Q. How can I prevent night sweats (and should I be concerned about them)?

A. Waking up with your pajamas and sheets soaked with perspiration disrupts your rest and is potentially a symptom of an underlying health problem. The first step is to figure out why you’re sweating.

Night sweats can result from something as simple as wearing synthetic fabrics (such as polyester or nylon), which trap heat and prevent the skin from cooling adequately. Sheets made from synthetic fibers can have the same effect. Other culprits may include consuming alcohol or spicy foods close to bedtime, so take a look at your diet.

A less obvious cause may be your hormones. Fluctuations during your menstrual cycle, menopause, or andropause (male menopause) can contribute to night sweats. Some medications—such as Zoloft, Prozac, or Paxil—can leave you with soaked sheets. Diabetes or sleep apnea—or even less common conditions such as HIV or tuberculosis—can also cause night sweating. If you have reason to believe you have any of these serious health conditions, consult a doctor.

Easy ways to improve your sleep environment—whatever is causing your sweating—include switching to 100 percent cotton sleepwear and bedding, keeping your bedroom on the cool side (try cracking a window and/or using a fan), and taking a cool shower before bed.

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, author of the The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002) and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).