Maybe you thought that sweatiness was something that would wait until the teenage years — but nighttime sweating is actually fairly common in babies and young children.
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Night sweats can happen to children of any age. They might happen regularly — or just once in a while.
Sometimes they’re linked to other health issues such as the ones we talk about below, but sometimes they happen for no reason at all.
Nighttime sweating can mean different things. Your child may be fine and dry all day, but while they’re fast asleep they might have:
- Local sweating. This is lots of sweating in just one area. This might be just the scalp or the entire head, face, and neck. You may find that your child’s pillow is drenched while their bed is dry. Older children may have sweating only in the armpits while sleeping.
- General sweating. This is lots of sweating over the entire body. Your child’s sheets and pillow are damp with sweat and their clothing is soaked, but they didn’t wet the bed.
Along with sweating, your child may have:
- flushed or red face or body
- warm hands or body
- shivers or clammy skin (due to being soaked in sweat)
- grumpiness or tears in the middle of the night because they’re sweaty
- sleepiness during the day because their sleep was disturbed by sweating too much
Night sweating can be divided into two types depending on cause:
- Primary sweating is sweating for no reason or because you’re just too toasty.
- Secondary sweating is usually sweating all over because of a health reason.
Night sweats are common in children of all ages. They’re especially common in babies and toddlers. Tucking your child to sleep with too many blankets or in a room that’s too warm can make the night sweating worse. Little ones haven’t yet learned how to wiggle out of heavy clothing and bedding.
As a reminder, babies under 1 year shouldn’t have any pillows, blankets, or other items in their crib with them.
You’ve turned down the heating and your little one is wearing a light flannel onesie, but they’re still leaving damp sweat marks on their pillow. Sometimes, night sweats in children happen for no reason at all.
Your toddler or young child has more sweat glands per square foot than adults do, just because they are smaller humans. Additionally, their little bodies haven’t yet learned how to balance body temperature as expertly as adult bodies have. This can lead to nighttime sweating for no reason at all.
Sometimes your mini-me might really be a small version of you — on a genetic level. If you’re prone to sweating a lot, it might just run in the family. Your child may have the same healthy genes that make the sweat glands work a lot.
Your child’s nighttime sweats might be because they’re fighting a cold. The common cold is usually a harmless viral infection.
Kids under the age of 6 years are most likely to catch a cold — and you’ll probably have a cold two or three times a year, too. Symptoms typically last a little over a week.
Your child may have other cold symptoms, like:
- stuffy nose
- runny nose
- sinus congestion
- sore throat
- body aches (though this is more often associated with the flu)
Nose, throat, and lung health
Night sweating in children might also be linked to other common health conditions. These most likely have to do with the nose, throat, and lungs — the breathing system.
Not every child with these health conditions will have night sweating. But medical
- runny nose from allergies
- allergic skin reactions like eczema
- sleep apnea
- anger or temper problems
You can see that with a few exceptions, most of these involve the nose, throat, or lungs.
Older children might have night sweats because of hormonal changes. Puberty can begin as early as 8 years old in girls and 9 years in boys. This often-dreaded change — for parents — begins with more hormones.
Puberty can trigger more general sweating, or just nighttime sweating to begin with. The difference is that you may notice a — ahem — smell to the sweat. If your child begins to have body odor, the cause of the night sweats might be puberty welcoming itself into your child’s life.
Sensitive or inflamed lungs
Now we’re starting to get into the more serious stuff, but keep in mind that these things are also quite rare.
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) is a kind of lung inflammation (swelling and redness) that’s similar to an allergy. It can happen from breathing in dust or mold.
Both adults and children can have this condition. HP can look like pneumonia or a chest infection, but it’s not an infection and doesn’t get better with antibiotics.
HP may begin 2 to 9 hours after breathing in dust or mold. Symptoms will usually go away on their own after 1 to 3 days, provided the culprit is removed. HP is more common in children who have asthma and other allergies.
Along with night sweats, your child may have symptoms like:
- shortness of breath
We’ve saved the most unlikely for last. And rest assured that if your child only has night sweats, you can be very certain they don’t have cancer.
Any kind of childhood cancer is frightening and very difficult for both child and parents. Fortunately, this type of lymphoma has a success rate of more than 90 percent with treatment.
Lymphoma and other similar illnesses would have to be pretty far along to cause symptoms like night sweats. So, it’s very unlikely that this is the cause of your child’s sweating while sleeping.
You would have likely already noticed other more common symptoms, like:
- poor appetite
- weight loss
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
Your child most likely doesn’t need any treatment at all. Occasional and even regular sweating while sleeping are normal for many children, especially boys.
Try dressing your child in more breathable, lighter pajamas, choose lighter bedding, and turn down the heating at night.
If there’s an underlying health cause like a cold or flu, the night sweats will likely go away once your child is over the virus.
Treating and maintaining other health conditions like asthma and allergies can help control night sweats in some children.
Your child’s pediatrician may test their sweat to rule out other conditions. These simple tests are painless and can be done at the doctor’s office:
- Starch iodine test. A solution is swabbed onto your child’s skin to find areas of too much sweating.
- Paper test. A special kind paper is placed on areas where your child sweats a lot. The paper absorbs sweat and is then weighed to see just how sweaty they are.
Tell your doctor if your child has symptoms of health issues that may be linked to night sweats. Chronic conditions like asthma and allergies can cause night sweats. Infections can also lead to sweating.
Symptoms to tell your doctor about include:
- noisy breathing
- breathing through the mouth
- sucking in the stomach when breathing
- shortness of breath
- ear pain
- stiff neck
- floppy head
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- severe vomiting
Get urgent medical care if your child also has a fever that lasts longer than 2 days, or is getting worse.
Also see your pediatrician if your child’s sweat begins to smell differently or if your child has body odor. Hormone changes might be normal or linked to other conditions.
Night sweats in children can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes kids, especially boys, sweat at night for no health reason at all. In most cases, your child won’t need to be treated for nighttime sweating.
As always, talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns at all. They’re there to help ensure you have a happy, healthy kiddo.