Doctors use the term metabolism to describe all of the physical and chemical processes involved with the break down and use of energy. Although most people associate digestion and waste elimination with metabolism, it also includes blood circulation, breathing, muscle contraction, nerve function, brain function and body temperature regulation. Medical conditions that alter your metabolism can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate temperature and cause night sweats -- uncontrollable and excessive sweating at night during sleep.
Your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, produces two important thyroid hormones that regulate your metabolism. In addition to regulating brain development, breathing, heart function, nervous system function, muscle strength, menstrual cycles and your weight, the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine -- T3 and thyroxine -- T4 regulate your body temperature. When the thyroid produces too much hormone, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, it stimulates an increase in metabolism that causes nervousness, irritability, hand tremors, irregular heartbeat, heat intolerance and night sweats.
Menopause, the stage in a woman’s life when her menstrual cycle stops, causes an imbalance in hormones that affects not only the reproductive system but also the brain function, nerve function, bones, liver, heart and metabolism. The hormone imbalance causes your brain to mistakenly think your body needs to dispel heat. The brain then sends out signals that make your blood vessels dilate, your heart rate increase and your sweat glands open. This causes hot flashes during the day and episodes of night sweats at night. To try to increase estrogen levels and bring your hormones back into balance, your body converts more calories into fat, since fat cells produce small amounts of estrogen.
The medical term pheochromocytoma describes a tumor, usually noncancerous, that forms in the adrenal gland, a small hormone-producing organ found on top of each kidney. These glands produce several hormones important to metabolism including adrenaline, also called epinephrine, and noradrenaline, also called norepinephrine. A pheochromocytoma causes the adrenal glands to produce too much adrenaline and noradrenaline which increase your metabolism to prepare your body for stress. The symptoms include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, anxiety and profound sweating that at night causes night sweats.
When bacteria invade your body, the cells of your immune system attack the bacteria to protect your body from disease. While some white blood cells scavenge and consume the bacteria and other white cells begin to produce antibodies, your body tries to slow the growth of the bacteria by stimulating metabolism to increase body temperature. The increase in temperature causes a fever and can result in night sweats. Bacterial infections commonly associated with night sweats include tuberculosis, brucellosis, endocarditis and osteomyelitis.