Waking up at night covered in sweat is not pleasant but, thankfully, for many people it’s due to a bad dream and is a rare occurrence. However, when sweating heavily during sleep becomes the norm rather than the exception, it’s time to explore the reasons behind the problem and find a suitable cure.
Causes of Night Sweats
Sweating is a normal method the body employs to regulate temperature and combat overheating. It is normal to sweat during hot weather, after exercise or manual labor but it should not occur when the body is in a relaxed, cool environment such as when sleeping.
A nightmare can result in sweating and is nothing to worry about -- but when sweating becomes a regular habit there must be an underlying cause and this should be investigated.
The vast majority of cases of night sweats can be traced to a physical cause or medical condition including:
When a woman no longer experiences periods, the body is undergoing physical change and these changes affect hormonal production which may lead to excessive sweating.
Hormonal imbalances (as occur during menopause) can be a factor in the occurrence of night sweats.
Bodily temperature is controlled by the hypothalamus and any irregularities with this portion of the brain can be a factor in causing night sweats.
Some medications, particularly those used to control depression or reduce fever, as well as steroids can increase the likelihood of sweating during sleep. The same is true of alcohol, drugs and excessive caffeine in the bloodstream.
Less commonly, night sweats can be caused by pregnancy, anxiety or panic attacks and as a side-effect of cancer treatment.
According to some experts, another factor in causing night sweats is a sleeping disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Sweating
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder in which breathing is halted for brief periods during sleep. While not all OSA sufferers will experience sweating, it can occur.
One Icelandic study revealed that patients with untreated OSA were 30% more likely to sweat during sleep than those without the condition.
While sweating regularly during sleep is not certain to affect all OSA sufferers it can be a symptom of the condition and should be regarded as a warning sign and not simply ignored. Other early indicators of possible sleep apnea include:
- Frequent snoring
- Daytime drowsiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Sore throat and/or jaw
Experiencing one, some or all of these symptoms over a period of time may well indicate OSA and should be discussed with a doctor or sleep specialist.
Along with the possibility of sweating heavily during sleep, OSA can also cause cold sweats. These can occur at any time of the day or night and are not limited to sleep.
Cold sweats usually occur as a result of stress and are considered part of the body's natural “fight or flight” response to danger. As OSA can be distressing to the body, the result can be breaking out in a cold sweat.
Unless the nighttime sweating is caused by a medical condition, it can often be treated or cured by simple changes in lifestyle or sleeping environment. Eliminating the likely causes of the problem is the best remedy and can be very effective in many cases.
Environmental or lifestyle changes can include:
- Lowering the temperature in the bedroom
- Switching to a specially made cooling mattress which prevents the retention of excess heat
- Changing existing bedding for lighter, breathable sheets, pillows and quilts
- Ensuring there is a good flow of air in the bedroom
- Wearing loose, breathable clothing during the day and while in bed
- Avoiding spicy food, caffeine and alcohol for several hours before sleeping
- Sipping cold water before retiring for the night
- Maintaining a healthy body weight as overweight people are more prone to OSA and other sleep disorders
- Using relaxation techniques to help relax body and mind before bed
These are simple and easy to implement measures that have proven successful for many people who suffer from excessive sweating at night.
If these fail to remedy the problem it may be time to consult a doctor or sleep specialist as OSA may be the real culprit.
Most experts agree that the best treatment for OSA is the use of an Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP) machine.
Basically, a APAP machine pumps air through a tube to a mask that fits over the mouth and nose. The air is pressurized and gently forces the air passages open and keeps them free of the obstructions that lead to pauses in breathing.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, including frequent night sweats, don’t ignore them. The risk of untreated sleep apnea includes medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.
With treatment – including lifestyle changes – you can avoid these complications and get the restorative sleep your body needs to stay healthy.