Finally, winter is over. We’ve had a few glorious days of real sunshine and everywhere I look I see sunglasses, sandals, floaty dresses – summer is coming. But part of me hopes it’s not going to be as hot as last summer, I’ll be honest. You see, with the warm weather comes an increase in the dreaded (at least I dread them) night sweats!
For anyone who has never had a night sweat, I’m not talking about feeling a bit warm or clammy – I’m talking about sheet soaking, pj’s drenched, need to get up and change your clothes type of sweating. It’s really uncomfortable, and really disrupts sleep for a lot of people. Plus there’s so much extra laundry!
Night sweats are a common enough side effect of active cancer treatment. Mine started during chemo. Nothing like some steroids, chemo and an instant menopause to make you sweat at night! Despite finishing active treatment in 2018, I am still taking hormone therapy (Tamoxifen and Zoladex for me). The uncomfortable night sweats are a continued side effect of these drugs. For anyone starting out on hormone therapy, I found that the night sweats were heaviest at the start, but things did improve after a while once my body adjusted to the drugs, so hang in there and give it time.
If you are suffering from night sweats, please don’t despair of ever having a good night’s sleep again though. There are steps you can take to make life more comfortable.
Here are a few practical tips that may help improve your sleep and reduce the disruption caused by night sweats.
1. Get a fan. We have a large pedestal fan that we bought during the hot summer of 2013 after the birth of our first child. It’s now an integral part of our bedroom decor. Get a fan and aim it at your bed and just let it run all night. It makes a huge difference.
2. Switch to natural fibre fabrics for your pj’s. I just buy cheap 100% cotton pj’s now. You can pick them up easily in a number of high street stores. I avoid fleece, polyester and other synthetic fabrics for wearing to bed.
3. Avoid eating or drinking foods that can raise your body temperature too close to bedtime, e.g. if you’re used to getting a hot curry or chilli from your local takeaway on a Friday evening it might be time to switch to a cooler alternative. The spicy food can raise your core body temperature just before bed… not what you want to do if you are suffering from night sweats. This one also includes caffeine and alcohol.
5. Leave a window open. The window in our ensuite is always open, even in winter.
6. Switch to natural fibre fabrics for your bedding. There are lots of options available. I purchased 100% cotton sheets and duvet covers in Lidl and Aldi when they were available on Special Buys. The main thing is avoid synthetic fabrics, they will make you sweat even more.
I also bought a wool duvet for during the winter. The natural fibre will hopefully help regulate my body temperature better. I picked mine up in a sale, and so far I really do feel it has made a difference… at least during the winter months anyway.
7. Avoid memory foam. It retains heat, not what you want if you are waking up at night with soaked sheets!
8. Keep a spare set of pj’s near your bed. This isn’t really about reducing the amount you sweat, but I found keeping a change of clothes within easy reach of my bed less disruptive to my sleep if I had a bad sweat than having to turn on lights and rummage through a drawer looking for a dry top to wear.
9. Reduce stress as much as possible. Difficult when your going through cancer treatment, but perhaps trying a meditation before bedtime or spending a few minutes doing some slow, deep breaths before bed will help.
10. Taking a shower before bedtime. I have read mixed reports on this one. Some articles suggest taking a warm shower. Believe it or not, this can actually cool down your core body temperature as your body works to cool your skin after the shower. I have also read articles suggesting a cool shower before bed. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of cold showers so haven’t tried this one. Perhaps it’s an individual thing so it may be worth trying both and seeing what works best for you.
11. Visit your doctor. If you are experiencing night sweats as a result of hormone therapy, it may also be worth having a chat with your doctor as there may be other options if you have exhausted all other avenues.
On a serious note, a word of caution to anyone taking hormone therapy. If you are considering taking any of the herbal remedies available over the counter in pharmacies and health stores, please ensure you get advice from someone experienced in working with cancer patients and run it past your oncology team first. Many people are not aware of the interactions herbs can have with hormone therapy drugs. Please always seek medical advice prior to taking any herbs if your treatment plan consists of hormone therapy drugs, e.g. oestrogen blockers, aromatase inhibitors and ovarian suppression drugs. I personally find it intensely frustrating that I cannot take some of the known herbal remedies out there. But Tamoxifen is my armour. I’d rather sweat at night than risk putting a chink in it. ALWAYS check first.
I hope these tips help some of you currently going through chemo or starting out on hormone therapy.
By Natasha Whelehan, Happy Magazine Contributor.