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What to Do if Your Child Has Night Sweats

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 09, 2021

When you sweat, it’s your body’s natural way to try and cool itself down. People, including children, may sweat during the day in response to normal things like heat, exercise, and clothing. But night sweats can occur when it’s not particularly warm in a room. Night sweats are common for both kids and adults and often don't have a direct cause. However, if other symptoms are present, night sweats could be a sign of an underlying issue. 

What Are Night Sweats?

It’s normal to sweat at night if your room is too hot or your bedding or clothing is too heavy. It’s also quite common for childrens’ heads to get sweaty throughout the night, even if the rest of their bodies aren’t particularly sweaty.

Excessive sweating at night time that is not caused by an overly-hot room or bedding is referred to as night sweats. Night sweats are a common occurrence in both kids and adults. Your child might be having night sweats if they frequently wake up with bedding or pajamas that are soaked in sweat, despite the room being a comfortable temperature.

What Causes Night Sweats in Children?

Night sweats are usually harmless, but they can sometimes be a sign of an underlying problem. If your child’s night sweats are caused by a condition, there will probably be other noticeable symptoms.

Some underlying conditions where night sweats are a symptom include: 

Night terrors. Night terrors are very intense nightmares that happen when a child is in deep sleep. While the fear is very real, children usually won’t remember the dreams when they wake up. 

Children experiencing night terrors sweat heavily, but also thrash around in bed and may even call out or scream. Other signs are sitting upright, being upset, or breathing heavily. If your child is showing these symptoms, night terrors could be the cause of their night sweats.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS). Children who experience night sweats paired with snoring, mouth-breathing, and restless sleep may have Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS). This is a breathing problem that occurs while children are sleeping and causes them to experience restless sleep.

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Kids with OSAS will wake up not feeling properly rested and may even have a headache. Young children with OSAS may gain weight and grow more slowly compared to their peers. Because they aren’t sleeping properly, this can result in poor school performance or behavior problems.

Idiopathic hyperhidrosis. Idiopathic hyperhidrosis (also called idiopathic night sweats) doesn’t have a known cause, but it makes children and adults excessively sweat even when there is no apparent reason. Typically, hyperhidrosis causes excessive sweating in the face, feet, and hands.

Children or adults experiencing night sweats for no medical reason are diagnosed with idiopathic hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis causes children to sweat more to keep their bodies cooler. Medically, it has no impact on a child’s health. However, excess sweating can cause them to feel anxiety as they get older, especially in social situations.

Leukemia or cancer. One of the most serious causes of night sweats is leukemia or other certain types of cancer. In a survey, more than 30% of patients who were diagnosed with leukemia had serious night sweats as a symptom.

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The difference with these night sweats is that your child may wake up drenched in sweat and can’t cool down. Their pajamas or bed sheets might be soaked through completely to the point where they can’t continue sleeping in them. People describe waking up feeling like they were in a pool or a sauna.

Other symptoms to look out for if your child is having severe night sweats are:

It’s important to note that night sweats caused by leukemia are rare.

What to Do if Your Child Has Night Sweats

To keep your child comfortable at night and help reduce their night sweats, you can try:

  • Keeping their bedroom at a cool temperature, or using a fan at night
  • Dressing them in moisture-wicking pajamas 
  • Putting a cool pack under their pillow to keep their head cool
  • Using moisture-wicking sheets instead of traditional cotton sheets

In addition, try to have your child avoid exercising too close to bedtime to help them go to bed feeling cool.

When to See a Doctor

While night sweats are usually nothing to worry about, you might want to talk to your child’s doctor if they happen frequently or you notice other signs. Studies show that children with night sweats are more likely to have respiratory diseases or other sleep-related problems. These children are also more likely to have sudden temper outbursts or to be hyperactive.

Keep in mind that night sweats are normal and many times do not have a specific cause. However, if you notice that your child’s night sweats are paired with symptoms from some of the known causes, you might want to contact your child’s pediatrician.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Healthdirect: “Night sweats.”

KidsHealth from Nemours: “Night Terrors.”

Leukaemia Care: “Spotting the difference: Night sweats in leukaemia VS normal night sweats.”

NHS: “Night sweats.”

nidirect: “Night sweats.”

PediatricEducation.org: What Causes Sweaty Babies?”

PubMed: “Night sweats in children: prevalence and associated factors.”

Sleep Health Foundation: “Sleep Problems and Sleep Disorders in School Aged Children.”

SweatHelp.org: “Night Sweats.”

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