Sweat dreams are made of this.
Two sleep health experts from the University of South Australia are sharing what causes people to sweat in their sleep and how to combat those dreaded “night sweats.”
“Many conditions and factors can trigger night sweats by changing the body’s tightly regulated temperature set point, at which the body attempts to maintain its core temperature,” researchers Siobhan Banks and Linda Grosser wrote this week for The Conversation.
“Some triggers are harmless (a hot bedroom) or even related to positive lifestyle changes (exercise). Others have an underlying cause like menopause, infection, disease or medication.”
Be mindful of these common conditions to avoid waking up awash in misery.
Women typically experience night sweats more than men because of routine hormonal changes and menopause — 80% suffer them along with hot flashes before and after their period, Banks and Grosser write.
Estrogen fluctuations are associated with neurotransmitters that influence the brain’s hypothalamus — which essentially functions as the body’s thermostat.
Men with lower testosterone levels, like 38% of males over 45, are also more prone to night sweats.
Illnesses and medications
Ailments are a common culprit for midnight moisture.
“Minor infections like the common cold can cause night sweats,” the researchers wrote, adding that they can be a warning sign of severe diseases like HIV, along with Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In those cases, they are rarely the only symptom.
Medications including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), corticosteroids, thyroid hormone replacement and methadone also spark night sweats because they “affect parts of the brain and neurotransmitters that control and stimulate sweating.”
Consumption of alcohol, especially alcohol dependence, and recreational drug use can also increase the risk of problematic perspiration.
Stress, anxiety and snores
Anxiety is a major reason for night sweats, as is stress, according to Banks and Grosser.
“Psychological stress activates the body’s fight or flight system releasing neurotransmitters that increase heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. This causes the body to heat up, at which point it starts sweating to cool the body back down,” they stressed.
“Night sweats may also increase anxiety, causing more sweating which in turn leads to less sleep and more anxiety.”
The pair recommend moving around in a dark or dimly lit area to calm anxiety.
Snoring and related conditions like sleep apnea are two more considerations.
“About one third of people with obstructive sleep apnea regularly experience night sweats,” Banks and Grosser added. “The exact cause is undetermined but research shows it is linked with low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) and/or high blood pressure.”
Five ways to fight the sweats
- Sleep in a cool environment and with a fan if need be
- Wear breathable pajamas made of light material like cotton or linen
- Select lightweight bedding and not synthetic fiber or flannel bedding
- Consider a cooling mattress or pillow and avoid foam pillows that obstruct airflow
- Steer clear of spicy foods, caffeine or alcohol before bed
Dr. Debi Johnson is a medical expert and health journalist dedicated to promoting well-being. With a background in medicine, she offers evidence-based insights into health trends and wellness practices. Beyond her reporting, Dr. Debi enjoys hiking, yoga, and empowering others to lead healthier lives.