Understanding the Causes of Night Sweats

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Common causes of night sweats include menopause and medication side effects.
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You wake at 3 a.m. and you're drenched. It's not enough to just change your pajamas, you also must change your bedding, and this has been going on for at least a month. What gives?

Menopause and Night Sweats

It could be night sweats, more formally known as sleep hyperhidrosis. Heavy sweating from hot flashes at night is among the most common symptoms of menopause, according to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

If you're at or near age 51, the average age for the start of menopause, and your periods have become irregular, "the change" could likely be causing your night sweats, explains Stephanie Faubion, MD, NAMS medical director and the director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women's Health in Rochester, Minn. During menopause, levels of the female sex hormone estrogen drop dramatically, and this affects the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates body temperature.

The bad news? Menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats may last for seven or more years, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. The good news? "They are treatable," Dr. Faubion says.

Read more: 10 Habits That Are Ruining Your Sleep (and How to Fix Them)

Troubleshooting Your Night Sweats

If you simply try to ignore them, night sweats will continue to rob you of sleep, resulting in severe fatigue and even depression. To get ahead of night sweats and sleep loss during menopause:

  • Ask your partner if you snore. Hot flashes and night sweats in middle-aged women may be linked to an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, according to a study by Mayo Clinic researchers. The study, published April 2018 in Menopause, found that women who had high blood pressure and were obese had an especially high risk for sleep apnea. Weight loss can help treat sleep apnea and has profound spillover benefits on heart and overall health, Dr. Faubion says. Risk of heart disease also rises with advancing age and menopause. If weight loss doesn't make a difference, other treatments are available. Talk to your doctor.
  • Dress in thin light layers to stay cool at night. Moisture-wicking sheets and pillowcases may also help you stay cooler and drier during sleep.
  • Mind your triggers. Spicy foods may make night sweats more likely. Keep a journal to see if there's any connection for you. If what you eat tends to trigger your night sweats, steer clear of those foods.
  • Keep your bedroom cool. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that the ideal bedroom temperature for sound sleep falls between 60 and 67 degrees.
  • Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy. If you are a candidate, hormone therapy can help replenish your natural estrogen supply and relieve night sweats, hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, Dr. Faubion says.

Other sleep hygiene tips — such as avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m., exercising regularly and setting and sticking to strict wake and bed times — can also encourage good quality sleep, the National Sleep Foundation points out. Avoiding alcohol and tobacco too close to bedtime will also set the stage for better sleep. Limiting evening screen time is not just good counsel for kids. It's also helpful for the rest of us. The National Sleep Foundation notes that blue light from electronics has the potential to disrupt sleep. Log off at least an hour before bed.

Read More: 5 Simple Steps to Get the Best Night of Sleep Ever

Other Causes of Night Sweats

Menopause is not the only potential cause of night sweats. Others include side effects of certain medications such as antidepressants (but not birth control pills), anxiety, some cancers, bacterial infections like tuberculosis, and HIV, according to the Mayo Clinic. Certain non-menopause hormonal conditions including hyperthyroidism may lead to night sweats, too.

If your night sweats are accompanied by a fever, weight loss, pain or other symptoms, whether or not they come on after menopause, see your doctor to find out what is going on, the Mayo Clinic suggests.

Is This an Emergency?

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, it is best to call your doctor before leaving the house if you are experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom.
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