The drip, drip, drip of a faucet keeping you awake is bad enough.
But when the dripping is coming from your head and armpits it has to be worse.
Profuse sleep sweating has to be one of the most troubling sleeping problems there are.
Oftentimes it defies easy explanation.
In extreme cases, the individual wakes up feeling like someone must have poured water on them. Their sheets are dripping wet. Their pillow is damp. They have a hard time getting back to sleep if they have to lay in that sopping mess. When they wake up, their linens smell sour because the moisture makes a great place for microscopic organisms to spawn.
In less extreme cases, his or her pillow is wet and, maybe, so are the sheets around their shoulders. To get comfortable they’ve got to flip the pillow over and move over in bed, if they’ve got enough room.
When the sheets dry, they feel pasty. Predictably, their pillows and mattress get stained. If they’re a person with a high tactile orientation, they’ll want to change the sheets. For a lot of reasons, that’s not always possible. Changing the sheets every night is a real pain.
According to a 2004 study, almost 3 percent of the population in the United States suffers from excessive sweating. There are surely grades of sweating within these extremes. Other less well-constructed studies put the number at 5 percent worldwide.
There’s even a word in Medical-ese for too-much sweating: hyperhidrosis.
Switching on fans and keeping the room cold doesn’t always work. The only thing that will help is finding the cause of the profuse sweating.
A lot of drugs and broad classes of medical conditions cause night sweats. Sometimes it’s not even a medical condition; it’s the way someone is made, their genetics or adaptive response. Heavy sweating can be a familial trait. It’s the quintessential climate adaptation. People who do well in hot climates typically sweat more than others who are more comfortable in cold climates.
Our Modern Living Environment Can Confuse Our Bodies
Let’s be clear: air conditioning is a godsend on a sweltering summer day.
High temperatures can be deadly.
However, when someone stays in air conditioning all of the time or when they go between a hot and cold environment frequently, their body doesn’t have time to enact its heat diminishing strategies. In many cases, it loses its ability to cope.
Physics tells us there are basically three ways of transferring heat: radiation; conduction, and convection. Your body uses all three strategies. Heat radiates off of your body. If you lay on a cool surface, your body conducts heat away. Then, when you sweat, your body loses heat through convection.
Air conditioning makes the difference between the indoor and outdoor environment drastic.
More people are exposed to these whipsaws in temperature than ever before in history.
In the United States, population growth in very hot areas like southern and central Arizona, the Las Vegas metropolitan area, and the desert areas of California coincide with air conditioning.
Worldwide, the story is much the same. Abu Dhabi, a city in the United Arab Emirates, for example, has grown into a wealthy, world-class city with immigrants from all over the world right along with the development of air conditioning. From a population of about 16,000 inhabitants in 1960, the city has about 1.5 million inhabitants today. In July and August, the average daily high temperature is 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).
This is a huge change from how we lived as humans for thousands of years. While air conditioning definitely keeps a person comfortable and allows places that most people found uninhabitable to be habitable, air conditioning diminishes the ability of your body to adapt to heat. It’s best to use air conditioning in moderation.
Evolutionarily speaking, it’s good to keep in mind how sometimes regular, profuse sweating would be to one’s advantage. It’s best to embrace the ways our body works to keep it functioning well.
In many of the ways our ancestors slept, sweating wasn’t a big of a deal. For example, sleeping in a hammock strung out between two trees is probably a lot cooler than sleeping indoors on a bed. Sleeping on a mat or a bed of rushes would be the same.
Less of our ancestors were overweight or obese, too. The extra fat acts like a blanket. Working a farm, foraging, being a blacksmith, cowboy, all of those more-common “hands-on” occupations of yesteryear burned serious calories the way sitting at a desk doesn’t.
Unfortunately, socially and culturally, sweating can work out the same way as emotional crying in the middle of a fistfight. It’s something you may find embarrassing.
Profuse Sweating Is Often a Symptom Or Side Effect
Beyond acclimatizing, profuse sweating tends to be related to youth, menopause, fever, panic attacks, cramps, numbness, impaired vision and hearing, and being in pain.
Common classes of medical conditions associated with excessive night sweating include:
- Autoimmune problems (For example, type 1 diabetes, various forms of arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.)
- Autonomic nervous system damage
- Cancers (various forms)
- Drug addiction or withdrawal
- Osteomyelitis (a bone infection)
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid and adrenal gland disorders
Hormone therapy medications and other medications used to treat depression and anxiety are known for causing night sweats, reported in 9.2% of people taking these medicines, according to a 2015 study.
Some common antidepressants implicated in this are fluoxetine, Lexapro, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, and Prozac.
Some common hormone replacement medicines include estrogen replacements and levothyroxine.
A person’s temperature is regulated in the hypothalamus of the brain. This part of the brain controls the pituitary gland, which is kind of like the leader of the endocrine system. Another name for the endocrine system could be the hormone system. Hormones are chemicals the body makes that involve growth and development, sleep, mood, and sexual function. It makes sense how it’s all interrelated, and results in pouring sweat even if we don’t exactly know why it does this in every case.
Self-Help for Excessive Nighttime Sweating
Get outside when you’re awake. Go for a walk. Work outside. Acclimatize.
If you’re overweight, use this as an excuse to lose weight.
Make sure you keep drinking enough water throughout the day because it can be harmful if you don’t.
Consider if a ceiling or tabletop fan would help.
If you’re keeping the indoor temperature a little high at night, turn it down a bit.
When Do You Need to See Your Doctor for Excessive Sweating?
Schedule an appointment if:
- It happens night after night and interrupts your sleep.
- It’s accompanied by fever, weight loss, pain, diarrhea or dizziness.
- You’re female and menopause has happened years ago, so you’re sure it’s not that.
- You notice one of the conditions or medications you take on the lists above. Your doctor can help you troubleshoot and maybe suggest a substitute.