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Don't let 'burglar sweats' steal your sleep - Cool down

NIGHT sweats are known as dao han or "burglar sweat" in traditional Chinese medicine, because they creep up on you and are considered a sign of energy imbalance, writes Zhang Qian.

Many people experience night sweats at one time or another, and it's no big deal, but frequent episodes that leave you soaked may be a sign that you're too hot inside. You need to cool down the yang energy.

Traditional Chinese medicine considers sweat to be the "fluid of the heart," caused by overactive yang (hot) energy that disturbs the heart.

Night sweats are called dao han or "burglar sweats," according to TCM, because they creep up on you while you sleep.

If it bothers you, see a doctor. If it's not serious, then dietary therapy may help reduce your hot yang energy and nourish your cool yin energy.

In Western medicine, significant night sweats can be caused by menopause, anxiety, drugs for hypertension and other conditions, drug or alcohol abuse, gastrointestinal problems and diabetes. It's uncomfortable, but usually it's not serious. Make sure your room isn't too warm.

TCM sees it, however, as a symptom of energy imbalance and has studied it extensively.

Some people sweat when they are in deep sleep, some sweat the moment they fall asleep and some even sweat the moment they close their eyes in bed.

There are three levels of night sweats, based on the amount of sweat. People with light night sweats only sweat in deep sleep during the two hours before they wake up. There's only a little sweat and no discomfort when they are awake.

Moderate night sweating usually occurs quite soon after people fall asleep. They sweat a lot, wake up and go back to sleep but don't sweat again. These people often feel hot while they sleep and feel thirsty and have a dry throat when they're awake.

The severe night sweats arrive as soon as some people fall asleep. This may wake them up, but they sweat again when they fall asleep. Sleep is disturbed. Patients often feel hot and thirsty; they are often irritable and feel tired and dizzy. They may be constipated and not urinate enough.

Though sweating itself isn't harmful, sleeping in damp bed clothes or night clothes may increase the chance of catching cold. Sweating that disrupts sleep and causes prolonged fatigue may decrease immunity.

"Night sweating often happens to the elderly from 60 to 80 years of age, as well as to women in the change of life," says Dr Zhou Duan, chief of internal medicine at Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

He attributes the heavy sweating to yin deficiency with effulgent fire due to deficiency of kidney and liver at that age.

TCM says sweat is the "fluid of the heart." Overactive yang energy disturbing the heart in sleep causes night sweats. Frequent sweating exhausts the already-diminished yin energy in hearts of older people and aggravates the problem.

These patients usually feel heat in the palms of their hands and arches of their feet, but are not otherwise very sensitive to external temperature. They may suffer from thirst, dry throat, dry eyes, pain in the lower back and legs, insomnia, poor memory, ringing in the ears and dizziness.

They should avoid spicy, fried, baked and greasy food. They shouldn't drink alcohol of smoke.

TCM recommends "cold" foods like chrysanthemum tea and gou qi (wolfberries), nourishing yin foods like white fungus, lily root and duck meat to ease the problem.

If it is severe, try TCM patent drugs like zhi bo di huang wan (rhizoma anemarrhenae, amur cork tree and rehmanniae pill) with a doctor's prescription.

Dr Zhou recommends mulberry leaves and rice soup, which helps many of his patients. Grind the leaves into powder, add three grams of it to a bowl of rice soup. Eating it once in the morning and once in the afternoon can help relieve night sweats.

Regular physical exercise during the day and lowering the indoor temperature may improve sleep. People who have a serious problem should change their bed sheets frequently.

Dr Zhou warns that night sweating may be caused by serious diseases like tuberculosis, hyperthyroidism or cancer.

"Night sweating sufferers should go to see a doctor first to rule out disease or other conditions. They might need particular medication rather than simply dietary therapies," he says.

Children may also sweat a lot at night, but for different reasons. During the first two hours of sleep, it's natural for children to sweat because of active metabolism, rich capillaries and immature nervous system. If they run around or play actively before sleep, the body spontaneously sweats during sleep to eliminate the heat generated.

High indoor temperatures and heavy bedding may also cause sweating.

If children have a serious night sweating problem, they may be deficient in calcium. If sweating persists, take them to a doctor.

To relieve night sweats

? White fungus, lily root congee

Ingredients: Rice (50g), white fungus (15g), lily roots (15g), rock sugar to sweeten.

Preparation: Soak white fungus with warm water until soft, make congee.

Eat once a day.

Function: Helps nourish cool yin energy, promote fluids, dispel internal heat.

? Lily's root and lotus root soup

Ingredients: Lily roots (20g), lotus root (30g), rock sugar to sweeten.

Preparation: Cook ingredients with water on gentle heat, until soft.

Eat once a day.

Function: Helps nourish yin energy, dispels internal heat.

? White fungus and jujube soup

Ingredients: White fungus (30g), jujubes (20g), rock sugar to sweeten.

Preparation: Soak white fungus in warm water until soft. Make soup.

Eat twice a day.

Function: Reinforces energy, nourishes yin energy.


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