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When you hear the term “night sweats,” you may think it’s a common occurrence of sweating in sleep, due to the hot Aussie summers or a heavy quilt. In reality, night sweats are severe hot flashes that occur at night, excessively drenching clothing and sheets—and they’re completely unrelated to a hot environment.
The causes of night sweats differ between males and females, and they can also be linked to a range of underlying factors. If you think you suffer from night sweats, read on to discover the potential triggers.
Night Sweats in Men
While night sweats can occur from working out, hot showers, or hot drinks before bed, they are often linked to medical conditions—especially in men.
If you’re a male over 40, night sweats may occur as a result of decreased levels of testosterone. As men age, testosterone levels naturally begin to fall. Night sweats can occur if testosterone levels fall at a faster rate than normal. Other symptoms can include increased body fat and decreased libido, so consult your GP if you’re concerned.
Night sweats in men can often indicate sleep apnoea—meaning you struggle to breathe while sleeping. Approximately 25% of men have sleep apnoea, which develops when tissue in your throat blocks your airway, or when your central nervous system is unable to function properly. Snoring, fatigue, and waking up gasping for air can also occur.
Night Sweats in Women
Women are also prone to night sweats, often linked to hot flashes caused by menopause and pregnancy.
75% of women in the menopause stages of life have experienced hot flashes, resulting from the body’s reactions to hormonal changes. When hot flashes occur at night, they lead to periods of heavy sweating, often waking women from sleep and causing discomfort. Although you can’t prevent these night sweats, you can help relieve them by wearing loose clothing, keeping your bedroom cool, and removing sheets and blankets.
As with menopause, changing hormone levels during pregnancy can lead to a rise in body temperature, resulting in night sweats. Increased blood circulation, higher metabolism, and weight gain can all generate more body heat. Increased sweating is normal throughout pregnancy, with the most severe night sweats occurring in the first and third trimesters.
Other Causes of Night Sweats
Night sweats can also be linked to anxiety and stress, alcohol and drugs, infections, and medications.
Anxiety & Stress
Night sweats from anxiety and stress result from your brain’s fight or flight system, in response to extreme fear responses. Blood rushes to the parts of your body where energy is needed to fight or flee from a threat. During this process, your blood vessels constrict, and your body overheats. Stressful thoughts (like wondering why you can’t fall asleep) can lead to anxiety, which can lead to night sweats, which can then cause even more anxiety.
Alcohol & Drugs
Alcohol and drug usage affect the nervous system and how the body regulates and senses body temperature, blood pressure, and heart activity. When alcohol or drugs are consumed, the heart rate speeds up and dilated blood vessels cause you to feel warm—triggering excessive sweating. Alcohol or drug withdrawal may also cause night sweats.
Infections can often lead to night sweats, ranging from mild viral infections to serious, life-threatening infections. General signs of infection include fever and chills, aches and pains, fatigue, decreased appetite, and redness or swelling. See your healthcare provider if any of these symptoms occur.
Night sweats are a common side effect of various medications. The most common medications linked to excessive sweating include:
- Steroids (such as cortisone or prednisone)
- Acetaminophen, aspirin, and pain relievers
- Diabetes medications
- Hormone therapy drugs
Let your GP know if you’re suffering from night sweats relating to a medication, as they may be able to recommend an alternative or method of coping.
There are numerous causes of night sweats, resulting in an uncomfortable feeling regardless. Learn how to protect your mattress from sweat to ensure healthy sleep hygiene and make your bedding last longer.