Rush University Medical College in Chicago.

Dr. Rowland said that sweating during sleep is a relatively common complaint that can affect people of all ages and genders. A survey of adults visiting their primary care doctors for unrelated reasons found that among 10 and 40 percent They are said to have night sweats at least occasionally.

There are many possible causes of night sweats, so when a patient tells Dr. Rowland that they are wet at night, she will want to know more.

“One of the first things we ask is how hot is it in your room?” he said. “If you wake up and you say, ‘Oh my god, it’s hot in this room,’ we say, ‘Okay, adjust the temperature accordingly.'”

National Sleep Foundation For a comfortable sleep, it is recommended to keep the bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. If you haven’t been able to keep your bedroom cool, you can try adding a strategically placed fan, Dr. Rowland said. Wearing light bedding or sleeping clothing may also help.

“It’s difficult, because the temperature that makes you feel most comfortable to sleep may not be the most comfortable to fall asleep,” she said.

Actually going comfortable and warm To sleep is helpful, said William Wisden, professor of life sciences and a sleep researcher at Imperial College London. Just as other mammals build nests before sleeping, we wear pajamas and wrap them under blankets while sleeping, and studies show He said people fall asleep more quickly after a hot bath, shower, or foot soak. “But then, if you get too hot during the night, and you have a very thick duvet, obviously, your body will try to regulate its own temperature.” And sweating is one of your body’s tools for cooling down, he said.

If you are still sweating at night after lowering your room temperature or taking other steps to cool down your sleeping system, it is worth seeing a health care provider to consider possible medical causes. . They will likely ask if and how often you have had night sweats, whether they are mild or make your pajamas wet, and if you have additional symptoms such as fever, weight loss, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath. have or have pain — “or any other symptoms that don’t seem quite right to that patient,” Dr. Rowland said.

Any infection that causes fever can result in sweating during the day or night, but some serious diseases, including tuberculosis, HIV infection, endocarditis (inflammation of the lining of your heart’s valves and chambers), malaria, and mononucleosis, are particularly common. has been implicitly added. night sweats. And rarely, severe night sweats can be a symptom of a cancer such as lymphoma, Dr. Rowland said.

“You can narrow things down pretty quickly with some lab tests and some detective-like questions,” Dr. Andrea Matsumura, a sleep medicine physician at the Oregon Clinic in Portland and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Dr. Matsumura said she often sees patients in the menopausal transition whose sleep is fragmented by night sweats; As with hot flashes, these often begin several years before the last menstrual period and can persist for years afterward. If menopausal night sweats are interfering with a good night’s sleep, it’s worth talking to your health care provider about treatment options, she said.

In patients on her sleep medication, excessive sweating occurs at night “usually because they are having some sort of abnormal breathing during their sleep, and this is a sign of sleep apnea,” Dr. Matsumura said. studies have found That night sweats can also be linked to insomnia, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy.

Lastly, many medications can cause night sweats. The most common culprits are antidepressants, diabetes medications, and some hormonal therapies. If a drug seems to be the likely cause, Dr. Roland will talk with her patients about the risks and benefits of stopping or changing medication, depending on how bothersome the night sweats are.

But too often, Dr. Rowland said she can’t pinpoint the cause of night sweats in her patients, “and it’s always frustrating.” In those cases, he emphasized that patients should let them know if they experience night sweats or if they experience any new symptoms.

Otherwise, sweating during sleep may be just a part of how your body regulates its temperature at night, Dr. Rowland said. Our normal circadian rhythm involves a small, steady drop in body core temperature throughout the night, and sweating is a “normal, physiological response” that can help you reach or maintain that low temperature, she said. And “some people sweat more than other people.”

Whether it is normal or not, night sweats can be uncomfortable and inhibiting sleep. In addition to lowering your bedroom temperature and adjusting your sleeping clothes and bedding, Dr. Matsumura recommends avoiding exercise, drinking alcohol or hot beverages, and eating heavy meals too close to bedtime, which she said can lead to sweating during the night.

If you normally sleep with a partner, you can try sleeping separately for a few nights to see if that helps, Dr. Rowland said. “Sometimes that other person is like holding a 180- or 200-pound, 98-degree furnace next to you and can even affect your temperature regulation throughout the night.”

Too often, coping with night sweats means doing a series of personal experiments in search of a more comfortable snooze. “There’s nothing magic,” said Dr. Rowland. “Different things work for different people.”

Alice Callahan is a health and science journalist based in Oregon and a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

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