What Are Night Sweats—And Why Do They Happen?

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woman experiencing night sweats

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Night sweats are periods of excessive sweating that happen while you sleep. This type of sweating can soak through your clothes and bed sheets, often causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. 

Night sweats can happen to anyone and are a very common occurrence. A 2020 review published in American Family Physician notes that the prevalence of night sweats in the general population ranges from 10% to 41% depending on your age. Research suggests that adults between the ages of 41 and 55 experience night sweats episodes at the highest rate.

If you have night sweats, you might have hyperhidrosis—a health condition that causes people to sweat excessively from their palms, feet, underarms, head, and other parts of their body. Going through menopause, having an infection, or living with conditions such as cancer or diabetes can also cause night sweats to occur.

Knowing the symptoms of night sweats and when to seek care from your provider can get you started on treatment early and improve your quality of life.

Why Do Night Sweats Happen?

Night sweats are usually a side effect of an underlying medical condition or a medication that affects your body's ability to regulate sweating. Sweating is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system—a part of the nervous system that activates your fight-or-flight response and controls actions like heart rate, perspiration, and digestion. As a result, medications or conditions that activate this system can increase how often or how much you're sweating. 

Potential causes of night sweats include:

  • Menopause: If you are going through menopause, you may be experiencing hot flashes, which can cause excess sweating to occur. Menopause happens when your ovaries reduce or stop the production of estrogen. More than 80% of women experience hot flashes during menopause, so it can be common to have night sweats during this period.
  • Cancer or cancer treatments: Night sweats commonly occur in people who have cancer. In some cases, fever and drenching night sweats may be signs that your condition is progressing. Additionally, night sweats are one of the many side effects of cancer treatments. If you're undergoing chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, or taking opioids, antidepressants, or steroids, night sweats may be common.
  • Surgical procedures: Sometimes, surgeries that remove the ovaries (hysterectomy) or testes (orchiectomy) can affect your hormone production and cause night sweats to occur.
  • Hormonal conditions: Hormonal conditions (or, conditions that affect your endocrine system) such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes can cause a hormonal imbalance. This means that your body is not processing or producing hormones as it should. As a result of the hormonal imbalance, night sweats may occur.
  • Infections: Bacterial and viral infections can sometimes trigger immune system responses that cause fever, chills, and night sweats. You may be experiencing night sweats if you have HIV, malaria, mononucleosis, pneumonia, or endocarditis.
  • Hyperhidrosis: A chronic condition that causes excessive sweating of the hands, palms, feet, head, and armpits. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 3% of Americans have excessive sweating. However, the exact cause of hyperhidrosis is currently unknown and still being studied.

While the above conditions and medications are the most common causes of night sweats, in some cases, you might experience night sweats if you have: 

Symptoms of Night Sweats

The symptoms you experience will depend on what underlying condition is causing your night sweating. Most often, symptoms that are associated with night sweats include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Pale skin
  • Skin infections
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chronic pain
  • Changes in mood

When To See A Healthcare Provider

According to the American Osteopathic Association, you should reach out to a healthcare provider if you experience night sweats regularly and have accompanying symptoms such as fever or weight loss.

There are no specific tests that healthcare providers use to diagnose night sweats. Instead, your provider will take a thorough medical history and perform a physical exam to learn about your symptoms and look for clues on what may be causing your night sweats.

During your appointment, your provider may ask you questions such as:

  • Are you experiencing symptoms that accompany your night sweats?
  • Do you have a family history of night sweats?
  • When did you first notice the excessive sweating?
  • How many nights a week do you sweat excessively?
  • Does anything seem to trigger your sweating?

Based on what they find, they can order additional tests that check for underlying conditions, such as cancer or hormonal disorders.


Your healthcare provider can offer treatment options that help control your night sweats. Your exact treatment plan will depend on the severity of your sweating and if there is an underlying condition that is causing night sweats to occur.

Common treatments for night sweats include:

  • Antiperspirants: Products like deodorant and antiperspirant creams are typically the first line of treatment, which work by applying the product to your sweat glands. You can apply antiperspirants on any part of your body that is excessively sweating, such as your underarms, hands, scalp, or feet. Depending on the severity of sweating, your provider may prescribe stronger, clinical-strength antiperspirants to help reduce symptoms.
  • Menopause treatments: If your night sweats are a result of menopause, your provider may offer hormonal or non-hormonal medications that can reduce hot flashes and sweating. These may include estrogen and progesterone pills (hormonal) or selective serotonin receptor inhibitor medicines (non-hormonal).
  • Botox injections: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved botox injections as a safe and effective way to treat excessive underarm sweating and hyperhidrosis in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Botox prevents sweating by blocking the stimulation of your sweat glands. During this treatment, your provider will inject very small amounts of botox into your underarms to prevent sweating. 
  • Anticholinergics: Anticholinergics are FDA-approved prescription wipes and topical gels that block sweating by limiting acetylcholine—the molecule that controls sweat gland activation.
  • Surgery: In some cases, your provider may recommend surgical removal of your sweat glands. This is a minimally invasive surgery that involves a dermatologist cutting or scrapping out sweat glands, using liposuction, or utilizing laser surgery to remove your sweat glands. 
  • Sympathectomy: In severe cases, your provider can suggest a sympathectomy—a major surgery that cuts off the nerves of the sympathetic nervous system to control the sweating. During the procedure, a surgeon will make a small incision (cut) on the area(s) where sweating is occurring and clip the nerves. This reduces your nervous system's ability to send signals that cause sweating in those areas.
  • Lifestyle strategies: Your provider can also recommend some lifestyle changes you can do at home to manage night sweats. These strategies may include wearing loose-fitted clothing while you sleep, buying clothes that wick away moisture, drinking small amounts of cold water before bed, using fans or keeping the windows open at night, trying deep breathing exercises, and avoiding spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and smoking—especially before bedtime.

A Quick Review

Night sweats are often a side effect of an underlying medical condition such as menopause, cancer, hyperhidrosis, or other infections. The frequency and severity of night sweats can greatly affect your quality of life no matter what condition is causing your excessive sweating.

Luckily, night sweats can be treated with a number of strategies ranging from antiperspirants and hormone therapy to surgery and lifestyle changes. If you're experiencing night sweats and have accompanying symptoms such as fever or weight loss, it's good practice to visit your healthcare provider. They can help you pinpoint what is causing your night sweats and recommend a treatment plan that is right for you.

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18 Sources
Health.com 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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