Sleep SOS: How to stop night sweats ruining your sleep
Night sweats leaving you soaked? Here’s why they happen, and what you can do to stop them from ruining your sleep.
They can be distressing and disruptive, and leave you shattered and bathed in sweat.
The impacts of night sweats are often the same: discomfort, frustration and fatigue.
Women’s Health and Research Institute of Australia director Dr John Eden says night sweats can dramatically impact quality of life.
“I’ve seen women going through menopause and weeping because they’re woken every 30 minutes by night sweats; their relationships fall apart and they can’t work,” Dr Eden says.
“If you have persistent night sweats, see your GP to find out why they’re happening and to get appropriate treatment.”
What causes night sweats?
Perimenopause, menopause and breastfeeding
Perhaps the most common cause of night sweats is menopause and the years leading up to it.
As oestrogen levels fall, night sweats can occur – essentially, a hot flush at night.
“Women wake up soaked in perspiration because their oestrogen level fluctuates and their body is sensitive to that,” Women’s Health Melbourne gynaecologist, Dr Tzippora Ben-Harim, says.
“Hormone therapy can help, and so can lifestyle changes such as wearing lighter clothing to bed, avoiding heavy doonas and keeping your bedroom cool.”
Oestrogen levels also fall just before a period and when breastfeeding, so night sweats can also arise at these times too.
Another common cause of a sweaty night’s sleep is infection.
In times gone by, prolonged sweats were a sign of tuberculosis but today, they’re more likely to be a transient symptom of a cold or flu.
“The easiest way to see if a night sweat is a result of a virus is to take your temperature,” Dr Eden says.
“In hormonal causes of sweating, the skin gets hot but the body’s core temperature doesn’t; if you’re sweating because of an infection, you’ll have a temperature.”
Stress and snoring
If you are an anxious person, you may be more likely to experience night sweats, and wake with your heart racing and body covered in sweat.
Night sweats can also be linked to obstructive sleep apnoea – where the airway is blocked during sleep, leading to snoring.
About a third of people with this disorder experience regular night sweats, although the reasons are not fully understood.
“The thyroid sits at the front of the neck and controls many body functions – our heart rate, blood pressure and bowel function, for example,” Dr Ben-Harim says.
“If you have an overactive thyroid, you’ll experience night sweats but this condition can be treated with medication.”
Some medications increase sweat production.
Strong painkillers including morphine and codeine can lead to flushing, and some antidepressants – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs) such as Prozac – can make sweating worse.
Speak to your GP about your medication if you experience this side effect.
How to treat night sweats at home
- Learn how to manage stress. Negative and positive stress can trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, which releases chemicals that increase heart rate and blood pressure and heat up your body, so you then sweat to cool down again.
- At night, say no to hot drinks and spicy foods that heat up your body.
- Avoid alcohol in the hours before bedtime as it increases the possibility of night sweats.
- Choose sleepwear made from breathable, lightweight fabrics such as cotton and bamboo.
- Invest in a cooling mattress or pillow, and avoid foam bedding products.
- Avoid synthetic and flannelette sheets.
Tossing and turning? Read more on sleep:
- How to get a good night’s sleep in the heat
- Sleepless nights? These natural herbs may help
- Trouble sleeping? Signs it’s time to ditch your mattress
- How to find sleep fast – and actually stay asleep
Written by Sarah Marinos.