The cold sweats clinically known as diaphoresis or hyperhidrosis refers to a sudden sweating or clamminess of the skin characterized by simultaneous perspiration due to fear, pain, nervousness or shock. These sweats can appear anytime during the day but when they occur in the late evening or night they are known as cold night sweats.
It’s important to recognize this symptom because in some cases they can represent larger problem. Reoccurring cold sweats while sleeping or cold night sweats should be diagnosed and treated by a physician.
Typically cold sweats that occur suddenly are caused by a low blood oxygen level triggered by the fight or flight response or from low blood sugar, but for more details on other potential causes of cold sweats at night read the causes section below. I also suggest reading night sweats in men and night sweats in women.
The Biology Of Cold Sweats
The reason they’re considered cold sweats is that the human body’s hypothalamus — our internal thermostat — is using perspiration along with other biological mechanisms to cool the body. Because your body temperature is dropping while you’re sweating, you feel chills at the same time that you perspire. Unfortunately, several external and internal variables may confuse our hypothalamus and cause it to trigger these biological mechanisms even when unnecessary. If you feel this on a child suffering from night sweats in children, keep in mind that if you had felt his or her forehead just minutes ago, it probably would have felt quite warm.
Cold Night Sweats
Cold night sweats are typically cold sweats that occur during the night and often wake the person from their sleep. There are other practical reasons for sweating during the night such as hot weather or an overly warm bedroom, too many blankets, over-heating while sleeping, hot drinks or spicy foods before bed or exercising too soon before going to sleep, but this is usually different than a typical cold sweat.
Nightmares, emotional problems, anxiety, sleep apnea, sleep-walking, fever and perimenopause are common causes of night sweats, specifically cold night sweats. There are likely to be other causes so it’s best to talk to your physician about your symptoms to rule out any potential health care issues or diseases.
Symptoms of Cold Sweats
Setting cold sweats while sleeping apart from regular perspiration can be difficult at times. One of the most obvious indicators of cold sweats is that they come on suddenly and at any temperature. When waking up with this symptom, first check the temperature in the room and the amount of insulation covering your body before assuming the episode represents sleep hyperhidrosis. During a cold sweat, the skin will feel cold, moist, and clammy. This may also be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and pale skin.
What Causes Cold Sweats?
There are various possible causes of cold sweats including menopause night sweats, hormones, medical conditions (such as diabetes or infections like tuberculosis) and medications (especially antipyretics). They can also be a problem for individuals experiencing a hormonal imbalance such as low estrogen symptoms (that’s why it is a common symptom of adolescence, pregnancy or menopause) or chronic illness such as HIV or cancer.
The most common causes, however, include anxiety and fear that lead to excessive stress, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), shortness of breath, pain from injuries or medical problems (including heart attack or stroke), or shock. When the body experiences a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream caused by things like a drop in blood pressure, shortness of breath or pain, it can trigger a stress response, which in turn often causes cold sweats.
Waking from a nightmare can be another possible cause of cold sweats at night. Even though there is no real danger during bad dreams or nightmares, sometimes known as night terrors, the body can still respond to fear and anxiety as though it were real, so the dreamer can wake up in a cold sweat.
Before you panic, please note that a large percentage of healthy people may suffer from this symptom at some point and it is rarely a result of a serious condition.
While there is no specific clinical treatment for cold sweats, if it is secondary hyperhidrosis a physician may be able to find an underlying cause and treat that underlying condition. Unless you are suffering from primary hyperhidrosis, or idiopathic hyperhidrosis, the cold sweats are not an illness in itself but a symptom of another condition.
Your physician may recommend changes in the environment such as a decrease in average room temperature. It’s also recommended to avoid alcohol and spicy foods, and to participate in relaxation techniques such as meditation. There are a few medications, such as anticholinergic drugs, available to individuals suffering from this type of sweating but they can have various side effects such as vision problems, dry mouth and shaking.
As I discuss in my new article, night sweats sleepwear, wicking pajamas can help wick away that moisture from your skin, greatly reducing the discomfort from that cold, clammy perspiration.
For a more comprehensive discussion of treatments for cold sweats while sleeping, read night sweats treatment.