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Why Am I Feeling Sick At Night?

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Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

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2 April 2024 9 min read

Are you feeling sick at night? We might have a clue as to why.

It is not uncommon for people to get nauseous when it gets dark. Most of us end up feeling sick at night at one point or the other. It just happens.

But, regardless of whether nighttime nausea is common or not – it's still unpleasant. It's still making it harder for us to fall asleep.

Today, we thought we'd discuss some of the reasons why you might be feeling sick at night and maybe offer a solution or two. Sounds good? Let's begin.

What is nighttime nausea?

Before we go any further, we have to answer one question – what is nighttime nausea and is it any different than regular nausea?

Well, first off, nausea is defined as a feeling of sickness with an inclination to vomit. So, that's pretty straightforward.

An image of a young black women having an eye fatigue,

As for nighttime nausea, it's basically the same thing – except it happens at night. That's it. It doesn't necessarily mean that there's anything wrong with you or that something serious is going on (although it might be) – it can just be a result of various things (which we'll get into shortly).

The symptoms of nighttime nausea

Before we get into causes and potential cures, we first have to talk about symptoms.

Sweating

Nighttime sweats are a very common symptom of nausea. You might find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with your sheets and clothes drenched.

Sweating is a common co-symptom of various stomach aches and pains, so if you're experiencing it – there's a chance that your nausea might be caused by something else entirely.

An image of a woman sweating under arm.

Stomach pain

Pain and discomfort in the stomach area is another common symptom of nausea. It might be a dull ache or a sharp pain, although the former is far more common.

The pain might be constant or it might come and go. It all depends on the individual case.

It is usually localized in the upper stomach area, just below the ribs. But, in some cases, it can radiate to other parts of the body such as the lower back or abdomen.

Feeling that you will throw up

The urge to vomit is, of course, one of the most defining symptoms of nausea and upset stomach. If you feel like you're going to throw up – chances are that you are nauseous.

This feeling can be (and usually is) accompanied by an increased production of saliva which might make you feel like you have to constantly swallow. If these two come together, there's a good chance you'll actually vomit.

Retching

Retching is basically the act of trying to vomit without actually throwing up. It's the sensation of your stomach muscles contracting and your whole body tensing up as you try to get rid of something that's making you sick.

It's a very unpleasant feeling and it can be quite painful if it persists. Unfortunately, it doesn't always lead to vomiting which can just make the whole experience even worse.

An image of a woman feeling nauseous .

Vomiting

The final (and most obvious) symptom of nausea is vomiting. This is when your body actually expels the contents of your stomach through your mouth.

It's obviously not a pleasant experience, but it is often the only way to get rid of the feeling of nausea and get back to feeling okay.

Sometimes, vomiting can be accompanied by stomach acid reflux, although this is far from the norm. It usually happens if vomiting persists.

The causes of nighttime nausea

As for the causes and culprits, the list is very extensive. Pretty much anything can make you feel nauseous. So, we'll just go over some of the most common ones.

Anxiety & stress

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the world. In the UK alone, it's estimated that around 8% of the population suffers from some form of anxiety.

So, it's no surprise that anxiety is a common cause of nausea. When we're stressed or anxious, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. This causes various physical reactions such as an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and so on.

What it also causes is upset stomach, pain and nausea.

an image of a woman having stress caused by nightmares

Digestive issues

Of course, another very common cause of nausea (particularly at night) are various digestive issues. These can range from relatively harmless things such as indigestion or a bad dinner, all the way to more serious conditions such as Crohn's disease or gastritis.

GERD

GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is a condition in which the contents of your stomach leak back up into your oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach).

This can cause all sorts of problems, including heartburn, chest pain and – you guessed it – nausea.

Side effects of medications

Every single tablet you've taken comes with a pretty extensive list of potential side effects. It doesn't matter if we're talking about antibiotics, NSAIDs, antidepressants, chemo or just multivitamins. And, while most of them are relatively rare, they can still occur.

Nausea is a very common side effect of many different medications. So, if you've started taking something new recently and you're feeling nauseous – there's a chance that it might be the cause.

an image of medications for pain alleviation

Peptic ulcers

Peptic ulcers (also called stomach ulcers) are sores that form in the lining of your stomach or oesophagus. They're usually caused by an infection with a bacterium called H. pylori.
Ulcers can cause all sorts of digestive problems, including pain, heartburn and even extreme nausea.

Can they be treated or do you need surgery? Thankfully, peptic ulcers can be treated with a combination of antibiotics and medications that reduce or neutralize stomach acid. However, what causes them is also what determines the therapy.

Gastroparesis

Delayed gastric emptying, otherwise known as gastroparesis, is a chronic condition in which your stomach takes longer to empty its contents. This can be caused by various conditions such as diabetes (both 1 and 2), certain medications or surgery.

Gastroparesis can cause all sorts of digestive issues, including indigestion, heartburn, vomiting, bloating and nausea. The good news is that it can be treated with medication and, in some extreme cases, surgery.

Pregnancy

Nausea is also a very common symptom of pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester. It's often colloquially referred to as “morning sickness”, although it can happen at any time of day. This is caused by various hormonal changes in the body and it's completely normal.

It should go away on its own as the pregnancy progresses. However, in some cases, it can last throughout the entire pregnancy, along with other symptoms.

There are many possible explanations for why pregnant women experience severe nausea at night (or morning (or afternoon)). One theory is that it's caused by an increase in hormones such as progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

an image of AngQi 65 inch Pregnancy pillow

How to stop feeling sick at night?

Now, for the part you've been patiently waiting for – how to stop this annoying feeling.

The bad thing is – there is no one method that solves it all. Sure, you can take anti-nausea medication to alleviate nausea, but the thing is, medicine can upset your stomach, too. The good thing is – there are loads of things you can do until you find the one that works best for you.

On that note, here are our favourites.

An image of a young and beautiful woman sleeping alone.

Sleep inclined

Sleeping with your head elevated works best with conditions like GERD and gastroparesis. This is because it prevents stomach acid from creeping up your oesophagus while you sleep.

You can do this by simply stacking a couple of pillows on top of each other or if you want to get fancy, invest in an adjustable bed.

Eat smaller meals more often

This one is particularly helpful if you're pregnant or suffering from gastroparesis. Eating several small meals throughout the day is much easier on your digestive system than gorging yourself at dinner time and then going to bed on a full stomach.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration can also cause nausea (or make nausea worse), so make sure you're drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day. Water is always a good choice, but some teas can also help settle your persistent nausea.

An image of a young woman drinking water during the workout.

Avoid strong smells

Strong smells have a tendency to trigger nausea (especially during pregnancy), so it's best to avoid them if possible. If you must go outside, try holding your breath or breathing through your mouth. And, if you're cooking, open all the windows and doors to let some fresh air in.

Drink a bit of fruit juice before sleep

Having a small glass of fruit (cranberry or apple) juice before bed can help settle your stomach and prevent nausea. Just make sure you don't drink too much or you'll end up waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom (or you'll further upset your stomach).

Drink peppermint or ginger tea

Ginger and peppermint have long been used to calm the stomach and prevent nausea. You can find them in tea form at most grocery stores. They're super affordable, quite tasty, and may just do the trick.

An image of a woman in socks on bed drinking tea.

Acupressure

There are pressure points in your body that, when stimulated, can help relieve nausea.

The most common ones are the P6 and LI4 points, located on the inner side of your wrist (about three finger widths below the base of your palm) and between your index finger and thumb (about half an inch inward on the back of your hand).

You can stimulate these points by gently rubbing them with your finger or using an acupressure wristband.

Eat a cracker before bedtime

Finally, eating dry and bland foods like crackers before bedtime can also help prevent nausea. They'll help absorb any excess acid and hopefully settle your stomach for the night.

When to see a doctor for feeling sick at night

If nausea persists, despite all your efforts, it's a good idea to seek medical attention and talk to your doctor. There could be any number of reasons why you're feeling ill, and only a medical professional can help determine the cause and prescribe proper medicine.

Nausea, in some cases, can be a sign of a more serious problem, such as cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) or even cancer. So don't wait – make an appointment today and get feeling like yourself again.

So, in summation, there are many things you can do to prevent feeling sick at night. From sleeping with your head elevated to drinking peppermint tea, there's sure to be a method that works best for you. And, if all else fails, don't hesitate to see a doctor!

Hopefully, you've found this helpful.

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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