*Nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. Seek the guidance of a physician if you have any questions.*
Like anything that detracts from sleep quality, night sweats can be frustrating, annoying, and tiring. Many people likely experience the unfortunate and excessive nighttime perspiration, but according to the American Osteopathic Association, the exact number of sufferers in America is very difficult to pinpoint. Today, let’s take a closer look at the causes, symptoms, and treatments of night sweats to help you and your loved ones get a better night’s rest.
What Are Night Sweats?
According to the Mayo Clinic, night sweats are “repeated episodes of extreme perspiration that may soak your nightclothes or bedding.” There are a few important keys to understanding the difference between night sweats that may be symptomatic of a broader condition versus nighttime perspiration that is infrequent.
The symptoms of night sweats are thankfully easy to recognize. If you or a loved one experiences any of these, it may be a good idea to look for an underlying cause.
Excessive sweating: Night sweats are unlike normal nighttime perspiration because of the intensity. Individuals who wake up with a mildly sweaty or clammy forehead likely are not experiencing night sweats. Individuals who wake up to sheets drenched in sweat and clothes that need to be changed may be experiencing night sweats.
Duration: Normal nighttime perspiration is likely to be localized and relatively short. An individual experiencing normal sweating may still wake up to sweaty clothes and sheets, but the sweating is likely to stop after an individual falls back asleep. For an individual experiencing night sweats, this perspiration may continually happen, even after waking several times.
- Frequency: Isolated incidents that occur every few months are not indicative of night sweats. If you are experiencing weekly (or more frequent) night sweats, it is best to contact your physician.
Causes of Night Sweats
Many conditions may cause night sweats. Let’s take a look at several common causes.
Many different medications may be to blame for causing night sweats. Below is an inexhaustive list of some of the most examples.
- Antidepressants: Certain classes of antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) cause night sweats in 1 in 5 people. SSRIs increase serotonin levels in the brain, modulating hypothalamic control in many ways, including sweat production. If you are experiencing night sweats while taking antidepressants, be sure to inform your physician.
- Migraine medication: Triptans are a class of tryptamine-based drugs used to treat migraines. Like SSRIs, certain triptans also lead to elevated serotonin levels. Unlike antidepressants, excessive perspiration as a result of these medications is likely to occur within hours.
- Asthma medications: Rescue inhalers such as albuterol are also known to cause excessive perspiration.
A variety of different sleep-related disorders may also be associated with night sweats. These may also be linked to medications to control sleep-related disorders.
- Obstructive sleep apnea: Also known as OSA, this disorder is a condition characterized by irregular breathing patterns that cause aberrant sleep-wake cycles. These continual sleep-wake cycles can trigger bouts of night sweats that may last weeks or months. Sleep apnea is often misdiagnosed by parters and roommates as excessive snoring, so if you have any doubts, contact your physician.
- Night terrors: Night terrors are “episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep.” This condition is often associated independently with night sweats, but its presence is masked.
Other Conditions and Disorders
- Drug addiction and withdrawal: An individual who is presently addicted to certain classes of narcotics, or experiencing withdrawal from narcotics, is much more likely to experience night sweats.
- Thyroid disorders: Hypo and hyperthyroidism are diseases affecting the activity level of your thyroid. This organ has a large role in regulating metabolism and, when not functioning properly, may cause night sweats.
- Anxiety disorders: A variety of different anxiety-related disorders are prone to cause night sweats. Not only may the conditions themselves cause an individual to experience night sweats, but medications to regulate each disorder may be causative, as well. Some of these conditions include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and (in children, usually) separation anxiety disorder.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you or a loved one, you may consider consulting your physician. The Mayo Clinic recommends contacting a doctor if any of the following is true about your possible night sweats.
- If they occur regularly
- They Interrupt your sleep or causes a drop in sleep quality
- If they are accompanied by “fever, weight loss, localized pain, cough, diarrhea, or other symptoms of concern”
- If the night sweats start after menopause symptoms have been absent for months or years
After contacting your physician, they may be several different treatment options and suggestions. These will often include several common items. Usually, these are aimed at treating the underlying condition that is actually causing the night sweats.
- Change in medication: As discussed previously, medication can often be the culprit causing night sweats. If this is what your doctor believes, they may suggest a change in medication. For some specific medications, this may be easier (like with asthma). For other medications (like SSRIs), this may be more difficult.
- Additional medications: Sometimes, the causative medication cannot be substituted easily, so your physician may recommend a different medication to help control night sweats.
- Change in consumption: For some people, their night sweats are a result of drug or alcohol use. If this is true for you, your physician may recommend altering your consumption, or (especially with caffeine and alcohol) changing the timeframe of consumption in relation to sleep.
- Change in sleep habits: If your night sweats are connected to a sleep disorder, your physician may suggest treating that first. Conditions like sleep apnea can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure machine.