Toddler Night Sweats: Why Does It Happen And How To Address It

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Night sweats are episodes of excessive sweating at night to maintain normal body temperature. The medical term for the condition is nocturnal hyperhidrosis or sleep hyperhidrosis (1). Parents learn of it when the toddler wakes up due to excessive sweating or when the toddler’s clothes and bedding are found damp in the morning.

In this post, MomJunction tries to address your queries about night sweating, its causes, treatment, and steps that might help in preventing it.

Is It Normal For Toddlers To Sweat While Sleeping?

Toddlers have a high density of sweat glands that activate quickly even, with a gradual rise in ambient temperature (2). The ratio of sweat gland density to the surface area of the skin is also higher than that in adults. It means the density of sweat produced on a toddler’s skin is greater than that of adults.

Sweating often occurs due to increased sympathetic activity, often a response to infection or flight/fright. This is normal.

Why Does A Toddler Sweat In Sleep?

The high-density sweat glands in toddlers are triggered by various factors. Here are the causes of night sweats in toddlers:

  • Overheating: If the sleeping environment is hot or humid, then it could lead to excessive sweating in the toddler. Binding the child in too many layers of blankets can also make them wake up sweaty in the morning. Sweating due to overheating is normal when there is no fever or any medical condition.
  • Fever: A fever can cause night sweats when the body returns to the normal temperature by ridding itself of excess body heat through sweat evaporation (3).
  • Nightmares and night terrors: Fear and active imagination of a toddler may trigger nightmares and night terrors that might cause them to sweat on face and head (4).
  • Sleep apnea: Obstructed airway causes temporary suspension of breathing, thus resulting in sleep apnea. One of the several symptoms of this condition in toddlers is excessive nighttime sweating (5). Sleep apnea, or the cessation of breath for a while, may happen due to a range of reasons from benign conditions, such as adenoids (tonsils behind the nose), to something gravely wrong with the lungs or brain. Obesity is also a rising cause of sleep apnea.
  • Thyroid problems: Congenital thyroid problems can cause hyperthyroidism, which leads to cold sweats at night (6).
  • Genetic problems: Conditions resulting from defective genes, such as cystic fibrosis, congenital heart problems, and autism spectrum disorders (7) (8) (9), lead to night sweats and damp the toddler’s skin.

Do note that night sweating does not mean that the toddler has the above conditions. There are more prominent symptoms than sweating for such conditions. The best solution is to see a doctor to know the exact cause of night sweating.

When To See A Doctor For A Toddler’s Night Sweats?

See the pediatrician right away when the following conditions accompany night sweating:

  • Fever with a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C) (10)
  • Body aches, pains, and chills
  • Skin rashes and blisters
  • Itching of skin
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Snoring and gasping while asleep
  • Weight loss and inadequate diet

Night sweats associated with fever and weight loss could indicate something significant and should be brought to your doctor’s attention. The doctor would arrive at the exact cause after running a few diagnostic tests.

How Are Night Sweats Diagnosed?

The condition is diagnosed symptomatically. It means the doctor will look for the symptoms to trace underlying conditions such as a fever or presence of some genetic problems. If any suspicious symptoms are detected, the doctor would suggest blood tests and physical examination to determine the fundamental cause of the condition.

Is There A Treatment For Night Sweats In Toddlers?

In cases where an underlying medical problem is causing night sweats, that condition must be treated first. Treatment may depend on various aspects such as the part of the body that’s affected, potential cause, and severity. According to diagnosis, the following procedures may be used to deal with chronic night sweating (11):

  • Topical ointments: These contain substances called antiperspirants that block the sweat ducts leading to lesser perspiration. Ointments are applied once every 24 hours before the toddler goes to bed. Topical creams and antiperspirant talcum powders are usually enough to control night sweating in toddlers. The subsequent treatment methods are seldom used.
  • Oral medications: These medicines are called anticholinergic agents and subdue the quantity of sweat produced. They do not, however, prevent sweating.
  • Surgical and other invasive procedures: The nerve impulses to a few overactive sweat glands are permanently blocked through a surgical procedure called thoracic sympathectomy. Other intrusive treatments are electrical therapy and Botox injections. Electrical therapy blocks sweat ducts using electrical impulses, while Botox injections are administered to excessively sweaty parts of the body to suppress sweat production.

The above-mentioned treatments may not be necessary if there is no underlying medical condition causing night sweats. In such a case, you may manage your toddler’s night sweats at home by following some simple steps.

How To Stop Night Sweats In Toddlers?

Here are a few things to manage night sweats due to non-medical reasons:

  • Dress the toddler in loose-fitting nightwear to alleviate the chances of sweating. Also, choose natural fabrics such as cotton or linen for toddlers as they facilitate ventilation. Natural fabrics also soak sweat, thus letting it evaporate quickly.
  • Select light bedding and do not tuck the toddler in layers of blankets if he is prone to night sweats. Instead, pick a lightweight blanket or a comfortable bed sheet that is breathable. Avoid pillows that are so soft that the toddler’s head sinks into it, as it limits ventilation near the toddler’s head.
  • Keep the room ventilated and regulate the room temperature so that it is not too warm, and there is an adequate flow of air. If it is humid, purchase a dehumidifier, as excess humidity may also make the toddler sweat.
  • Manage nightmares and night terrors by maintaining a soothing bedtime routine such as giving a bath and reading a story before bedtime. Use a dim night light in the toddler’s room to reduce his chances of waking up frightened and sweating.
  • Keep the baby hydrated as night sweats can get severe in summers.

There could be instances when not much of an intervention is required.

What If Your Toddler Has No Health Issues But Still Has Night Sweats?

If your toddler is healthy, happy, and has normal growth even after several nights of excessive sweating, then there is no reason to worry. The ratio of sweat gland to skin surface area improves with growth. Therefore, your little one will outgrow the condition and may not sweat as much during nights when they get older (12).

Night sweating can be messy as the toddler’s clothes and bedding may have to be changed in the middle of the night. However, the condition does not last forever. Relief is instantaneous if the underlying cause is treated. When there is no specific or worrisome cause, then it is best to wait it out. As the preschooler grows, the problem may disappear. However, do not dismiss any symptoms that could indicate something abnormal. It is wise to get a pediatric consultation whenever you feel it is necessary.

Do you have any tips on how to prevent night sweating? Tell us in the comments section below.

References :

1. Sleep Hyperhidrosis (Night sweats, excessive sweating); Stanford University (1998)
2. Falk B; Effects of thermal stress during rest and exercise in the pediatric population.; National Center For Biotechnology Information (1998)
3. Ioanna Fragkandrea et al.; Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Cancer: A Guide for Early Recognition; American Academy of Family Physicians (2013)
4. Jodi Mindell; Children and Bedtime Fears and Nightmares; National Sleep Foundation (2010)
5. Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children; Cleveland Clinic
6. Anthony J. Viera; Diagnosing Night Sweats; American Academy of Family Physicians (2003)
7. Health Topics; University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
8. Symptoms that Might Indicate a Heart Problem; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
9. Investigating Sleep Behaviors in Autistic Infants; University of San Diego
10. Signs and Symptoms of Fever; American Academy of Pediatrics (2015)
11. Hyperhidrosis; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
12. C. Carolyn Thiedke; Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems in Childhood; American Academy of Family Physicians (2001)