Why Do We Sweat While Sleeping?

If you ever wake up drenched in sweat, you might wonder why. If it happens often, it could be associated with a medical condition that needs evaluation by a doctor. Night sweats may also mean different things to different people, such as children or women going through menopause.

This article looks at some of the causes of night sweats. It also looks at ways to reduce night sweats and when you should see a doctor. 

Woman sweating in bed

 Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Less Serious Causes of Sweating While Sleeping

Some causes of night sweats may be serious, but many common ones are not. These include:

  • Sleep environment
  • Anxiety and nightmares
  • Hormones
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Alcohol consumption

Sleep Environment

One of the most common causes of night sweats is trying to sleep in a warm or hot sleep environment. It's normal to sweat if your bedroom is warm, you wear heavy pajamas, or you sleep under lots of blankets.

Your body goes through normal temperature changes throughout sleep. Most people have a dip in core body temperature towards morning, often around 4 a.m. During certain phases of sleep, your body temperature may also increase, which can lead to sweating.

Recap

Often, night sweats are just due to your environment. Try cooling down the room or wearing lighter pajamas.

Anxiety and Nightmares

If you have nightmares or general anxiety, you may have panic attacks while sleeping. This can also cause sweating. If you have bad dreams often, especially if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), talk to your doctor. Treatment may help stop your night sweats and relieve other, more serious symptoms too.

Children may also sweat during night terrors. In children, other symptoms of night terrors include:

  • Thrashing around
  • Fast breathing and heartbeat
  • Screaming
  • Acting upset

Hormones

Perimenopause is the "change" before menstruation ends. People going through this may have hot flushes, also called hot flashes, during sleep. Compared to females who have not gone through menopause, postmenopausal females often say they have poorer quality sleep. This is can be because of insomnia caused by night sweats and hot flashes.

Night sweats in older females may also be a result of obstructive sleep apnea. This is a condition where you stop breathing multiple times during sleep. The risk of developing this condition increases during menopause because of the loss of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

GERD

Night sweats can be related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), though they aren't among the most prevalent symptoms. When you have GERD, stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. Your night sweats could be GERD-related if you have other symptoms like:

If your night sweats are caused by GERD, getting treatment for the condition can help relieve them.

Recap

Night sweats can also be related to things like nightmares, hormones, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Alcohol Consumption

Some people notice night sweats after drinking alcohol. Alcohol dependency, in particular, may cause night sweats.

Alcohol is a muscle relaxant. It can affect the upper airway and make snoring and sleep apnea worse. Because drinking alcohol may cause sleep-disordered breathing problems like apnea, it has also been linked to night sweats.

More Serious Causes of Sweating While Sleeping

Sometimes, night sweats may point to a serious condition that needs to be treated. These conditions include:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Infection
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Some cancers

Sleep Apnea

When you have sleep apnea, your breathing pauses during sleep. This may wake you up or bring you into a lighter stage of sleep. This condition makes you struggle to breathe, which causes your body to exert itself, possibly enough to make you sweat. Other symptoms to watch for include:

  • Feeling very sleepy during the day
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Waking with a dry mouth, sore throat, or headache
  • Loud snoring
  • Awakening with a gasp
  • Bed partner reporting that you stop breathing periodically, then snort and gasp

Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition. It can increase the odds that you'll fall asleep or be inattentive while driving or working. It also increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Sleep apnea is usually treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Treatment often helps alleviate night sweats as well as other symptoms.

When children, especially toddlers, have breathing problems during sleep, it may look like sweaty and restless sleep. The child may wake red-faced and drenched in sweat with the covers messed up.

Infections

Some serious infections can cause night sweats, including:

See your doctor if you also have other symptoms that suggest an infection, such as:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • General weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat or cough
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss

Treating the infection should relieve your symptoms, including night sweats.

Recap

Infections like tuberculosis or a bacterial infection can also cause you to sweat while sleeping.

Autoimmune Disorders

When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakes a normal part of your body for a dangerous pathogen. Some of these conditions can cause excessive sweating, including night sweats. These include:

Fevers are a common symptom in autoimmune disease, and they may contribute to sweating.

Symptoms vary from one condition to another, but other common symptoms of autoimmunity include:

  • Inflammation with redness and heat
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Flares and remissions, periods of heightened symptoms and periods of lighter symptoms

Recap

Night sweats can be a symptom of an autoimmune disease like Grave's disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

Some Cancers

Some types of cancer, especially Hodgkin's lymphoma, can cause drenching night sweats. People with this cancer usually also have other symptoms, though. These may include:

  • Persistent, painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin
  • Unexplained fever that doesn't go away
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Itching all over that may be severe
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath, cough, or discomfort in the chest
  • Pain in the lymph nodes after drinking alcohol

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider right away if you notice these symptoms.

Recap

Certain cancers can also cause night sweats. People with these cancers usually also have other symptoms, like swollen lymph nodes and unexplained weight loss.

Other Causes of Sweating While Sleeping

Other things can trigger night sweats, including:

How to Stop Sweating While Sleeping

The solution to night sweats depends on the cause of the problem. If the problem is medical, getting the right diagnosis and treatment should relieve the symptom. If a medication side effect is causing your night sweats, talk to your doctor. You may need to compare the risks and rewards of the drug.

For other causes of night sweats, you can try:

  • Keeping your bedroom cooler
  • Moisture-wicking sleepwear and bedding
  • Lighter or no pajamas
  • Avoiding alcohol or hot beverages before bed
  • Drinking cold water
  • Not exercising right before bed

Recap

Getting relief from night sweats depends on what's causing them. If environmental changes don't help, see your doctor.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Occasional night sweats aren't usually anything to worry about. Talk to your doctor if your night sweats are:

  • Not explained by a previous diagnosis
  • Not a medication side effect
  • Extreme
  • Frequent and persistent
  • Interfering with sleep
  • Affecting your daily life
  • Accompanied by other symptoms

To find the cause of your night sweats, your doctor may order a sleep study or other testing.

Recap

See your doctor if your night sweats are frequent or they are affecting your quality of life. 

Summary

Night sweats can have a number of causes. They could be related to something simple, like the temperature in your room or what you wear to bed. They could also be related to a medical condition like GERD.

Sometimes, night sweats can point to a serious condition like sleep apnea or an autoimmune disorder. 

If changing your sleep environment and bedtime activities doesn't help, see your doctor. The right diagnosis and treatment may help you find relief.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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