Night sweats have many possible causes, one of which is anxiety. Since sweating at night can disrupt your sleep and cause insomnia, you might find yourself in a feedback loop. Anxiety can cause you to sweat and, if regular night sweats make it hard to get enough quality sleep, you can be left with insufficient rest and anxiety about insomnia.
But don’t worry—we’ll share 9 tips for anxiety night sweats that can help you get the relief you need, starting tonight.
What are night sweats?
In the broad sense, the term night sweats refers to excessive sweating that takes place while you’re asleep. For instance, if you’re sleeping with heavy blankets, you’re wearing warm clothes to bed, or your bedroom is overheated, it’s normal to sweat at night.
Most of the time, sweating at night isn’t related to serious underlying conditions, though it can be. That’s why it’s important to rule out medication side effects and medical conditions if excessive perspiration at night is disrupting your sleep.
In medical terminology, “true” night sweats are experienced as severe hot flashes—unrelated to the temperature of your sleeping environment—that can cause you to sweat through clothes and sheets, waking up drenched.
Common symptoms of night sweats include:
- Profuse sweating at night
- Hot flashes, or sudden waves of intense heat in your body
- Flushing, or redness and warm skin, especially the face and neck
Tips for immediate relief
So how can you reduce sweating at night, especially if it’s caused by stress? Here are 9 suggestions to help you cope with anxiety and sweating at night—starting tonight.
1. Try paced breathing.
Paced breathing is a simple and effective practice that involves taking deep, slow breaths to calm your central nervous system, the system responsible for preparing you to escape a perceived threat.
Paced breathing is a technique used in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which activates the body’s relaxation system. Practicing this type of diaphragmatic breathing just a couple of times a day can help you learn how to calm anxiety to reduce night sweat stress. If you’re looking for more tools, you can also try these relaxing exercises.
2. Crack a window.
Crack open a window for fresh air in your bedroom, turn on an electric fan, or opt for air conditioning to improve air circulation. If it’s especially warm in your bedroom, open two windows across from each other for some cross-breeze. You can also position your fan by a window so that it blows cool air from outside into your room while you sleep.
3. Use a cold compress.
Try putting a chilled towel on your forehead or pulse points, such as wrists and neck, to cool down when you feel hot and sweaty. If anxiety night sweats are waking you up regularly, keep some rolled wet towels in your fridge or freezer. If you’re overheated and need help falling back asleep, grab one of these and lay it across your forehead or place it behind your neck.
4. Choose breathable sleepwear.
Try bedding and sleepwear that help you stay cool. Most people prefer a fabric that is breathable, quick-drying, light, and not too form-fitting. Take some time to experiment with what sleepwear offers you the most comfort at night.
5. Learn skills to reduce anxiety.
Worrying about getting adequate rest can escalate anxiety and interfere with sleep quality. The best way to get out of this cycle is to learn and practice new anxiety coping skills. For the best results, practice these new strategies regularly in all settings, not just while trying to fall asleep.
Stay in the present. If you notice your worrisome thoughts escalating, write them on a pad of paper or mentally put them in a “parking lot” for tomorrow. Worrying now creates agitation about things that have not happened.
Some of the most effective tools come from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and mindfulness meditation. You can try any of these suggestions to reduce anxiety and increase distress tolerance.
6. Take a cold shower.
Before you go to bed, try jumping in a cold shower. It doesn’t have to be a long one but aim to get your head and neck wet since that may help keep you feeling cool for longer.
7. Change your bedding.
Some people use special pillows designed to keep you cool, while others prefer sleeping on top of a reed mat rather than a mattress. Some people prefer natural fabrics like silk or wool, while others feel better in synthetic quick-drying materials. Try out some of these options and see what works best for you.
8. Avoid triggers.
Take a break from sweat-triggering foods and drinks. These include spicy dishes, drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and hot liquids.
Avoid smoking cigarettes and drugs that trigger metabolic reactions since these can increase sweating and agitation. It’s also best to avoid exercising close to your bedtime since working out can lead to increased sweating. You can also try to avoid anxiety triggers and learn how to cope when you can’t.
9. Adjust your thermostat.
This one might sound obvious, but it never hurts to mention. Set your thermostat to a cool temperature that facilitates restful sleep. The ideal room temperature for sleep is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but the common range is 61 – 67 degrees.
Night sweats can be caused by sleep apnea, hormonal changes, medications, anxiety, and other medical conditions. In rare circumstances, night sweating can be a symptom of certain cancers, serious systemic infections, as well as endocrine and neurological disorders. Below are some of the most common causes.
Sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea can cause night sweats. This type of sleep apnea causes you to stop and start breathing throughout the night. Suppose you don’t feel rested after a full night’s sleep and are experiencing headaches, a sore throat, trouble breathing, or anxiety and depression. In that case, it’s a good idea to consult with a medical professional.
Changes in hormones
For women, changes in hormones, often due to menopause, are among the most common causes of night sweats. In addition, people with hormone disorders can also experience night sweating due to hormonal changes.
Medication side effects
Certain medicines like antidepressants, medicines for diabetes, and medicines that block hormones can cause night sweats.
Stress and anxiety
Many people wonder, can anxiety cause sweating? When you experience a stress response, your brain releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, causing physiological changes in your body. These responses, which include stress sweat, can happen during both waking and sleeping hours.
Why anxiety causes sweating
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to a stressor, something you perceive to be dangerous or threatening. The human body has an adaptive stress response system meant to protect you from harm.
Here’s how it works: when you sense danger, part of your brain called the amygdala releases hormones into the bloodstream that set off your body’s emergency defense system. In preparation to deal with the oncoming threat, your blood pressure and heart rate rise, your muscles tense, and you start to perspire. That’s why these are such common symptoms of anxiety.
Because anxiety sweating is part of your body’s stress response, the ongoing experience of anxiety and stress can cause you to sweat at night. You’ve probably heard someone describe waking up from bad dreams or night terrors in a “cold sweat.” The amygdala is heavily involved in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep when most dreams occur, leading to this shared experience.
The good news? The night sweating & anxiety phenomenon is part of how your brain takes care of you. Studies show that encountering stressors in REM sleep actually prepares you for a less heightened response to the emotionally triggering experiences in real life.
When to be concerned about night sweats
If night sweats disrupt your sleep for more than 2 weeks or have suddenly changed in intensity or frequency, it’s probably a good idea to see a medical professional. Sweating at night can be caused by physical conditions like hormonal disruptions, certain illnesses, or medication side effects.
Your physician can recommend screening tests and review your current prescriptions. It’s crucial to rule out medications and to make sure your night sweating isn’t due to an underlying illness.
- Anxiety and stress are one possible cause of night sweats.
- Other causes include certain medical conditions, medications, and substance withdrawal.
- You can reduce night sweats & anxiety by following some simple suggestions.
- If night sweating is a persistent issue, it’s essential to work with a medical professional to rule out serious medical conditions.
- Arnardottir et al. (2013). Nocturnal sweating—a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/5/e002795
- Sleep Foundation. (N.D.) The Best Temperature for Sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/best-temperature-for-sleep
- Van der Helm et al. (2011). REM sleep de-potentiates amygdala activity to previous emotional experiences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3237718/