“If someone is having night sweats, my first thought is to ask them about their periods to see whether they are menopausal,” Barrie Weinstein, MD, an assistant professor of endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, tells SELF.
Menopause can happen at any point in a person’s 50s, 40s, or even as early as their 30s if they experience premature menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic. Thanks to fluctuating hormones—specifically, reduced estrogen and progesterone—menopause can cause a slew of unpleasant symptoms, including hot flashes that lead to night sweats, chills, irregular or absent periods, mood changes, vaginal dryness, a slower metabolism, and thinning hair, among others, per the Mayo Clinic.
Menopause is a completely normal condition that doesn’t automatically require treatment (unless it starts too early, which can be a different story), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options if symptoms like night sweats are interfering with your life. “If patients are having night sweats that are intolerable, they can discuss with their doctor whether hormone replacement would be a good option for them,” Dr. Weinstein says. Different kinds of hormone therapy can help relieve various menopause symptoms, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). But if that’s not something you’re interested in or your doctor doesn’t recommend it as a safe choice for you, there are other medications, including some low-dose antidepressants, that can help decrease those dreaded hot flashes, according to the National Institute on Aging.
4. Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA2, is a common sleep disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start briefly while you’re snoozing. If you have OSA, your throat muscles relax when they shouldn’t, which interferes with your airway’s ability to get enough oxygen while you sleep.
And yes, it can make you sweat. “One of my colleagues says it’s like you go to the Olympics every night because you’re working so hard to breathe,” Rafael Pelayo, MD, a clinical professor in the division of sleep medicine at Stanford University and author of How to Sleep: The New Science-Based Solutions for Sleeping Through the Night, tells SELF. Besides night sweats, other symptoms of OSA include loud snoring, excessive fatigue during the day, abruptly waking up during the night while gasping or choking, morning headaches, mood changes, a lower sex drive, and more. If that sounds concerning, well, you’re right on target. OSA can be serious and requires prompt treatment.
Treatment options include lifestyle changes like using a nasal decongestant before you sleep or avoiding sleeping on your back, sleeping with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep your airways open, using a mouthguard to do the same, and more intensive options, like surgery to remove the tissue that’s blocking your airways.
5. Acid reflux
Acid reflux happens when stomach acid travels back up into the esophagus, which commonly triggers the feeling of heartburn3. When this happens chronically—more than twice per week—it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Anecdotally, some people who have acid reflux or GERD experience night sweats, which tend to resolve once the acid reflux is treated, Dr. Paauw says. There are very few studies exploring the link between night sweats and acid reflux, so experts aren’t 100% certain why the two are connected. However, Dr. Paauw believes acid reflux may trigger the autonomic nervous system4, which regulates bodily processes such as breathing, to increase heart rate. And an elevated heart rate may lead to excessive sweat, he says. When someone is lying down, they don’t have the benefit of gravity to help keep stomach acid from flowing into the esophagus, which may explain why people with acid reflux experience night sweats, Dr. Paauw says.