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Sleep Disorders

Waking Up Sweating

04/07/2009

Question:

OK, this is probably going to come with you laughing at me...

Once in a while I wake up with the back of my head sweating, and it`s more common when I take a nap during the day.

I do have somewhat long hair, and I have a habit of ending up covering my head with my pillow. But I sleep next to a window that`s always open when I sleep, and I don`t think it gets too hot in my room during the night.

Is this probably my hair or the pillow, or can it be something else causing this?

Answer:

Your question really isn’t silly at all and it’s good to ask. There are a number of potential causes for the symptoms you describe and additional information will help to determine if further evaluation is needed. It’s possible that the symptoms you describe could simply represent normal physiology, though they may also be signs of a more serious condition.

Control of body temperature is fairly well maintained during sleep and thus it is possible that simply covering your head with your pillow in the setting of long hair may be enough to make you sweat. If you could try sleeping with your hair up and avoiding the pillow over your head to see if this resolves the problem, then you would have your answer. An environment that is too warm could also lead to sweating in sleep and you should consider monitoring the temperature in your bedroom.

It’s also possible that the symptoms you describe could represent an underlying medical condition. One of the more common conditions that could lead to sweating at night is a sleep-related breathing disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea. This is a condition where people stop breathing in their sleep. Other symptoms include snoring, unrefreshing sleep, morning headaches and daytime sleepiness. The airway collapses that are part of obstructive sleep apnea can be associated with increased effort to breath and sweating in sleep.

If you are a woman in the appropriate age group, then sweating in sleep could be sign of menopause. Sweating in sleep could also represent a variety of other problems, including thyroid disorders, a chronic infection, a chronic inflammatory state or even lymphoma. These later conditions are often associated with other symptoms, such as weight loss. Your symptoms are something that should be evaluated by a physician if they don’t resolve with the simple measures mentioned above. It may end up being nothing, but it’s best to discuss it with your primary care doctor. Referral to a sleep specialist or other specialist may be needed, depending on specifics in your history and examination. Additional testing may be required to help sort out the cause of the palpitations.

To learn more about sleep or other sleep disorders, please visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. In addition to information, the website contains a list of Sleep Centers across the country so that you may locate one near you.

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Response by:

Dennis   Auckley, MD Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University