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Harvard Medical School
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Question : A couple of months ago I started sweating a lot at night. It wakes me up. I need to towel off and change bed clothes. I consider myself a relatively healthy 55-year-old man. What can it be?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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August 08, 2013
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Night sweats are very common. And the cause is often not serious.

Here’s my approach to someone with new night sweats. I first ask about the temperature in the bedroom, and how many blankets you sleep with. Next I want to know if you are having fevers during the day. And if you have been losing weight without trying. If you haven’t already checked your temperature several times over a couple days, you should.

If you are experiencing fever or weight loss, then the cause could be serious. You could have an infection, a non-infectious inflammatory disorder or cancer.

If you feel well during the day and don’t have any fever or weight loss, then a serious cause is less likely. But you should still consider these important possibilities:

Sleep apnea — especially if you snore, get sleepy during the day, or both

Anxiety

A side effect of a medicine. You should review all herbs, supplements and medicine you take with a pharmacist.

Low blood sugar (though this is not likely unless you have diabetes)

An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Usually there would be additional symptoms, such as weight loss despite a good appetite, rapid heartbeat, sweating during the day, and feeling jittery.

Other rare hormonal disorders.

You should definitely see your doctor to discuss the night sweats. In the meantime, here are some things you can try to decrease the sweats:

  • Keep the bedroom cool and open a window.
  • Avoid spicy food, especially at night.
  • Don’t drink alcohol for a while.
  • Get up, towel off, and change bedclothes immediately as needed.

Quite often, doctors can’t find a specific cause for night sweats. In these cases, the sweats usually go away on their own.

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