Night sweats, or sleep hyperhidrosis, are episodes of excessive night time sweating even when your bedroom isn’t excessively hot. It is a fairly common problem, with many people experiencing them from time to time. Night sweating usually isn’t considered a serious medical concern, however it can be uncomfortable when it occurs regularly or interferes with sleep.
Night sweats can be a side effect of certain medications such as antidepressants, hypoglycemic agents, temperature-regulating medications, or hormone therapy. Many women also experience night sweating during menopause. In some cases, underlying medical conditions can lead to night sweats, such as infections, cancer, nervous system disorders, or problems with the body’s endocrine (hormone-producing) system. It’s always important to get symptoms checked out by your doctor to be sure that they aren’t a sign of something more serious.
For people experiencing night sweats, acupuncture can offer relief. The development of the Chinese medical system occured through astute observation. Their doctors became masters of accurately diagnosing medical conditions based on a very detailed observation of symptoms. With observation, they discovered that groups of symptoms typically occur together, and together these symptoms point towards a specific pattern of imbalance. By determining which imbalance, you can treat the problem effectively to resolve the symptoms.
For this reason, whenever Chinese medicine trained acupuncturists talk about a symptom such as night sweating, or headaches, or pain, we are never simply talking about the symptom by itself. We are talking about all of the other symptoms that may be accompanying the complaint, in order to understand which pattern of imbalance is the true cause. From a Western medical perspective these patterns may all be lumped together as the same condition (such as “headaches” or “insomnia”), whereas in Chinese medicine we may have a number of different types of one condition that are each different because they are each due to a different pattern.
With night sweating, there are a few different patterns of imbalance that can be at work. The most common pattern involved in night sweating is a yin deficiency. Night sweating is commonly seen in people with a yin deficiency combined with internal heat, but can also occur in a heart blood deficiency or a spleen qi deficiency with internal damp accumulation.
So how do these patterns translate into outward symptoms? A deficiency of heart blood would have night sweating along with symptoms of heart palpitations, insomnia, pale complexion, shortness of breath, and fatigue. With yin deficiency with internal heat, night sweats would be frequent with a tendency to feel warmer in the later afternoon, reddening of the cheeks, heat in the chest, and hot hands and feet. Spleen qi deficiency with damp accumulation would cause night sweats with headaches with a “head full of cotton” feeling, heavy limbs, poor appetite, and slippery or slimy feeling in the mouth.
As you can see, with night sweats there are a number of different situations that can occur. By determining which type of pattern is at the root of the problem, acupuncture can help the body to correct the imbalance and resolve the symptoms- not just the night sweats but accompanying symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, appetite, headaches, or poor sleep. It is simply a matter of redirecting the body’s energy and to encourage the body’s own natural healing processes.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.