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Leukemia and Night Sweats: Causes and Tips for Relief

Updated on February 28, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Dawn Ferchak

Getting a good night’s sleep when living with leukemia can be difficult. Stress, insomnia, and other symptoms of leukemia can make falling or staying asleep a struggle. Many members of MyLeukemiaTeam have discussed another problem that disrupts their sleep: night sweats.

Night sweats are episodes of heavy or excessive sweating during the nighttime. These episodes can leave you feeling uncomfortable and make it difficult to fall back asleep. Luckily, there are some ways you and your oncologist can work together to manage your night sweats and help you get a cooler, more comfortable sleep.

The Impact of Night Sweats on People With Leukemia

Are night sweats keeping you up? You’re not alone. Members of MyLeukemiaTeam frequently talk about their night sweat experiences.

“My night sweats are horrible,” said one member. “No high fever, just soaked night sweats.” “The night sweats need to get out of here!” wrote another member.

The sweating a person experiences at night can be enough to soak through their pajamas or bedsheets. One member shared, “It feels like someone dumped a gallon of water on me.”

Many members experience night sweats regardless of the outside temperature. “Even when the weather was in the single digits, I was still sweating,” wrote one member. Another described feeling as if they “have an internal heater that’s on full blast.”

Members take many different approaches to dealing with night sweats. One wrote that they “change nightgowns in the middle of the night.” Another shared that they sleep with “a darn bath towel to soak up the water. It’s miserable.”

Night sweats can also cause people to feel chilled as the moisture evaporates from their bodies. “I keep a lot of T-shirts within reach because when they’re soaked, things cool off, and I get cold,” explained one member.

What Causes Night Sweats in Leukemia?

Night sweats can be both a symptom of leukemia and a side effect of certain treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Night Sweats as a Symptom of Leukemia

Night sweats can happen because the body is trying to fight leukemia. Our bodies heat up to fight infections and illnesses, including leukemia. This can cause both fever and night sweats.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, night sweats are a particularly common symptom for people who have chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Treating CML will usually control the sweats. Night sweats are also considered typical of acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Night sweats are often one of the first symptoms that lead a person to seek medical advice and an eventual diagnosis. In a survey of more than 2,000 people with leukemia, 31 percent reported night sweats as a major symptom before diagnosis.

“Severe sweating is what sent me to the doctor,” explained one member. “He did extensive blood testing, and it turned out to be CLL.”

Because night sweats are a common symptom of menopause and perimenopause, this symptom can be confusing for people who go through menopause in particular. “I had drenching sweats for a year before diagnosis. I thought my hot flashes had returned,” said one member. “I was sweating every night,” wrote another member. “I thought it was menopause. Nope. Sweating is a warning that something is wrong. My something was CLL.”

Night Sweats and Leukemia Treatment

Some treatments for leukemia and its symptoms can bring on night sweats. These treatments include chemotherapy, opioid pain medications, steroid medications, and tricyclic antidepressants.

Night sweats that accompany leukemia treatment can be incredibly frustrating. One member with CML shared, “I’m on Tasigna (nilotinib). I sweat all the time and go through towels all day long.”

“I think it’s my meds,” said another member. “By day two of treatment, I can barely sleep.” One member said that they toss and turn every night. “I know a lot has to do with my meds,” they wrote.

Relieve Night Sweats With Leukemia

Just as some treatments can cause night sweats, other treatments can help you find relief. Start by talking with your doctor or oncologist to find the root cause of your sweating. If you have already been diagnosed with leukemia and are having night sweats before starting treatment, it can be a sign that it’s time to begin treatment.

Take Medications

Medications are available that can help alleviate night sweats. These include:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Non-tricyclic antidepressants
  • Clonidine (a type of high blood pressure medication)

Switch or Adjust Treatment

If chemotherapy or other leukemia treatments are causing night sweats, switching or adjusting your treatments may help solve the problem. “I started Sprycel (dasatinib) a week ago,” said one MyLeukemiaTeam member. “Doctor is hoping it will help with the sweating issues.”

Let Your Body Adjust to Treatments

It is important to give your body time to adjust after starting leukemia treatment. As one member shared, symptoms like night sweats may improve over time: “I was diagnosed with CML almost three years ago. Night sweats were one of my symptoms. My body is finally settling down and adjusting to these powerful drugs that keep us alive.”

Treat Infections

Cancer treatment often weakens the body’s immune system. As a result, people with leukemia are generally more susceptible to developing infections. Infections can raise a person’s body temperature and lead to night sweats. Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics if you develop a bacterial infection, which should help alleviate related night sweats.

Address Your Sleep Habits

One of the most important things people can do to help with night sweats is consider whether their sleep habits are contributing to the problem. Practicing good sleep hygiene can help you get better sleep with simple lifestyle changes. For people who experience frequent night sweats, changes that can help make things more comfortable include the following.

Change Your Bedding

Opt for natural fibers like cotton, or try sweat-wicking bedding.

Keep Your Room Cool

Doctors recommend keeping your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal comfort.

Increase Air Circulation

If your home doesn’t have central air conditioning, consider putting in a window box fan or installing a ceiling fan. Even an extra plug-in fan may help.

Be Mindful of Your Diet

Certain foods and drinks can aggravate the gastrointestinal system, worsening some medical conditions and leading to night sweats. These include processed foods, spicy fare, and beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.

Manage Your Mental Health

Treating the stress, depression, and anxiety that can occur when living with leukemia may also help alleviate night sweats. Anxiety in particular can contribute to night sweats, so managing stress is important.

There are many treatment options for anxiety, including medications and therapy. Other ways to combat stress include:

  • Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and mindfulness exercises
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Acupuncture

Get Support

If you are dealing with night sweats, it can help to connect with people who understand what you are going through. MyLeukemiaTeam is the social network where people with leukemia and their loved ones can ask questions, share stories, enjoy conversations, and get support.

How have you managed night sweats with leukemia? Share your tips in the comments below or by posting on MyLeukemiaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Dawn Ferchak is a content creator with over 15 years of experience. Her areas of expertise include health and wellness, including clinical areas such as rare diseases, orthopedics, oncology, and mental health. She writes for both professional and consumer audiences. Learn more about her here.

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