At some point in their lifetime, the average person has experienced this: Waking up in the middle of the night, body and bed linen drenched in a sheen of sweat.
Perhaps the air conditioning in your room failed, or a nightmare startled your brain into reactive action.
Most people may describe this kind of experience as night sweating, and in many ways, they wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
But the reasons tied to people sweating at night are slightly more complicated than the effects of faulty heating or a psychological distress signal.
Various social and environmental factors lead to night sweats. In fact, just shy of 3 percent of the American population experience sweating at night.
In one study of 2,267 patients, 41% reported experiencing night sweats during the previous month. Primary care doctors and medical practitioners often hear patients complain about night sweats because they are quite common.
While night sweats can be caused by overheated sleeping environments, they can also be caused by an underlying medical condition and are worth looking into with urgency.
What Are Night Sweats, Exactly?
It is important to note that sweating is the body’s natural and biological reaction to overheating.
The brain's hypothalamus is responsible for this temperature regulation. It guides a complex system involving about 2 million sweat glands to help keep us cool.
When sweat evaporates from the skin, heat energy is released, thus cooling the body.
Night sweating, also referred to as sleep hyperhidrosis, is therefore defined as severe hot flashes that only happen at night.
These hot flushes can result in drenched clothes and sheets. They are expressly not related to the body being overheated while sleeping.
Causes of Night Sweats
In a 2011 review study, Dr. James Mold considered the available research at the time on the causes and symptoms of night sweats.
Some of his findings of causes tied to sleep hyperhidrosis included:
- Blood pressure medications
- Eating too close to bedtime
- Hormone shifts leading to periods of very light, unrefreshed sleep
- Intense exercise or physical activity too close to bedtime
- Nighttime bedding or attire with poor aeration
What Are the Possible Causes and Solutions of Night Sweats?
Night sweating is quite a common symptom experienced by women going through perimenopause and menopause.
Perimenopause occurs between the ages of 40 and 50. It is a transitional period preceding menopause.
During perimenopause, a woman’s ovaries begin producing less of three critical hormones, namely:
- Progesterone, and
Additionally, women’s menstrual periods become irregular at perimenopause.
These lowered levels of estrogen, in particular, have been related to night sweats.
If she hasn’t had a menstrual period for 12 months in a row, then a woman has reached menopause. The average age of menopause is 51, although it can also happen to women younger than 40, or those in their late 50’s.
Both perimenopause and menopause are completely natural phases in a woman’s life. They do not require treatment unless they start too early.
The Mayo Clinic notes that only 1 percent of women go through menopause before 40.
How to Handle Menopausal Night Sweats
There are mitigating options that can be explored if night sweats begin interfering with a woman’s quality of life.
Beyond the quality of life challenges, these symptoms may at times impact productivity, leading to lost time at work and home.
For example, with a doctor’s guidance, a woman may explore a vast range of hormone therapy to target night sweats, in addition to other menopause symptoms.
There are other non-hormonal therapies available as well. These extend from mind-body techniques to relief medications with few or no reported side effects.
Some examples include:
- Low doses of the FDA approved medication Paroxetine
- Specific types of antidepressants
- Yoga and meditation
- Lifestyle changes such as weight loss
It isn’t common knowledge, but anxiety as a symptom goes beyond feelings of general fear, worry, and concern.
These emotions can overwhelm a person, triggering a host of physical symptoms, sweat being one of them.
Other symptoms associated with anxiety include muscle tension, accelerated heart rate, breathing difficulties, and gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhea.
The three main anxiety disorders that cause night sweating are:
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
Note that there are other anxiety-related issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can also cause excessive sweating, including at night.
Excessive sweating at night could be a symptom that a person’s anxiety has evolved beyond self-management.
How to Handle Anxiety Related Night Sweats
The first point of action is to identify all triggers preceding anxiety attacks, followed by taking steps to manage the condition without medical assistance.
Treating anxiety heavily depends on individual preference and the nature of the anxiety disorder.
Usually, treatment will combine diverse types of therapy and medication.
Alcohol dependence, depression, and other conditions can complicate the treatment of anxiety and must first be addressed before starting a new course of anxiety treatment.
Anxiety can sometimes be managed at home without clinical supervision. However, this is expressly limited to people who have shorter and less severe periods of anxiety attacks.
Recommended exercises and techniques to cope with brief bouts of anxiety include:
- Stress management, including avoiding known triggers or addressing them entirely
- Relaxation techniques e.g. deep-breathing exercises, long baths, meditation, yoga, and sleeping in blacked-out rooms
- Support networks including family, peers, or professional therapy
- Physical exercise and an active lifestyle
The medical term associated with excessive sweating is known as hyperhidrosis.
Approximately 5% of the general population in America is affected by hyperhidrosis. It is further classified into two main categories:
Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis: Mainly linked to genetics, this type of hyperhidrosis begins in early childhood. People with primary hyperhidrosis sweat on their faces, heads, hands, armpits, and feet.
Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis: Mostly occurs in adulthood. It is seen as a symptom of underlying medical conditions. It also occurs as a side effect of certain medications and treatments.
People with secondary generalized hyperhidrosis either sweat all over their bodies or in one dominant body area.
How to Handle Night Sweats Caused by Hyperhidrosis
Primary focal hyperhidrosis is quite manageable.
A primary care doctor should be able to suggest and assist in the implementation of a suitable treatment plan to help manage and eliminate symptoms.
Except for serious medical conditions, secondary generalized hyperhidrosis can be managed by changing medications that cause this as a side effect. Lowering dosages can also help.
General remedies that can alleviate excessive sweating include:
- Applying over the counter antiperspirants
- Frequent daily showers or baths
- Clothing, undergarments, shoes, and socks made from natural, well-aerated materials
- Open shoes or sandals
- Frequently changing socks or footwear
There are other treatment options a doctor may prescribe, particularly for chronic or serious cases of hyperhidrosis. They include:
- Specialized Antiperspirants
- Anticholinergic drugs
- Botox treatments
- Surgical procedures
For anyone experiencing sudden or excessive night sweating with or without other symptoms, we strongly recommend a visit to the doctor to eliminate any life-threatening conditions.
There will always be a solution to either decrease, eliminate, or hide the effects of excessive sweating.
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