Woke Up Nauseous? Here's What Your Body Is Trying to Tell You

Waking up nauseous might be a side effect of a new medication or birth control.
Image Credit: Charday Penn/E+/GettyImages

Establishing a morning routine is a great way to set up your day for success. But waking up nauseous each morning has the potential to derail your plan for healthy habits.

If you feel sick when you wake up, your nighttime eating habits, stress levels or medications may be to blame for your early morning nausea.

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Read on to learn why exactly you might be waking up nauseous and how to fix your symptoms.

1. You Ate Certain Foods Too Close to Bedtime

The foods you eat before bed can play a big role in how your body feels the following morning, says gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD. Eating a heavy meal late in the evening can cause digestive unrest, causing nausea in the a.m.

This is especially true if you struggle with food allergies or sensitivities, like lactose intolerance, Dr. Sonpal says. Even if your food sensitivities don't necessarily cause nausea during the day, your stomach may not be able to process your meal while you're sleeping, wreaking havoc the next morning.

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The fix:​ Give your body a break from digestion while you sleep. Try to eat your last meal about three hours before bedtime, per the Mayo Clinic. And you might try your best to avoid any hard-to-digest foods in the evening, too, so your body doesn't need to break them down overnight. Fried or fatty foods, dairy products and spicy foods are common culprits of indigestion.

"If a person finds themself nauseous in the mornings, they should stick to light and plain meals for dinner and snacks prior to going to bed," Dr. Sonpal says.

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Also, avoid drinking alcohol several hours before bed, too, per the Mayo Clinic. This can not only cause nausea but may even disrupt your sleep.

Though it may seem obvious, always check the expiration date of your foods, Dr. Sonpal suggests. Eating expired foods may not necessarily cause you to vomit but can lead to nausea.

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2. You're Not Eating Enough Before Bed

On the other hand, hunger can also be a reason you're waking up nauseous, Dr. Sonpal says. Your blood sugar drops when you don't eat any food over extended periods of time. Low blood sugar can cause you to feel faint or nauseated.

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If you wake up feeling extremely hungry, sweaty or shaky, that's a pretty clear sign you may be having some mild low blood sugar, according to the University of Michigan Medicine. But if you're experiencing more severe symptoms like muscle twitching or slurred speech, you may want to consult a doctor.

In some cases, people living with diabetes may experience diabetic ketoacidosis, which causes your body to produce excess blood acids called ketones, Dr. Sonpal says. When your body floods with ketones, it can also lead to nausea. If you have diabetes and experience these symptoms, you'll want to see a medical professional on the best way to handle them.

The fix:​ You'll still want to avoid eating too soon before bedtime, but pick your foods wisely and eat slowly to help your body feel fuller, Dr. Sonpal says.

Aim to get a good balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) to promote satiety and eat plenty of vegetables. Veggies are rich in fiber, which helps control your blood sugar levels.

3. You Have Acid Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux, happens when your stomach acid flows back into your esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and stomach), according to the Mayo Clinic. This acid can cause pain and irritation in your esophagus.

"[Acid reflux] leads to a burning sensation in the throat and nausea," Dr. Sonpal says. "When sleeping in a flat position, acid reflux can be more prominent in the morning, rather than right after eating."

The fix:​ Cut fatty foods like cheese and red meats out of your evening meals or snacks, Dr. Sonpal recommends.

"Heavy foods like these cause the stomach to not digest as quickly as before," he says. "Thus, the cream and meat sit in the stomach acid for longer periods of time and leads to bloating and nausea."

Citrus fruits and all kinds of alcohol can also cause acid reflux in the morning, so you'll want to avoid those at night, too.

4. You're Feeling Anxious or Stressed

Believe it or not, anxiety and stress can cause nausea, especially if it's keeping you up at night. When you're anxious, your body releases hormones and chemicals that can affect your digestion, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. This chemical imbalance can cause various stomach issues, including nausea.

"Mental health and poor sleep patterns are also closely associated with morning nausea," Dr. Sonpal says. "Anxiety does not only directly affect a person's mental wellbeing but their physical health as well. Stress has a direct correlation to an uneasy stomach and should not be ruled out of the equation."

The fix:​ It's definitely easier said than done, but it's important to reduce anxiety and stress in your day-to-day life. In some cases, that can include consulting a mental health professional or using free mental health resources as needed.

Also, try to practice healthy sleep habits, Dr. Sonpal recommends. Staying up late at night, especially for work purposes, can definitely contribute to your anxiety or stress, causing nausea when you wake up.

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5. Your Reproductive Health Needs Attention

If you've started a new birth control, it may be the cause of your unwanted a.m. nausea. Nausea, dizziness and bloating are common side effects of combination birth control pills, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In some cases, nausea and vomiting can be a sign of morning sickness, a symptom of early pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often, morning sickness can be triggered by certain smells or spicy foods, but sometimes has no trigger at all.

The fix:​ If you think your new birth control pills may be causing unwanted side effects, you should consult your prescribing doctor to help manage symptoms or change your medications completely.

On the other hand, if you're experiencing morning sickness or have a late menstrual cycle, you may want to see a doctor or take a personal pregnancy test to see if pregnancy may be causing your morning nausea.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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