Common Causes of Night Sweats and How to Treat Them Naturally
Water rushes into the sinking boat, flooding in around your feet. You try to plug the hole, but it just keeps rushing in, soaking your body.
Wait a second … you’re not in a boat. You’re dreaming.
You manage to wake up, but something feels very wrong.
You’re still soaking wet. You feel like you’ve been sleeping in a puddle. Your night clothes are damp enough you could squeeze sweat out of them. Even your sheets need to be mopped down with a towel. Actually … you might need to change them.
Great, now you’re wide awake. You’re shivering with cold. And you have to get up for work in a few hours.
That is life with night sweats. You can go to bed feeling totally fine, and you wake up drenched.
Night sweats are annoying at best, a major disruption at worst. They can make it hard to get the restful, restorative sleep you need to function at your best.
Sometimes the cause of night sweats is obvious. You might be running a fever, or you could be in perimenopause and well aware of it.
Indeed, night sweats can be particularly problematic during perimenopause, since losing out on sleep can make the other symptoms you are dealing with that much worse.
Other times, you might not be sure what is causing your night sweats or how to treat them.
In this article, I will go over some of the most common night sweat causes with you, and discuss treatment possibilities in each case. That way you can figure out a plan for yours.
What Night Sweats Are
If you have night sweats, discussing a definition may seem pointless to you. After all, night sweats might appear unmistakeable.
Still, not everyone who thinks they are having night sweats technically is.
Mayo Clinic defines night sweats like this:
“Night sweats are repeated episodes of extreme perspiration that may soak your nightclothes or bedding and are related to an underlying medical condition or illness.”
The key words in this definition are “related to an underlying medical condition or illness.”
What Night Sweats Aren’t
You can have the symptoms of night sweats in some cases without actually having an underlying medical condition or illness.
If the causes of your excessive nighttime perspiration are environmental, that is not considered to be a case of night sweats.
Here are some environmental reasons you might be sweating excessively at night:
- Your bedroom is overly hot.
- Your heated mattress pad or heated blanket is turned up too high.
- You are enclosed in a lot of heavy blankets and have overheated without any airflow to take away your perspiration.
If you are not sure why you are sweating at night, check these causes first before evaluating medical possibilities.
Also, note that even if you do have medically defined night sweats, environmental factors can make them worse.
That means that treating night sweats naturally can involve making changes to your sleeping environment, even though those environmental factors are not the root issue.
- Night sweats are defined as having a medical origin, not an environmental one.
- Environmental factors can make medical night sweats worse.
- Check whether environmental factors are the cause of your sweats before determining that they are truly “night sweats.”
- If a medical condition does appear to be responsible, your next step is to figure out what it is and treat it.
- Even with medical night sweats, optimizing your sleeping environment can help reduce symptoms.
Can Medications Cause Night Sweats?
After you have checked your sleeping environment, and have determined that it does not seem to be causing your night sweats, the next thing to look at is any medications you may be taking.
The following types of medications are associated with night sweats:
- Hypoglycemic agents for treating diabetes
- Hormone-blocking medications
If you are taking any of these types of medications, it is possible that your night sweats are a side effect.
You may want to bring this up with your healthcare provider at your next appointment. Your provider can listen as you explain your symptoms, and tell you whether the medication is likely responsible.
If the night sweats are a major issue for you, your provider may be able to give you an alternative drug to try.
In some cases, this may be all you need to do in order to reduce or eliminate the night sweats.
Of course, there may be cases where you still need to keep on taking the medication which is causing the night sweats.
If that happens, the benefits of using that medication presumably outweigh the inconvenience of the night sweats.
Key Point: Antidepressants, hormone-blocking drugs, and hypoglycaemic drugs can sometimes cause night sweats.
Medical and Psychological Conditions Can Cause Night Sweats
If you do not believe environmental factors or a medication you are taking are responsible for your night sweats, you may need to consider a medical cause.
Now, note that if you are in perimenopause or are at an age where that is likely, you should strongly look into that possibility before you panic.
You should also be aware that not all medical causes of night sweats are serious.
There is a broad range of medical conditions which might cause night sweats. Here are some possibilities:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Autonomic nerve damage
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Addiction to drugs
- Withdrawal from drugs
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Pyogenic abscess
- Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
- Thyroid disease
Mayo Clinic states that you should contact your doctor if your night sweats are happening “on a regular basis,” or are interfering with your sleep.
The site adds that you also should talk to your doctor if you have symptoms such as “a fever, weight loss, localized pain, cough, diarrhea, or other symptoms of concern.”
Additionally, night sweats months or years after menopause may be a concern as well—assuming they have been gone for some time before abruptly reappearing.
Night sweats which started during perimenopause and have continued without a break since menopause may not be a concern, as some women do experience perimenopause symptoms for years after menopause.
If you have an underlying health condition which is responsible for your night sweats, you cannot expect them to go away unless you treat the condition.
Furthermore, it is important to treat the condition for your overall health.
- While night sweats are commonly caused by the transition into menopause, some other health conditions may be responsible as well.
- Conditions which can cause night sweats can vary in severity. They may be acute or chronic.
- If you have unexplained night sweats and troubling symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor in order to rule out an underlying condition or treat it appropriately.
Night Sweats and Menopause
Now let’s discuss the most common cause of night sweats: menopause.
More specifically, night sweats tend to crop up during perimenopause. This is the time period during which your hormone production drops and your menstrual cycles become irregular leading up to menopause.
Technically, you are not considered to be menopausal until you have gone 12 months without a period.
Indeed, symptoms of “menopause” actually tend to let up after menopause. When someone says, “She’s going through menopause,” they typically mean, “She’s going through perimenopause.”
The reason for this discussion regarding syntax and semantics is because it is important to understand what perimenopause is in order to talk about timeframes.
It is common for women to believe that they will not experience “menopause symptoms” until they hit the average age during which menopause occurs, which is 51.
But in actuality, you will probably experience those symptoms sooner since they will set in when you enter perimenopause.
At what age does that occur?
There is significant variation both in the age of onset and the length of perimenopause.
The “average” is regarded to be about age 47 for the onset of perimenopause, which means that the “typical” women can expect around four years of night sweats and related symptoms.
Some women have a very short perimenopause, lasting just a few months.
Other women are outliers on the opposite end. They might be in perimenopause for as long as a decade.
As mentioned before, it is common for symptoms such as night sweats to taper off after menopause. But there are exceptions to this rule. Some women unfortunately will continue to experience the same symptoms long after menopause.
Finally, we need to discuss the issue of premature menopause.
Usually, menopause is defined as premature when it happens before you turn 40 years old.
If you are entering premature menopause, perimenopause symptoms such as your night sweats could begin any time in your 30s.
In fact, if you have a very early menopause and the very long-term menopause, you could even have symptoms as early as your 20s.
So that essentially means that if you are a woman in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, and you are experiencing night sweats, perimenopause is a distinct possibility.
Obviously, the likelihood increases with age, but it should not be overlooked as a possibility just because you think you are “too young for menopause.”
If you are looking for some simple anecdotes about premature menopause, consider these from my own life:
- When I was 21, a doctor actually thought I might be going into menopause. I wasn’t (I seemed to be having other hormonal issues), but the very fact that she mentioned it right away told me it can’t be totally uncommon.
- Two of my best friends are apparently in perimenopause. Both are in their early to mid 30s. I don’t have a huge social circle, so this is either statistically anomalous, or a demonstration that early menopause symptoms are relatively widespread.
So even if this explanation does not strike you as likely, it is still arguably more likely than a number for health conditions which I mentioned in the previous list.
You can have your hormone levels checked if you and your doctor agree that you might be in perimenopause.
That should shed some light on whether this is likely going on or not.
Just keep in mind that hormone tests are notoriously uninformative. As my OBGYN told me, they are really just a snapshot in time.
Since hormones fluctuate so much throughout the day, throughout the month, and from month to month, it is hard to get a clear picture of what is going on in your body.
- Most of the symptoms which people associate with menopause take place mainly during perimenopause, the time period during which hormone production is winding down.
- Perimenopause usually lasts or a few years, but it may be as short as several months or as long as a decade.
- The “average” age for menopause is 51, but menopause may occur even before the age of 40.
- For this reason, night sweats as early as your 30s or even your 20s could be associated with perimenopause.
Idiopathic Night Sweats
If a doctor tells you that the condition you have is “idiopathic,” it means that the cause is unknown, and they do not expect to figure out what it is anytime soon.
This is not necessarily a negative, because doctors will usually try to rule out other health conditions before declaring that one which you have is idiopathic.
Idiopathic night sweats do not seem to get much attention, but they are most definitely a thing.
I highly suggest reading this amusing blog post. It describes a 28-year-old woman’s rather exhaustive attempt to pin down the reason for her night sweats to no avail.
One of the reasons that I found this blog post interesting (aside from being written in an entertaining manner) is that the entire experience was very relatable to me.
I too seem to experience idiopathic night sweats.
They have become more frequent and much heavier over recent months. I figure that this could have something to do with perimenopause (I am in my 30s), or it could have to do with the medication I am using.
But I can certainly say that I have had them for a long time now with no apparent cause.
As best I can remember, they started around my mid-20s, perhaps a bit earlier. They are usually more pronounced during the luteal phase.
I have had my hormones tested on multiple occasions because of unrelated symptoms. The tests always come back normal for my age.
By now, I have become quite unconcerned with them aside from finding them irritating (the story about the sinking boat dream from the start of this post was an actual dream I had before waking up soaked in sweat).
If your night sweats are idiopathic, there’s not a lot you can do to treat them, since you do not know their origin.
You can, however, make sure that your sleeping temperature is ideal, and you can try increasing the airflow in your room. They should at least reduce their severity a bit.
- Night sweats may be idiopathic, meaning their origin cannot be determined.
- While idiopathic night sweats do not seem to be discussed very much, I suspect they are more common than people believe.
- If you have idiopathic night sweats, you can try to optimize your sleep environment, but since you do not know the medical root, you may have a difficult time treating them through other methods.
Are Night Sweats Identical to Hot Flashes?
Oftentimes, the words “hot flashes” and “night sweats” are used interchangeably.
This is because these two things often occur together, especially during perimenopause.
But that does not mean that they are actually identical, or that it is impossible to have night sweats without hot flashes.
I for one can attest that it is indeed possible to have night sweats on their own.
To my knowledge, I have never had anything that could be described as a “hot flash.”
Actually, if anything, I am more likely to sweat when I’m cold than when I’m hot.
Indeed, the sweating that occurs in the middle of the night with me tends to follow this pattern as well. I am more likely to wake up freezing them boiling.
- Night sweats and hot flushes are often referenced interchangeably.
- The two do often occur together, but you can have night sweats without accompanying hot flashes.
Natural Treatments for Night Sweats During Menopause
Now that we have gone over the different potential causes for night sweats, we can talk a bit about natural treatments.
Again, if a medication or health condition is causing your night sweats, you will need to address that issue before attempting other treatments.
Below are some ideas you can try. This list is geared especially towards those who are experiencing night sweats during perimenopause, but some suggestions may apply more broadly to other cases of night sweats as well.
1. Try herbs for menopause.
There are a variety of different herbs which can help to balance hormone production in your body and reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Consider giving any of the following a try:
- Black cohosh
- Vitex (chasteberry)
- Red clover
- Dong Quai
- Wild yam
- St. John’s Wort
Trying one of these herbs on its own or several in combination may not only reduce night sweats and hot flashes, but also other symptoms of perimenopause.
2. Reduce your triggers
Both hot flushes and night sweats can have triggers. If you are able to become aware of yours, reducing your exposure to them may also reduce your nighttime symptoms.
While triggers may vary from person to person, here are some common culprits:
- Spicy foods
- Tight clothing
You might notice something about these if you happen to get acid reflux. Most of these are also acid reflux triggers.
So if you know what to stay clear of to avoid heartburn, you have a pretty good idea what you should be avoiding if you want to stay away from hot flushes and night sweats.
The best way to pinpoint your triggers is to keep careful notes. Pay attention to what you wear, what you eat, what you drink, and how you feel each day. Write down brief notes, and also record whether you have night sweats and/or hot flashes each night.
Over time, you may start to identify patterns. You might notice for example that after eating sugar, you are more likely to get night sweats. If you want to reduce their frequency or severity, you could cut back on the sugar or stop eating it.
3. Improve sleeping conditions.
As briefly discussed, good sleep hygiene is important for reducing the severity of your night sweats. It also can improve the overall quality of your sleep.
Following are some suggestions for optimizing the conditions in your sleeping environment:
- If there’s a way for you to control the temperature in your bedroom, that is the best place to start in reducing night sweats. Remember, night sweats can be caused by both by overheating and getting too cold (as I can attest).
- If you are still too warm, you can try sleeping on a cooling mattress pad, cooling pillow, or cooling towel. These products not only can help you cool off if you do have a hot flash, but may also help to reduce them in the first place.
- Consider getting water-resistant bedding. This will not protect you from night sweats, but it can provide protection for your mattress as well as your heated mattress pad if you use one.
- Get a glass of ice water and put it next to your bed. When you wake up in the night, sip on a little to cool yourself off if you need to.
- If possible, try to keep your sleeping area well-ventilated. Use a fan or open a window so that there is circulation in the air. If possible, try not to bury yourself under heavy layers of blankets which cut off that air circulation. The more ventilation you have, the easier it is for moisture to evaporate from your skin. While this will not stop you from sweating, it may make your sweating more tolerable.
- Wear layers. Another recommendation is to wear layers to bed. The reason to do this is because you may go to bed feeling cold, but may overheat in the night. If you have on layers, you can easily strip off the top layers, and then go back to sleep wearing less.
- Make sure that your overall sleeping environment is conducive to rest. Control light and noise levels to the best of your ability, and make sure that your mattress and pillow provide the support you need. If you have sensory issues with textures, choose bedding which you find pleasing rather than unpleasant.
- Remember, sleep disorders and night sweats can go together. So your sleep hygiene should also include good habits which make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. This may mean taking time for relaxing activities before bed, avoiding large meals late at night, and so forth.
4. Fight stress and anxiety.
Anxiety and stress can cause night sweats. So one more thing you can do to try and treat your night sweats is to work on regulating your mood.
Exactly how to do this will require coming up with an individualized plan since every person is different. But here are a few ideas which may assist you:
- You can try meditating. There are many different ways you can meditate, and many people report great results with it. There are also scientific studies which back up meditation as an effective tool for managing stress and anxiety.
- You could try a breathing exercise. This can be particularly helpful for working your way through a panic attack.
- You can try exercising more. Working out on a regular basis can help to reduce your overall anxiety levels. Some people also find that working out before bed helps them to fall asleep faster (for others, the opposite effect might occur).
- Do an activity before bedtime which helps you to think about something other than the problems which are causing you anxiety. Ideally, it should be a nice, relaxing activity which helps your body and mind to wind down for the day.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques help some people to regulate their moods.
- Seeing a therapist about your anxiety or stress may be a good idea in some circumstances.
- Give yourself breaks from stressful circumstances when you can. Regularly take a few steps back and take time to get back to feeling calmer and more centered. Sometimes that might mean taking a few times to meditate or rock in place or do something else soothing periodically throughout the day.
- A lot of stressors are outside your control, but there might be some you can do something about. Instead of letting them continue to weigh on you, consider taking action. Maybe you do not need to be at their mercy.
- Taking herbs, vitamins, and minerals for hot flashes and night sweats might reduce your symptoms, especially during perimenopause.
- De-stressing and reducing anxiety may help fight night sweats.
- Proper sleep hygiene can go a long way toward reducing the severity of night sweats.
- Avoiding hot flash triggers may also curb night sweats.
Conclusion: There Are Steps You Can Take Today to Reduce Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Night sweats can hamper efforts toward restful sleep. When you should be adrift in dreamland, you may find yourself mopping down your damp sheets.
Treating night sweats naturally starts with identifying their cause when possible.
After you take care of any medical conditions which may be causing night sweats, you can focus on simple natural treatments like herbs for menopause, better sleep hygiene, avoiding triggers, and reducing anxiety and stress.
Combining these approaches should yield the best results.
Hopefully you’ll be able to significantly reduce your night sweats. Before you know it, you could be getting back to restorative sleep!