Night Sweats: 9 Causes, Concerns & Solutions | Signos

Discover the causes and concerns behind night cold sweats. Learn the causes, potential underlying conditions, and when to seek medical advice.

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Published:
April 23, 2024
August 30, 2023
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Night sweats is a term used to describe excessive perspiration, or hyperhidrosis, at night. Night sweats may be uncomfortable and disruptive to sleep and can even result in mental health issues over time. They can be associated with several possible causes and are often the result of various underlying conditions.

In this article, we’ll explore the possible causes of cold sweats at night. We will cover everything from harmless conditions to more concerning medical problems. 

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Cold Sweats vs. Normal Sweating vs. Night Sweating 

It’s important to recognize the difference between normal sweating, cold sweats, and night sweating because distinguishing between these three is important for assessing potential underlying conditions.

Normal Sweating

Normal sweating is the body's natural response to regulate temperature. It occurs due to physical exertion, hot weather, or emotional stress. The sweat produced during normal sweating is typically a clear, odorless fluid that evaporates to cool the body down. This type of sweating is a healthy and necessary bodily function and is not usually associated with any underlying medical condition.

Cold Sweats

Cold sweats differ from normal sweating because they often occur in response to a sudden and intense stressor, such as extreme pain, fear, anxiety, or shock. Cold sweats get their name because the sweat feels cold and clammy to the touch. This type of sweating is caused by the body's "fight or flight" response, which triggers the release of adrenaline and can lead to the narrowing of blood vessels, causing the skin to become pale and cool. 

Cold sweats can be a symptom of an underlying health condition, like menopause, stress, infections, or low blood sugar. In some cases, cold sweats may indicate a heart attack or shock.

Night Sweats

Night sweats refer to excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) that occurs during sleep, often soaking through bedding and clothing. Night sweats are not related to the external temperature of the sleeping environment and can disrupt sleep. Various factors, including infections, hormonal imbalances, certain medications, and underlying medical conditions, can cause night sweats. They are particularly concerning if they are persistent, severe, and unrelated to external factors.

Recognizing the differences between these types of sweating can help you assess whether there may be an underlying health condition. Abnormal sweating patterns can be a symptom of various medical issues, ranging from minor to serious.

9 Potential Causes of Night Sweats

Cold sweats are not an actual medical diagnosis. Cold sweats can be a symptom of an underlying health condition.

There can be several different causes of night sweats. Cold sweats may be in response to external stimuli; in other cases, cold sweats can point to several health conditions, ranging from minor to severe.1

Hypoglycemia or Low Blood Sugar

You may have hypoglycemia if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Other reasons for low blood sugar may include alternations in hormone levels or metabolism.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause cold sweats, shakiness, and other symptoms. When blood sugar drops significantly, the body's stress response can be triggered, leading to sweating to regulate blood sugar levels.2

High Stress Levels

High stress and anxiety can activate the body's "fight or flight" response, leading to cold sweats, among other physical reactions. Stress hormones can stimulate sweating even in cooler conditions.3

If your night sweats are happening because of anxiety or stress, you might also:

  • Frequently feel worried or fearful
  • Have difficulty sleeping or bad dreams
  • Experience digestive difficulties like upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Have unexplained pain or muscle tension
  • Feel weak, tired, or generally unwell
  • Have changes in mood or other problems with mental health 

Working with a therapist or psychiatrist can help you address your stress and anxiety, which may improve your symptoms, including night sweats. 

woman-stressed-with-her-work-in-front-of-her

Sleep Environment

Your room, mattress, and clothing could all influence whether you sweat during the night. If you have several thick blankets on your bed, this could be causing you to overheat. Your pajamas could also be too warm, or your mattress may not be breathable. Making changes to your sleep environment may get rid of your night sweats. 

Medication

Certain medications, such as antidepressants, antipyretics (fever reducers), and medications that affect hormones, can lead to cold sweats as a side effect.1,4

Perimenopause and Menopause

One of the most common menopause symptoms is hot flashes. Hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause and menopause can cause night sweats, also known as hot flashes. The drop in estrogen levels affects the body's thermoregulation, leading to sudden and intense cold sweats during sleep.5

Hormonal Changes

Aside from menopause, other hormonal changes caused by adrenal abnormalities and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can contribute to cold sweats.6

Hormonal issues may be accompanied by:

  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Changes in energy level
  • Headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual changes

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you’re asleep. It can lead to night sweats due to the effort the body exerts to restart breathing.1

You might have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night's sleep. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Feeling fatigued during the day
  • Waking up often in the middle of the night or sleeping restlessly
  • Waking up in the night struggling to breathe
  • Frequent headaches

Sleep apnea can have serious complications if untreated, such as increased risk for respiratory and cardiovascular issues. If you have night sweats and other sleep apnea symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it. 

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

You may experience symptoms of acid reflux during the day or night. Severe cases of GERD can lead to night sweats. GERD-related symptoms, especially when lying down, can trigger sweating.1

Other symptoms of GERD include:

  • Heartburn, often after meals
  • Chest pain or esophageal spasms
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Regurgitation (when liquid or food comes back up after swallowing)
  • Sleep issues
  • Respiratory problems, including coughing or increased symptoms of asthma

Neurological Disorders

Certain neurological disorders, such as autonomic dysreflexia or autonomic neuropathy, can disrupt the body's ability to regulate temperature and cause abnormal sweating patterns, including cold sweats.7

If you or someone you know is experiencing cold night sweats, especially if they are frequent, severe, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can perform a thorough evaluation, including medical history, physical examination, and necessary tests, to determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment or management strategies.

How to Reduce Sweating at Night 

Reducing excessive sweating at night can significantly improve comfort and sleep quality. Here are some effective strategies to help you manage night sweats:

  • Adjust bedroom temperature

Keep your bedroom cool and well-ventilated. Set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature that prevents overheating during the night. A cooler environment can help regulate your body temperature and reduce sweating.

  • Experiment with layers

Opt for lightweight, breathable sleepwear made from natural fabrics like cotton. Layering your sleep attire can make adjusting to temperature changes throughout the night easier without feeling overly warm.

  • Take a warm shower or bath before bed

Research suggests a warm bath or shower an hour or two before bedtime can help you unwind and fall asleep faster. It also helps lower your core temperature, reducing night sweats.8

  • Check for fever

Night sweats can sometimes be a symptom of underlying viral or bacterial infections like osteomyelitis, a serious infection of the bone that can be either acute or chronic. 

woman-using-thermometer-for-fever

Fever can be treated with acetaminophen, which may help reduce sweating. If you suspect fever and have other symptoms, such as chills or body aches, consult a healthcare professional to address the underlying cause.

  • Adjust exercise timing

Engage in physical activity earlier in the day rather than closer to bedtime. Exercise can increase body temperature and metabolism, leading to increased sweating. Allowing your body sufficient time to cool down before sleep can help reduce nighttime sweating.

Remember that individual responses may vary, so trying different strategies and observing what works best for you is important. If night sweats persist despite these efforts or are accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it's advisable to consult a medical professional for a thorough evaluation and appropriate guidance.

When You Should Reach Out to A Professional 

Reaching out to a medical professional is advisable in several circumstances related to night sweats.

Frequent and Severe Night Sweats

If you experience night sweats regularly, and they are severe enough to disrupt your sleep or daily life, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare provider. This is particularly important if the sweats are unrelated to external factors like room temperature or heavy blankets.

Unexplained Weight Loss

If you are experiencing night sweats and unexplained weight loss, this could be a sign of an underlying medical issue requiring medical attention. Night sweats can sometimes be associated with conditions like infections, disruptions in hormones, and cancer.

Accompanied by Other Symptoms

If your night sweats are accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, pain, or changes in appetite, it's important to see a healthcare professional. These symptoms could indicate a more serious underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed, such as an adrenal tumor, lymphoma, or leukemia.

Persistent Night Sweats

If your night sweats have persisted over a prolonged period, seeking medical advice is recommended. Chronic night sweats could be due to an ongoing health problem that needs to be identified and managed.

Taking Medications

If you suspect that your night sweats are a side effect of a medication, your doctor can help assess whether an adjustment in medication or dosage is needed.

Preexisting Medical Conditions

If you have preexisting health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, or heart conditions, and you notice changes in your sweating patterns, it's important to discuss them with a medical professional.

Healthcare professionals are trained to assess your symptoms, perform necessary tests, and provide appropriate recommendations. It's always better to seek timely medical advice when you have concerns about your health, as early detection and intervention can lead to better outcomes.

Learn How To Improve Sleep and Overall Health with Signos’ Expert Advice

Sleep is an important aspect of health and wellness that is often overlooked. Learn more about how to improve your sleep quality and get more REM sleep with Signos’ expert advice. 

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References

  1. Bryce C. (2020). Persistent Night Sweats: Diagnostic Evaluation. American Family Physician, 102(7), 427–433.
  2. Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose) | ADA. (n.d.). https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia 
  3. Harker M. (2013). Psychological sweating: a systematic review focused on aetiology and cutaneous response. Skin pharmacology and physiology, 26(2), 92–100. https://doi.org/10.1159/000346930
  4. Mold, J. W., & Holtzclaw, B. J. (2015). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Night Sweats in a Primary Care Population. Drugs - real world outcomes, 2(1), 29–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40801-015-0007-8
  5. Deecher, D. C., & Dorries, K. (2007). Understanding the pathophysiology of vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) that occur in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause life stages. Archives of women's mental health, 10(6), 247–257. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-007-0209-5
  6. Robertshaw D. (1979). Hyperhidrosis and the sympatho-adrenal system. Medical hypotheses, 5(3), 317–322. https://doi.org/10.1016/0306-9877(79)90011-2
  7. Allen, K. J., & Leslie, S. W. (2023). Autonomic Dysreflexia. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
  8. Haghayegh, S., Khoshnevis, S., Smolensky, M. H., Diller, K. R., & Castriotta, R. J. (2019). Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep medicine reviews, 46, 124–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2019.04.008

About the author

Victoria Whittington earned her Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama and has over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.

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