by Elizabeth Burton
Most of us have woken up in the middle of the night with a start, our sheets drenched and our foreheads clammy. This sleep interruption may have been due to an acute illness like the flu. Conversely, it may have been one in a series during menopause. People of all genders experience night sweats. However, night sweats are most common amongst men and women over the age of 40 years old. These night sweats may be spurred by hormonal changes, medication side effects and aging in many cases. Eric Suni wrote in an article for The Sleep Foundation that of 2,000 patients surveyed, "41%...had night sweats in the last month.” Though night sweats are symptomatic of concerning medical issues in some cases, more commonly they are the result of acute illness or mild conditions. Many assume night sweats in men are rare and are experienced almost solely by women entering and going through menopause. In fact, a recent brief released by Web MD reported that “for 75% of women...night sweats and hot flashes are a fact of life during perimenopause.” However, men of all ages also suffer from and end up dealing night sweats. Follow below to learn more about the causes of night sweats in men and how to deal with them.
5 Causes of Night Sweats in Men
#1 Acute or Chronic Stress
Experts agree that stress and anxiety can lead to night sweats and other physical, bodily symptoms. In her article “What Causes Night Sweats in Men?” for Healthline, writer and editor Crystal Raypole explains how anxiety influences reflexive bodily reactions. When under stress, the body may perspire more intensely and consistently throughout the day. This response can continue into the night -- even when the body is asleep. When stress and/or anxiety translate into night terrors and restless sleep, night sweats may be more likely to occur. The way bodies respond to stress differs from person to person. Just because one man experiences day and night sweats due to anxiety, another might only experience night sweats.
Raypole writes that “people experience stress and anxiety in very different ways." As such, "you may have more emotional symptoms than physical symptoms or vice versa.” Stress and anxiety can be chronic issues. This is especially so when one is diagnosed medically with something like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However, they can also be acute issues helped greatly with talk therapy and corrective medication. As such, no matter your lack or confirmation of diagnosis, Raypole recommends meeting with a therapist if you feel stressed or anxious.
#2 Substance Abuse
Abuse of alcohol and other substances can cause night sweats in people of all genders. Writer Ann Pietrangelo and medical reviewer Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP outline the harm in their article “Night Sweats and Alcohol” for Healthline. They explain that substance abuse can significantly alter normal bodily responses to stimuli. While other substances -- including both pharmaceutical and recreational drugs -- can cause night sweats, they are especially common with alcohol abuse. Dr. Legg and Pietrangelo explain that both excessive alcohol ingestion and sudden withdrawal can trigger night sweats. Excessive drinking results in night sweats by increasing the heart rate and expanding the skin’s blood vessels, thereby “trigger[ing] perspiration.”
This can occur even when the user is unconscious. Withdrawal -- following an acute or chronic dependency on alcohol -- can cause night sweats by shocking the body. In these cases, night sweats may be accompanied by “clammy skin,” “nausea,” “shakiness,” “nightmares,” and fatigue amongst other symptoms. If you feel you might be struggling with alcohol abuse or need help handling withdrawal, Pietrangelo and Dr. Legg recommend accessing resources like those offered by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
#3 Caffeine Intake
Caffeine might make us feel more productive, but it can also produce an array of dizzying and concerning side effects. Caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches, nausea and fatigue while overuse can cause jitters, frustration and acid reflux. Another common side effect of too much coffee or one too many energy drinks is night sweats. The Sciencebeta article “Night Sweats and Caffeine” explains the link between caffeine intake and night sweats. Because caffeine is a stimulant -- the article explains -- it can cause an increase in the “activity of the sympathetic nervous system.” This increased activity can “result in increased sweating.”
#4 Hormone Imbalance
Though many assume hormone imbalances only affect women with menopause, many are common in younger women, men of all ages -- and even children. In his article “Common Causes of Night Sweats” for The Sleep Foundation, Eric Suni explains that undiagnosed hormonal issues can cause night sweats. Suni writes that “changes in the endocrine system...which controls hormone levels in the body can be related to night sweats.” Particularly common are those related to the “overactivity of the thyroid,” also known as hyperthyroidism. Diabetes and abnormally high sex hormone levels may also cause night sweats. If night sweats are not lessened by common, simple fixes, a doctor should be contacted for aid with a possible underlying medical issue.
#5 Sleep Apnea and Other Sleep Disorders
(Right) Man using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea
According to the article “What Causes Night Sweats?” from Web MD, the issue may also be brought on by a myriad of sleep disorders. The most common sleep disorder to result in night sweats is sleep apnea. The Mayo Clinic defines sleep apnea as “a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.” WebMD explains that when sleep apnea affects individuals, the body can be triggered in a number of ways that defy normal daily functions. When the body does not receive enough oxygen, “it may slip into ‘fight or flight’ mode.” According to Web MD, this response can trigger sweating. The article notes that every time the body must “kick-start breathing...a burst of work from your muscles” is also required. However, those receiving treatment for sleep apnea might be less likely to have night sweats -- even less than those without sleep apnea.
5 Tips for Dealing with Night Sweats in Men
Firstly, if an injury, illness or disorder is suspected as the cause, a medical professional -- whether a psychological or physiological doctor -- should be contacted. If this is not the case -- secondly -- those experiencing night sweats can adjust their environment to be more comfortable. One might achieve this by reducing the ambient air temperature or by wearing moisture-wicking clothing. Night sweats might also be lessened by taking a shower before bed and patting the skin completely dry. Another way to alter a bedroom’s environment without spending too much is to change out the sheets. Experts recommend sheets made from a more breathable, hypoallergenic material like bamboo or Tencel.
Thirdly, those experiencing night sweats might consider food-intake changes like avoiding eating before bed or passing on spicy foods a few hours before sleep. Maintaining a healthy weight might also help reduce the frequency and intensity of night sweats. Fourth, those suffering from night sweats might consider reducing alcohol and recreational drug consumption and/or use. Finally -- and fifth -- those suffering from night sweats might consider calming rituals. These may include sipping cold water before bed or meditating to reduce the heart rate and basal body temperature.
By managing stress, addressing substance and other medical issues and instituting lifestyle changes, night sweats can be a thing of the past!