You are not sick, you don’t owe money to anyone, you paid your taxes, you don’t cheat on your spouse… but for some reason it’s the middle of winter and your bed is so drenched in sweat you can almost float! Maybe it’s just because you accidentally left the thermostat too high. Or could it be a medical condition?
What Are Night Sweats?
Night sweats are a fairly common occurrence that according to one study ails one-third of primary care patients. The Mayo Clinic defined it frequent episodes of extreme perspiration, caused by an underlying medical condition, which may soak your bedding and clothes at night.
This is important to know because soaking your sheets every once in a while on nights that you use three blankets isn’t a reason to see a doctor. In some cases, night sweats can be an indicator of a more serious ailment. Which is all the more troublesome because the majority of the affected do not seek medical help.
In conjunction with night sweats, you will often encounter heat flashes. While similar, these conditions are not equal, but more on that later.
What Causes Night Sweats?
How to stop having them? First things first. Essentially night sweats are a symptom of another condition. Sweating is the body’s reaction to an increase in core temperature that strays above the thermoneutral zone (an equilibrium condition in mammals when heat production is at the same rate as heat dissipation). This would trigger a metabolic response to get back to the thermoneutral zone – in this case, sweating.
The culprits of sweating at night can be anything from too many blankets to inflammatory processes caused by an infection. Night sweats can also be a side effect of medications that induce the sweat glands to produce more sweat, such as:
- Depression medication – all types of antidepressants can cause night sweats, including tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, venlafaxine, and bupropion.
- Diabetic medication – such as metformin used for type 2.
- Hormone – blocking drugs for certain types of cancer – such as tamoxifen used to treat breast cancer.
Medical conditions connected to night sweats are numerous. To name just a few:
- Anxiety disorder – in an overly stressed body, active stress response will hyper-stimulate the glands and lead to excessive sweating.
- Autoimmune disorder – the body falsely identifies healthy cells as intruders and raises the temperature to eliminate the threat. Common in rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, etc.
- Drug addiction or withdrawal – self-explanatory.
- Tuberculosis – the most common infection that causes night sweats.
- Cancers – night sweats can be an early symptom of some types of cancer, most commonly lymphoma but also leukemia.
- Hypoglycemia – overly low blood sugar levels can cause night sweating.
- Neurological conditions – while not as common, strokes, autonomic dysreflexia, posttraumatic syringomyelia, and autonomic neuropathy have been known to cause night sweats.
- Sleep apnea – night sweats can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.
What Can You Do About Them?
If the night sweats are regular, waking you up, and accompanied by fever, loss of weight, localized pain, diarrhea, etc., you should consult a doctor. In most cases, preventing night sweats means treating the underlying condition, thus there is no one particular cure for it.
Here are some of the more general solutions. You can get a prescription for a specialized antiperspirant that contains aluminum chloride. This antiperspirant ingredient is much stronger than those found in over-the-counter antiperspirants.
In desperation, some always look to find the answer in drugs. In which case, anticholinergic drug may prevent sweating after two weeks of consumption but at the price of possible constipation and dizziness.
Another option is a process called Iontophoresis. It involves zapping your body with low-current electricity while submerged in water to temporarily block your sweat glands. Not one for the faint of heart. Another scary option is to remove the sweat glands in your armpits via surgery. Alternatively, you could just have the nerves that carry messages to your glands severed.
To threat night sweats, you can seek advice from your family doctor, an internist, or a gynecologist. Depending on the underlying cause, you may find yourself visiting another specialist like a neurologist, endocrinologist, or in some cases oncologist.
Women and Night Sweats
Women often suffer from night sweats due to hormonal changes brought on by perimenopause and menopause. This is also when hot flashes kick in. Hot flashes are sudden rushes of body heat that can occur day or night. They are directly connected with perimenopause. While this cannot be stopped, its effects can be diminished.
By exercising during daytime hours, you can decrease stress and induce relaxing sleep. Going to bed in loose clothing helps one to stay cool during the night. Weight loss can also lower the likelihood of frequent sweating.
Some of the triggers that you might want to avoid in order to minimize the effects of both night sweats and hot flashes are:
- Smoking actively and passively
- Alcohol and caffeine
- Tight clothing
- Eating spicy food
- Stressful situations
- Tick blankets
The opinions are mixed about the effectiveness of reducing sweating episodes through diet. In some cases, adding natural foods and supplements to one’s diet has shown results in the long run. While not scientifically proven, adding soya beans, tofu, and tempeh or miso to your diet could help reduce episodes of hot flashes. As always, it is best to consult your doctor first, as some of these food items can have side effects and interact with other medication.
As unpleasant as it may be, there is a greater purpose to waking up in a soaked bed. Your body is trying to send you a message. There might be something wrong with you, or perhaps you just don’t need that comforter.
Seeking a way to stop the night sweats may inadvertently help you to solve a more pressing medical issue. An issue that without the night sweats you wouldn’t even know that you have. So, consult your doctor and learn the true nature of your ailment. Take the necessary steps and adapt your daily routine to the new situation.