A wide variety of physical, chemical and psychological triggers can cause us to experience the damp discomfort of sweating while sleeping. But one of the most common ailments leading to the night sweats is a basic fever. I say “basic” because it is common, but in extreme cases if left untreated, it can be anything but basic.
The Biology Of Night Sweats
To better comprehend why fevers cause night sweats (or even daytime sweats), we need to first understand a little bit about our body’s natural thermostat: the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a small but vital part of our brain. It integrates our endocrine system (a collection of glands that secrete regulating hormones in our bodies) with our nervous system. The pituitary gland links these two vital systems at the bottom of our hypothalamus.
The vulnerability of our hypothalamus is that sometimes when we experience a hormonal or chemical imbalance in our fragile biological system, our hypothalamus will trigger its natural functions at unexpected times. This is why many medications can cause sweating at night and why the hormonal changes that occur during adolescence and menopause may cause night sweating or hot flashes. This is what causes night sweats in women during these times of changing hormones including adolescence, pregnancy and menopause.
How Fevers Cause Sweating While Sleeping
In the case of a fevers, however, our hypothalamus generally triggers necessary functions to keep our body temperature regulated. An infection in our body will often trigger a chemical reaction which sets our internal thermostat to a higher temperature to make the body a poor host for bacteria and viruses. When you feel shakes and chills, this is our hypothalamus reacting to certain chemicals created from bacteria in our systems and trying to raise our internal temperature to better fight that bacteria or virus. This can then cause sweating while sleeping or sometimes cold sweats at night.
Note that this can occur from a wide variety of bacteria or viruses that cause infections. It can result from a dental infection to a full blown flu. If you experience any of the reactions described in this article you should consider the possibility of some kind of infection in your body.
After the bacteria dies off and our immune response recedes, our internal thermostat — the hypothalamus — can reset back to normal pretty abruptly and our temperature drops rapidly. This temperature drop requires biological systems to handle and dissipate all of that heat. Sweating is one of the more effective mechanisms our body has to cool our body temperature. The steeper the fever, the stronger the perspiration. This natural response to infection can cause night sweats in men, women or children. Night sweats in children is especially common because children often get higher fevers more quickly since their immune system isn’t as experienced at fighting bacteria or viruses, causing it to react more intensely.
How Fever Medications Can Cause Sweating While Sleeping
Medications that reduce our fevers interrupt the signals telling our hypothalamus to raise our temperatures. Because these signals change suddenly as we take these types of medications, our hypothalamus often reacts by triggering excessive sweating just like we’re coming down from a bad fever.
So sometimes it is the fever at the root of our night sweats and sometimes it is the medications we take to treat that fever. In either case, however, it is our internal thermostat doing its best job to respond to changes in our bodies and appropriately regulate our nervous and endocrine systems as they work to handle those changes.
What You Can Do To Treat A Fever
The best treatment for night sweats fevers cause is to help your immune system fight the fever. To do this get plenty of rest and drink plenty of healthy fluids (especially water) to help keep your body hydrated, as sweating can cause dehydration. The other thing you can do is follow the advice of the famous saying “feed a cold, starve a fever”. When your body is fighting a fever it is under increased stress and triggering the digestive process can over stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, causing more stress within the body.
It is important to monitor your temperature when you have a fever. While a fever is a natural way for your body to fight off unwanted invaders, sometimes the fever can get too high and start to do damage within the body. Temperatures of 105 degrees or more can be dangerous, especially over prolonged periods. Consult your physician if you have a high temperature or if you have a fever for more than a few days.
Other Causes Of Fevers And Sweating While Sleeping
Drug or alcohol abuse or withdrawal can also cause of fevers and sweating at night. Drug and alcohol night sweats are the result of a range of biological reactions that are triggered as your body tries to process what it sees as “toxins” in the body, or as it is going through withdrawal of a substance it has become dependent upon.
Environmental fevers can also cause sweating while sleeping. These types of fevers can be the result of heat stroke or other health conditions that are known to be among the causes of night sweats.
I hope this helps you better understand exactly how a fever changes your core body temperature and triggers sweating while sleeping. It is a natural process that is designed to help keep you healthy and fight off unwanted bacteria. It is only in extreme cases where you need to be concerned.