Sleep can be fickle. A little bit of discomfort can ruin a whole night’s rest. One of the details our body goes all “Goldilocks” about is temperature. Too cold, and we shiver all night. Too hot, and we sweat it out. Neither is good for our sleep.
Maintaining ideal sleeping temperature is key if you want to sleep soundly, and the best temperatures for sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s not the end of the story, however, as there are a number of reasons you might be sweating even if your room is kept at the ideal sleeping temperature.
Ultimately, if you sweat during sleep, it means your body is trying to tell you something, whether you have a more serious problem or not. In this article, we’ll talk about what might be causing your perspiration, and what you can do about it.
While there may be some of us who could sleep right through a zombie apocalypse, most of us are subject to sensory input even in the deepest of dreams. Light is a frequent culprit, with the visual stimulation impacting our circadian rhythm and stemming the flow of melatonin.
Noise can also be a problem, with everything from your partner sawing logs to your neighbor actually using a chainsaw at 5 a.m. provoking you to utter perturbed profanities. Smells can likewise rouse us from our rest, like when bacon is sizzling in the kitchen.
What you may not know is that our sleep is especially susceptible to tactile stimuli, particularly changes in heat. This stems from how our body responds to our circadian rhythm. As we transition from periods of wakefulness to periods of sleep, our body temperature lowers. Like clockwork, our body temperature rises as sleep draws to an end. It’s apparently an important part of our brain shifting gears between the two states.
The problem is, environment has a dramatic impact on your ability to regulate body temperature. While we can do something about the heat and the chill during the day (even if that’s just complaining about it), we’re pretty vulnerable to it at night.
As we sleep, an environment that’s too warm or too cool can thwart our body’s efforts to keep our temperature steady. When it’s warm, our body starts to think it’s time to get up. When it’s cold, our body starts to think we’re going to freeze to death (it certainly feels that way, at least). In both cases, our brain reacts by switching on the lights until we’ve addressed the problem.
What’s the Ideal Sleeping Temperature?
Before we go bossing you around, demanding you to set your thermostat to something more suitable to our whims, it’s important to know that needs and preferences vary to some degree. Just as some people prefer their home a little warmer or cooler during the day, your body’s ideal sleep temperature will vary based on geography and climate, age, body size, cardiovascular health, shoe size, favorite music genre, preferred word processor font, and so forth.
Okay, maybe we made a few of those up, but we’re not telling you which ones.
That said, the normal range for an adult is usually somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees, with younger kids preferring it between 65 and 70. Those ranges may sound cold, but they better facilitate your reduced body temperature (especially if you’re fond of using cozy blankets). Feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.
Don’t Sweat It
For some, even finding the right temperature for sleeping won’t resolve the sweat. That doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is serious, though. There are a number of benign (or at least temporary) causes for night sweats, and while it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor and find out which one, it’s not necessarily time to panic yet.
Those Pesky Hormones
Hormone imbalances are (especially for women) a common culprit. The “hot flashes” of menopause are the stereotypical example. What is less commonly advertised is the way the blood chemistry of both pregnancy and postpartum recovery can trigger similar sweats. Even menstrual cycles sometimes do it.
In each case, what’s happening is centered on the hypothalamus, which regulates the body’s temperature. During the dramatic hormone shifts that women experience, the chemical balance of the body is upended, and the hypothalamus (like other things) get’s the wrong signals and ends up out of whack.
Women don’t have a monopoly on hormone-based discomfort, of course. Thyroid issues in both men and women can also create hormone imbalances, which can have a number of negative effects on the body, with night sweats among them.
While the previous causes are more acute than chronic, problems like hyperthyroidism tend to be lifelong and, though not usually life-threatening, require medical treatment to manage. That’s the good news, though. For many hormone balance issues, there are treatments that can set things right, and help you get some sleep.
A Different Kind of Heat
Heartburn is another reason you may be sweating at night. It’s not talked about much (probably because no one wants to add potential embarrassment to frustrating discomfort), but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, a.k.a. chronic heartburn) can cause night sweats. So if you’re living off of Tums and Prilosec and waking up with stinky armpits, the two may be related.
While this isn’t usually a serious problem, do be aware that severe, chronic cases of GERD can be a sign of more severe problems, like stomach ulcers or even stomach cancer. There are also treatment options for GERD that are a little more permanent than a one-a-day pill, so talk to your doctor if this is something you experience.
Sick of the Sweat
Sometimes, it’s just a run-of-the-mill infection that causes the sweats. Everything from the flu to serious conditions like tuberculosis can cause sweating (especially when the fever finally breaks). If you’re sweating a lot, and consistently, you may want to go in for a checkup.
That which treats us sometimes betrays us. A host of medications include “night sweats” in their list of potential side effects. If you’re unlucky enough to experience them, and it’s a medication you really need, it may be something you’ll have to deal with. In some cases, though, your doctor may be able to swap one med for another or tweak the dose and see if that helps.
…And Everybody Else
Night sweats can also be caused by:
- Obesity, cardiovascular problems, and low levels of fitness—which aren’t always urgently dangerous, but should definitely be addressed
- Anxiety disorders—for which there are treatments, both medicinal and psychiatric
- Hypoglycemia—which is usually an indication of other problems, so get it checked out (if you haven’t already)
Okay… Maybe Sweat It a Little
Now we get to some of the scarier stuff. These causes are less common, and not all of them are an immediate danger, but they’re definitely something you should go see a medical professional for.
Sleep apnea is a condition where, as you sleep, your breathing is frequently interrupted. The interruptions take the form of brief episodes where breathing actually stops. The body doesn’t want to stop breathing, cause it’s rather unhealthy for you. So your brain wakes up a little, to remind your lungs to get back to work. Breathing resumes, and the process repeats. All. Night. Long.
Sleep apnea is measured in episodes per hour, with ten or less being mild, and 40 or above being severe. If a cessation of breathing (especially as frequently as once every other minute) sounds scary, it should. Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, among other things.
Sleep apnea also makes you three times as likely to sweat during sleep. How do you know if you have sleep apnea? Ask yourself this when you wake up each morning: “Do I feel like I’ve been waking up every three minutes for the past eight hours?” If your answer is a consistent, resounding yes, then go talk to a doctor. They’ll set you up with a sleep clinic to find out.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological-based movement disorder that slowly degenerates a person’s ability to control muscle movements. It’s chronic, incurable, and progressive (man, this sleep sweat thing escalated quickly, huh?). Sleep sweats can be one of the early signs of the disease, as can tremors in the hands. If you’re doing both, go get it checked out pronto.
Here’s where we go all WebMD on you. It’s a remote possibility, but if none of these other things fit, and you’re keeping your bedroom cool… you might have cancer. Obviously, have that one checked out.
In the end, controlling the sweat is about controlling the temperature. Sleep in breathable PJs, get rid of heavy blankets, get a fan, and ditch the memory foam. The better you can beat the heat, the better you’ll sleep, and the happier you’ll be. That is, unless you enjoy sweating, in which case, why are you even reading this?