I’m 28: What’s the Deal With Night Sweats?
My favorite thing in the whole wide world is waking up as though I engaged in a water balloon fight just moments before my alarm went off. It is very relaxing, not at all disconcerting and starts the day on just the right note, which obviously means “soaking wet.” Sometimes I like to seduce my bed partners — non-platonic ones and best friends who are too lazy to leave my apartment after a bottle of wine — by letting them know that “it might seem like I peed the bed in the morning, but it won’t be pee, just sweat.” And every once in a while, when people ask me why a nice girl without a serious criminal record like me is single, I think about that pre-sleep disclaimer and then ask to be excused from the room/my general life.
This whole night sweating thing started about five years ago when I was 23 and not menopausal. It has recently started happening regularly, but still sporadically enough that it’s become one of those things that could happen, like a surprise party, only a bit more guaranteed and without the stress of wondering if everyone’s mad at you.
When it became fodder for a Man Repeller story, the first thing I did was take it to Google. You know how that always goes.
Then I found this potentially sketchy website called helpfornightsweats.com. It’s sketchy because it doesn’t end in .org, but if I still eat hard-boiled eggs from the deli and have lived to type that sentence, reading some crap can’t kill me.
Unhelpfully, it said this: “It is important to note that many times there is no identifiable cause for them [night sweats in women under 30].” That answer is always so frustrating. Twice, the pupil of my right eye dilated so wide you could barely see my iris while the left pupil shrank. I had all of these brain scans and didn’t do acid so the doctors were kind of just like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Not buying it with this sweating business. At least be real with me like WebMD and tell me I’m dying.
The website listed off some potentially viable causes, but I wanted to run those by a doctor. As for the more obvious causes (a room that is too hot) it was like, no shit, WEBSITE DEDICATED TO NIGHT SWEATS; I have already tried different “sleep environment” permutations, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
During a real bout of it, where the night sweats were happening every night, I tried every option I could think of: I made my room cold, I made my room hot. (I thought that maybe I was shivering a ton when I slept with the window open, causing me to sweat.) I slept with no clothes, moderate clothes, bundled neck-to-toe. There are these sheets that you can buy at Bed, Bath & Beyond that are supposed to keep you cool — but nope. Nothing seemed to work, or if it did work, I couldn’t isolate the incident.
“Idiopathic Hyperhidrosis,” proposes the site. “This is basically a fancy way of saying excessive perspiration without any known cause.” Ugh. Doctor time.
Because the menopausal women in my life kept telling me this was a hormonal issue, I spoke with Dr. Suzanne Fenske, OBGYN and full-time assistant professor in gynecology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She gave me the run-down:
1. Night sweats are a common symptom of menopause. The average age of menopause is 51. If you’re 40 to 60, you’re within normal range. There is such a thing as premature menopause. There is also such a thing as premature ovarian failure. I’d have to get tested for both but she didn’t seem convinced this was it.
2. Assuming we’re ruling out menopause and premature menopause, she said we had to first look constitutionally at other symptoms:
– Do I have a fever?
– Besides night sweats, do I have other signs of infections? Serious infections can cause night sweats, as can certain cancers.
I just got my blood checked for literally everything and had a full physical, so even though I panicked here, I’m going to trust the lab results.
3. Often, medications are the cause, like anti-depressants. 10 to 15% of women on anti-depressants can get night sweats. Other medications that cause night sweats:
– Diabetes medicine
– Drugs in the triptan class (for migraines and cluster headaches)
– Gonadatripon-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Agonists
– Medications to prevent the return of breast cancer
– Medications that treat endometriosis
Here’s the thing: I take none of these.
4. Night sweats can be endocrine-related, so you have to rule out a thyroid dysfunction.
5. Another cause: Pheochromocytoma, or high elevated blood pressure. But again to # 4 and 5, remember that I just got the results cleared from a recent blood test, and I had a physical.
6. Over the counter NSAID drugs that lower your body temperature (like Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Acetaminophe) can cause night sweats because your body tries to regulate the drop later. I take these, but not as frequently as I wake up after a nice little dive.
7. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea or night terrors.
A friend of mine just broke his elbow because he fell out of bed from a night terror, so I was pretty sure night terrors weren’t the cause. When I wake up in my most favorite state, it’s in the morning and with my alarm, not a panicked cold-sweat. But sleep apnea — something that I’d always attributed to dads with thick necks — sounded interesting.
I spoke with Dr. Maha Ahmad of the Sleep Disorder Institute in New York City. She confirmed that they’re related, and that sleep apnea did not just affect men, but also women and children. Because the disorder causes brief arousals out of sleep, your sympathetic nervous system surges (a flight or fight reaction), which causes you to sweat.
When I asked her what tends to prompt her patients to seek diagnosis — the night sweats, or suspicion of sleep apnea — she said that usually, people come in because of “bothersome snoring or daytime sleepiness.” Or, a doctor will notice that their patient has high blood pressure, then ask if he snores. I have asked bed partners of mine this very question before.
I do not snore, against all odds. Although at this point it would only add to my sleeping character.
Because I ruled out nearly everything on Dr. Fenske’s list (and she debunked some theories that I brought with me: night sweats are a symptom of birth control; too much caffeine can cause night sweats — no and no), she gave me two conclusions.
1) I should keep a diary to log how often the fun happens and what I did/ate/drank each day it does.
2) That I really should see a sleep specialist.
I’ve yet to make the appointment, but I am so excited to meet the doctor. I already know what I’m going to say: “It might seem like I peed the bed in the morning, but it won’t be pee.”
And she’ll probably be like, “No sweat.”
If you’re experiencing similar symptoms, please use the below as forum to discuss your experiences, but please also talk to your doctor, since I am not one! Illustration by Emily Zirimis.