Women in their 40s and 50s report more night sweat episodes than any other cohort in the United States. While the most common cause of night sweats in this age group is menopause, there are a number of other possibilities that can cause people to experience night sweats. Even when night sweats are connected to menopause, there are certain habits or events that can trigger them.
Hormonal Causes of Night Sweats
The most common cause of night sweats in middle-aged women are the hormonal changes that occur during menopause. The hormone estrogen plays a role in regulating internal body temperature, and when estrogen levels decrease, the body may become confused and cause the body to overheat, leading to a night sweat.
Estrogen and night sweats
Changes in estrogen levels affect the brain's ability to properly regulate the body's temperature. When the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates temperature, misreads an increase in temperature, it quickly tries to cool the body down, which causes a person to experience night sweats.
Less Common Causes of Night Sweats
Not all night sweats are connected to menopause. Night sweats can also be caused by:
Bacterial infections like endocarditis, which causes the heart valves to become inflamed; osteomyelitis, which causes the bones to become inflamed; and abscesses can also produce night sweats. In rarer cases, night sweats can also be a symptom of tuberculosis and AIDS.
Certain medications, most notably antidepressants and breast cancer medications, can induce night sweats in middle-aged women as a side effect.
One of the earliest symptoms people with cancer experience — especially those with lymphoma — is night sweats. In undiagnosed cancers, night sweats are usually accompanied by other symptoms, like fevers and inexplicable weight loss.
Many people with mental health problems, such as anxiety or other emotional problems, can experience night sweats. Excessive stress can also produce night sweats in some people.
Night Sweat Triggers
Although menopause can cause night sweats, many different things can trigger an episode. These include:
- Spicy foods
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- A warm environment
- Thick pajamas
- Heavy bedding
- Diet pills
- Drug use
More about Night Sweats
Night sweats can be frustrating and disturb sleep, leading to insomnia and fatigue. However, if night sweats are lowering the quality of your day-to-day life, it is important to seek treatment. For menopausal night sweats, one of the most common treatments is hormone replacement therapy, which replaces the decreasing estrogen levels in the body. Other prescription medication is also available to treat night sweats, along with herbal remedies, stress relief techniques, and lifestyle changes.
- American Osteopathic Association. (2015). Don't Lose Sleep Over Night Sweats. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/general-health/Pages/night-sweats.aspx
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Night Sweats. Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/night-sweats/basics/causes/sym-20050768