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28 August 2019

How to deal with sweating at night when you have MS

Many people look forward to the summer months, longer days and a rise in temperature. However, because people with MS are especially sensitive to temperature, this increase in heat can result in many restless nights, waking up drenched in sweat and struggling to ever feel cool and comfortable. During hot weather you should stay well hydrated and keep curtains closed during the day, and it may be worth considering a climate control mattress topper.

Temperature sensitivity & MS

MS causes damage to the myelin sheath, whose function is to allow a smooth and rapid transmission of nerve impulses. Heat slows nerve transmission, so the combination of increased temperature and damaged nerves mean that people with MS can be more sensitive towards changes in temperature. They often find getting too hot or too cold can temporarily exacerbate their MS symptoms. 

Although it can be quite worrying when symptoms suddenly get worse, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a full-blown relapse is on the horizon. 

It is also important to remember that while temperature change may temporarily worsen the symptoms of MS, extreme heat or cold do not produce actual nerve damage. However, it can take longer (a few days) to recover if you get extremely overheated.

Heat sensitivity can also be known as Uhthoff’s phenomenon and occurs for 60-80% of people with MS. 

Certain activities can cause this heat sensitivity to become more apparent, such as taking hot baths or showers, sunbathing and exercising. In fact, in the days before lumbar puncture and MRI scans, MS was often diagnosed by placing a patient in a hot bath to see if it made their symptoms worse.

Can you stop night sweats?

Night sweats are severe hot flushes occurring at night that can drench sleepwear and sheets, which are not related to the environment. 

Some cases of night sweats are caused by types of medications you may be taking. MS medications, especially Copaxone and Dimethyl Fumarate, have reported side effects of flushing. Speak to your doctor if you feel like this is affecting you.  

There is no ‘cure’ for night sweats, but there are several things you can do or implement to help yourself feel cooler.

  • Climate control mattress toppers are available and have reportedly helped the community have a more comfortable sleep and not experience such severe night sweats. 

  • Keep blinds or curtains closed during the day in your bedroom, so the room is cooler when it comes to bedtime.

  • Avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods before bed. 

  • Make sure you drink plenty of water during the day to stay hydrated. 

  • Wear loose garments in bed.  

Tips for keeping cool with MS

Keeping cool in the warmer months is really important for people with MS, mainly to make sure you can still enjoy your summer! Here’s some things you can do to keep hot flushes and night sweats at bay: 

  • If possible, stay in an air-conditioned environment during periods of extreme heat and humidity. If this is not possible, carry a handheld fan with you that you can use while out and about.

  • Have regular ice cold drinks or suck on ice cubes to keep regularly hydrated.

  • Spray your face and wrists with ice cold water, or run them under a cold tap.

  • Wear lightweight, loose, breathable clothing. Cotton and linen are often the best fabrics for clothes to still feel cool, even in extreme heat.

  • Have a cooling bath after getting extremely hot. Get into a bathtub of tepid water and continue adding cooler water over a period of 20 to 30 minutes. This will help to reduce your core body temperature following activity or exposure to a hot environment.

  • A floor or desk fan can help to keep air circulating and the temperature down

It’s not just the rise in the outside air temperature that can cause night sweats, certain activities can also cause extreme hot flushes, such as exercising. Although exercise is a key pillar of the Overcoming MS Program, heat sensitivity can sometimes put people off exercising. 

Here are some tips for staying cool while exercising:

  • Use cooling clothing products such as vests, neck wraps, and bandanas during exercise or outdoor activity.
  • Exercise in a pool – this could be swimming, aqua aerobics or even aqua jogging. 
  • Exercise in a cool environment (such as an air-conditioned gym). 
  • If you are exercising outside, pick cooler times of the day, usually early in the morning or evening.
  • Resistance training (e.g. weights or bands), can provoke less heat-related symptoms than endurance training (running or cycling)

Night sweats are not something to be worried about – although very annoying and uncomfortable, the flare up of symptoms will pass. 

It can help to speak to others with MS that might also be experiencing night sweats. The Live Well Hub can be a great place to ask others for tips or experiences. 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following the 7 steps of the Overcoming MS program can also help to keep night sweats at a minimum. 


Further Reading