Can you give me a brief overview of what night sweats are?
These are repeated episodes where the body sweats so much that it often soaks any fabrics. Speaking with your primary care provider can help you narrow down the cause, but today is about understanding what some of those might be.
What are some of the causes of night sweats?
- Stress/anxiety. Consider that feeling you get when you're told a deadline has moved up, or that your child was hurt at school. The tingling in the fingers and toes and then this heat that seems to start deep within you before spreading out towards the rest of the body. Just because you go to sleep doesn't mean the mind shuts off. After putting the kids down is often the parents time to take a peek at the check list and start mentally crossing off to-dos. To put it in more formal terms, this is referred to as psychological sweating due to the connection between the emotional/mental state and the physiological response.
- Medication. Almost all medications carry side effects since they act on different receptors or chemical processes in the body. That includes medications like antidepressants, those used to treat diabetes, Viagra or even some common over-the-counter pain relievers. Each of these have a unique mechanism of action that's involved in stimulating perspiration in their own way.
- Sleep apnea. There was an incredibly in-depth study known as The Icelandic Sleep Apnea Cohort consisting of 822 patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) that were untreated. Researchers earned that frequent night sweats, more than three times per week, were reported by 30.6% of men with OSA while only 9.3% of their healthy counterparts battled the condition. When the men with OSA started on a PAP machine, their night sweats become less frequent. The OKPRN Study also found a strong association between night sweats and sleep disorders.
- Testosterone levels. We understand that hormones influence many different parts of the body and mind, influencing everything from our arousal levels to hunger and mood. When testosterone levels drop, the hypothalamus or 'thermostat of the brain' may actually think your temperature is off. In trying to correct this imbalance, night sweats may occur.
- Alcohol. Indulging in a glass of a nice pinot noir or cracking open the newest craft beer can be an incredibly enjoyable experience. What isn't so enjoyable is when that decision causes you to wake up drenched. The beverage can increase your heart rate and also cause blood vessels to widen, both of these physiological changes can result in the body experiencing excess perspiration. Night sweats and chills are also key symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and its more extreme form, delirium tremens.
- Low blood sugar. When blood sugar drops, a state known as hypoglycemia, it can stimulate the release of adrenaline. This is the same hormone that gets released during the fight-or-flight response. This hormone stimulates sweating, and we typically fall into a lower blood sugar state at night because of the lack of food intake.
- Hyperhidrosis. This term can be translated to excessive perspiration and is a medical condition that affects approximately 3% of the Canadian population according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. The body uses sweating as a means to regulate temperature, but individuals with hyperhidrosis can start sweating for no apparent reason. It ranges in severity from mild clamminess to the point of dripping with sweat. It is commonly focal, specific to one or more areas including the feet, hands or even the head. It is important to highlight that there are treatment options available to you.
- Thyroid disorders. Some of the hallmark symptoms of hyperthyroidism are an intolerance to heat and sweating as a result. Thyroid hormones play a critical role in the metabolism of the body and any changes to their balance can lead to extreme symptoms.
- Eating habits. This is a unique one as many of us have experienced sweating after indulging in heavily spiced meals or those with a bit of hot sauce added in. Interestingly enough though, is a related condition known as Frey's syndrome where there is damage to the auriculotemporal nerve. The associated damage can lead to sweating around the face. If you eat and then go straight to bed, you may be woken by beads dripping down your face.
How can I find some symptomatic relief?
Various studies have looked at the use of sage leaf extract (Salvia officinalis) against hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating. One group was given an extract of 440mg daily and there was a clinically significant reduction of sweat volume.
Countries like Poland utilize the herb to treat hyperhidrosis and products like MenoForce contain the equivalent of 280mg of sage leaf extract. The product has been clinically-proven in two human clinical trials investigating its use in menopausal females experiencing hot flashes and night sweats.
Other means to combat the symptoms include basic lifestyle changes such as:
- reducing spicy food and alcohol intake before bed,
- reducing the number or weight of blankets on the bed and
- lowering the temperature at night. Lowering the temperature has the added benefit of encouraging melatonin production, helping you get a nice deep sleep!
This article does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.