Imagine you have just drifted off to sleep and you are having a wonderful dream when all of the sudden you wake up overheated and drenched in sweat. What a way to wake up, right? Unfortunately, millions of men and women experience night sweats on a regular basis. This condition is more common amongst women. While your night sweats maybe due to your bedroom temperature being too warm, they could also signal an underlying medical condition. Here we look into the various causes of night sweats.
It is important to understand that what appears to be a night sweat could instead be termed a hot flash. So how do you know the difference? First, hot flashes typically begin with a heat sensation emanating from the neck, chest, or abdomen. The skin becomes visibly red and feels warm to touch. Hot flashes can last from three minutes to thirty minutes. Afterwards, a person may experience sweating as well. Hot flashes occur day or night but are most common during the night.
Conversely, night sweats are defined as excess perspiration that occur specifically during sleep. Sufferers often wake up drenched or soaked in perspiration and may find the need to change clothes or even their sheets.
The National Institutes of Health reports that 33 percent of individuals report night sweats. Furthermore, 16 percent of these individuals state their night sweats are so severe to soak their bedclothes.
Common Causes of Night Sweats
The body’s temperature regulation system is complex and can be influenced by several factors, which can make it difficult to determine the reason for your night sweats. Here are some common causes for night sweats.
Menopause starts when you stop having your periods. During this transition, significant bodily changes occur including fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can trigger a hot flash. Most women experience hot flashes during perimenopause, which is the transitional time before menopause.
Hot flashes can last for several minutes and occur multiple times each day, including at night. Some women suffer with hot flashes for several years. In fact, many women experience hot flashes and night sweats for over two decades.
A variety of medications can cause night sweats. Certain antidepressants called SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) promote adrenergic effects which yields a sympathetic nervous system response in the body. This causes your heart rate to increase, your blood vessels to constrict, the pupils may dilate and at times the body may sweat. If you are using some of the common antidepressants, you may be at an increased risk for night sweats.
If you have an infection, you may be at an increased risk of developing night sweats. Some of the most common infections that are associated with night sweats include tuberculosis, endocarditis (an inflammation of your heart valves), osteomyelitis (inflammation in your bones), and abscesses.
When you have an infection, the immune system activates. Once activated, the immune system creates an immune response, that includes increased production of stress hormones and inflammation. This is the body’s method for surrounding infected cells and controlling the spread while the body fights off the infection. This process can increase your body’s core temperature, resulting in night sweats.
Several hormone disorders can cause sweating, flushing, hot flashes, and night sweats, including a pheochromocytoma and carcinoid syndrome. Pheochromocytoma is an adrenal gland tumor that causes the body to produce too much of the hormone catecholamines. Carcinoid syndrome causes the body to produce too many hormones. This syndrome is caused by tumors found in the gastrointestinal system and the lungs.
When the body’s hormones become imbalanced, this can cause a variety of symptoms. Increased hormone production can cause inflammation throughout the body as well as low grade fevers, both of which cause hot flashes and night sweats.
Undiagnosed lymphoma, a type of cancer that occurs in the lymphatic system, can cause a plethora of symptoms, including night sweats, fever, weight loss, and more. Unexplained fevers cause night sweats and patients with cancer often experience heavy sweating. Unlike the night sweats caused by hormonal imbalances that typically occur sporadically, night sweats linked to cancer tend to be persistent, occurring on most nights. Individuals with leukemia may also experience fever and night sweats. Night sweats have also been associated with adrenal tumors and carcinoid tumors.
Hyperthyroidism causes the thyroid gland to produce too many thyroid hormones. When the thyroid gland produces too many thyroid hormones, this overstimulates your nervous system, causing night sweats and a variety of other sleep issues. Hyperthyroidism can affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Hyperthyroidism can cause heat sensitivity and excess sweating. An overactive thyroid gland can tax the body, causing increased heart rate and respiration, which can further overheat the body.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where an individual stops and starts breathing throughout the night while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the tissues in the throat become too relaxed and block off airways. Conversely, central sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the brain forgets to tell the body to breathe momentarily.
Sleep apnea stresses the body, causing it to work harder, which can increase the risk of night sweats. Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea is dangerous. If left untreated, the individual can experience serious complications, including an increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory issues.
Self-Assessment Hormone Quiz
- Dealing with hot flashes, PMS, low libido, mood swings, headaches, anxiety, or unexplained weight gain? Try our Female Hormone Quiz.
- Dealing with mood swings, low libido, fatigue, weight gain, or Insomnia? Try our Female Estrogen Dominance Quiz and learn more.
Holistic Treatment for Night Sweats
If your night sweats become unbearable, it is advisable to contact your functional medicine provider for a holistic treatment approach. There may be various causes of night sweats. Some treatment options include-
- Night sweats caused by menopause may warrant hormone replacement therapy.
- Night sweats caused by an underlying infection can be resolved with antibiotics or antiviral medications, as needed. There are also natural options to lower your stress hormones.
- Night sweats caused by too much alcohol or caffeine may require a reduction or elimination of these substances.
- It may also be advisable to adjust your sleeping habits. Lowering your bedroom temperature a few degrees, removing blankets, wearing lightweight pajamas, or placing a fan beside your bed may help reduce your night sweats.
Night sweats and hot flashes are uncomfortable. Typically, night sweats are not a cause for concern. However, if you have an underlying health condition that is causing your hot flashes or night sweats, it may need to be treated.
How Can We Help?
Our integrative heath care providers understand that the body’s systems work together. We will work with you to find the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend medications, hormone balancing, lifestyle modifications, or dietary changes to help alleviate them. Give us a call today and see how we can help you reduce or eliminate your hot flashes and night sweats.