Why do I feel sick in the morning? Most common reasons for morning nausea
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Waking up in the morning feeling sick is a frustrating experience, especially if you're not sure what's causing the nausea.
By now, you've probably already considered (and Googled) all the reasons why you might be feeling unwell - everything from the early signs of pregnancy (opens in new tab) to the symptoms of Omicron (opens in new tab). But it might also just be something as simple as low blood sugar and all you need is a healthy breakfast to get you feeling better.
So if you're struggling with feel queasy when you wake up but don't know what's causing it, take a look below. We've asked the experts why exactly we are feeling under the weather when we wake up and what we can do to stop it.
Why do I feel sick in the morning?
It could be a number of reasons, GP Sonal Shah (opens in new tab) says, including a lack of sleep, anxiety or your current diet.
While feeling sick in the morning is really unpleasant and doesn't make us relish getting out of bed, it's unlikely that it's something to worry about in the long term. A lot of the time, the symptoms can be banished by taking a few simple next steps. And sometimes, although we hate to admit it, it's the result of overdoing it one way or another the night before.
But in some cases, like an inner ear infection or pregnancy, it's important to recognise the other symptoms and seek help from a medical professional. If you do have any major concerns, it’s best to speak to your GP as soon as possible so you can get checked out. Even if there’s nothing to worry about, confiding in a professional can give you peace of mind.
A lack of sleep famously wreaks havoc with our circadian rhythm. This leads to exhaustion that can make you feel sick in the morning. Not having enough sleep can also make us feel grumpy, irritable and unable to focus on everyday tasks. You’ll feel drowsy and unlike yourself, and the nausea can be particularly unpleasant.
No one is themselves after a bad night's sleep but there are steps you can take to ensure your body is getting enough rest to take on the next day. Sleeping well is key to staying focused, alert, and helping you to get through all your tasks much easier.
How to fix it: The first step to sleeping better is to fix your sleep schedule (opens in new tab).
“Commit to a set wake-up time then work backwards to establish the time at which you need to go to sleep," says Rob Hobson, author of The Art of Sleeping (opens in new tab).“If your goal is 7.5 hours’ sleep in total, and you aim to wake up at 6.30am, you should be looking to fall asleep at 11pm. A sleep starting point between 9.30pm and 11pm works in sync with the natural flow of your circadian rhythm.”
Also, avoid resist hitting the snooze button when your alarm goes off - even though we all know how tempting it can be. "Falling asleep again will leave you feeling groggy and nauseous because you put your body and brain out of sync with their natural rhythm," Rob adds.
Feeling sick in the morning can also be boiled down to a symptom of anxiety (opens in new tab) – often made worse by other factors, such as hormonal changes. According to Anxiety UK (opens in new tab), around 98% of women feel anxious during menopause for instance, due to oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations and changes in cortisol levels.
How to fix it: "Pharmaceutical quality lavender oil has been shown to improve the symptoms of anxiety, without sedative side-effects," says Kathy Abernethy from the British Menopause Society (opens in new tab).
Try Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules to ease morning anxiety.
Kalms are a natural herbal medicine, designed to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and nervousness. Take one capsule per day, if you're feeling sick in the morning, with a full glass of water.
Low blood sugar
You may experience feelings of sickness if your blood sugar level – known as glucose level - is too low. This is called hypoglycaemia and happens when the body doesn’t have enough glucose to create energy. This mainly affects people with diabetes, especially if they take insulin. Although it's uncommon, people without diabetes can also experience hypoglycaemia due to alcohol or fasting.
How to fix it: If you have other symptoms of hypoglycaemia such as fatigue, headaches and dizziness, see your GP. This could be a sign of another health problem such as diabetes and a professional will be able to give you more comprehensive advice.
To boost your blood sugar level when you wake, have something to hand in the kitchen while you make that first morning cup of coffee or tea. Dietician Sophie Medlin (opens in new tab) says,“Ideally you want something that’s going to bring your blood sugars up a little bit and also maintain them there. So a savoury carbohydrate type snack would be the best thing to have."
Headaches, tiredness and waking up feeling sick can all be attributed to being dehydrated in many cases. It's the body's way of letting us know that we are losing more fluids than we're taking in and we need to re-balance the scales - fast.
Dehydration, nausea and vomiting actually go hand-in-hand, says Aisling Moran, Nutritional Scientist at Thriva.co (opens in new tab). "Vomiting often causes dehydration because your body is losing fluids, so it can be vicious cycle that nobody wants to experience."
How to fix it: "Drinking enough water, particularly if you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun or excised very vigorously will help prevent this," Aisling says. "You might find it hard to drink fluids if you’re feeling sick, so starting with little sips can help."
"Feeling sick in the morning when waking up may be related to an imbalance of hormones in the body." Claire Barnes, Technical Advisor and Nutritional Therapist at Bio-Kult (opens in new tab) says, "Cortisol, often referred to as our ‘stress hormone’ is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress."
Naturally, our levels of cortisol should be high in the morning, providing us with that ‘jump-out-bed vibrancy’ to face the day ahead and then gradually reduce during the day. By the evening, Claire says, we should feel relaxed and ready to settle to sleep again.
"Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are many obstacles throughout the day that can throw this natural rhythm, upsetting our hormone levels, sleep pattern and metabolism."
How to fix it: Claire says the best way to fix this hormone imbalance is to eat set meals at the same time every day and stick to a good sleeping routine. "Sticking to a routine of falling asleep at the same time each night and waking at the same time each morning can also help to keep our hormones and metabolism in balance."
She adds, "Importantly, avoid eating late into the evening, stop eating and drinking anything other than water or herbal teas at least 2 hours before going to bed."
There are up to 47 symptoms we can suffer with a hangover. And as many of us know, feeling sick in the morning is certainly one of them.
“Alcohol damages the stomach and intestine lining and so can both give you diarrhoea and leave you feeling nauseous,” says Professor David Nutt, doctor and author of Drink?: The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health (opens in new tab).
How to fix it: Sleep and hydration will make you feel better, but there’s no ‘quick fix’ when it comes to how to cure a hangover (opens in new tab). You can avoid one by pacing yourself when you drink, reducing the amount you drink in a session. You can also alternate water with alcoholic drinks.
Alternatively, it's worth looking at the benefits of giving up alcohol (opens in new tab) for good if you find yourself suffering regularly.
Is heartburn making you feel sick in the morning? Acid reflux can cause a burning sensation in the chest, a sour taste in the mouth, burping, and feeling of nausea.
"Whilst many believe excess stomach acid leads to heartburn, latest theories now suggest the symptoms may actually be associated with low levels of stomach acid," Claire Barnes from Bio-Kult says. "Our stomach acid is our first line of defence against harmful microbes entering the intestines, therefore low stomach acid could potentially lead to bacterial overgrowth and a decreased absorption of important nutrients, such as B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. As deficiencies of these nutrients could lead to changes in hormone and neurotransmitter production in the body, this can again link back to hormonal imbalances leading to stress, anxiety and feelings of nausea.
"Psychological stress typically triggers a release of hormones and neurotransmitter production in various parts of the body, which ultimately disturbs our gut microbes. An altered gut microbiota can in turn affect the regulation of neurotransmitters and hormones which can lead to a vicious cycle of continual stress and gut microbiota disturbance."
How to fix it: Avoid eating too close to bedtime and spend some time upright after meals to prevent stomach acids from rising.
Sleeping with your head and upper chest elevated can also help reduce symptoms in the morning.
Antacid tablets can also to neutralise stomach acids.
Feeling sick in the morning – with or without vomiting – could also be a key sign that you’re pregnant. Around 80 per cent of pregnant women experience morning nausea (opens in new tab), which tends to start between week 4 and 9 of a pregnancy.
How to fix it: Take a home pregnancy test if there’s a chance that you could pregnant.
“Morning sickness often eases after the first three months of pregnancy,” says Maggie Evans, healthcare practitioner for Spatone (opens in new tab). “You may find eating a little of the following foods after you wake, helps.”
- Anything containing ginger in, including ginger biscuits, ginger tea and ginger beer.
- Fizzy drinks, especially lemonade.
- Dry crackers.
Inner ear infection
As well as feeling sick in the morning, do you have dizziness and a loss of balance? If so it could be Labyrinthitis.
This inner ear condition is cause by inflammation of the nerve that sends balance information to the brain. Is usually triggered by a virus such as a cold or flu, or, more rarely, a bacterial infection, explains dizziness expert Professor Adolfo Bronstein.
How to fix it: An anti-sickness drug keep the nausea at bay for two to three days and, once that works, you’ll be encouraged to get up and about rather than stay in bed.
Is feeling sick a Covid symptom?
Feeling sick is not one of the three main symptoms associated with Covid-19. These are: high temperature, new and continuous cough and a change to your sense of taste or smell.
However, with the emergence of the Delta and Omicron (opens in new tab) variants, it's important to be aware of some other symptoms being reported by sufferers. These include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
If you're experiencing any cold-like symptoms, it's important that you book a PCR test. Lateral flow tests can be false positive (opens in new tab) or negative, so it's important not to just use one of these if you're showing signs of coronavirus.
What to eat when you feel sick
While feeling sick in the morning normally goes away on its own, there are some foods that may make you feel better.
The NHS recommends (opens in new tab):
- Have a cold drink – some people find fizzy drinks best, be sure to sip them slowly though.
- Drink ginger or peppermint tea.
- Eat foods containing ginger – such as ginger biscuits.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals - rather than larger ones, spaced apart by hours at a time.
They also suggest getting plenty of fresh air.
To this, Sonal Shah adds, "Mild nausea can be remedied with changes to your diet. Also by avoiding eating larger meals right before bedtime which can trigger a blood sugar crash, which causes nausea. Have ginger tea and something dry to eat like toast, granola or some fruit if you can. The hunger itself and low blood sugar levels can lead to nausea. Avoid coffee if feeling sick as this can dehydrate the body more."
So while feeling sick in the morning might be unpleasant, it's often easy to fix and you'll be feeling right as rain in no time.
Why do I feel sick every day?
If you find that you're feeling sick regularly, this might indicate that there's a wider problem at hand.
If you suffer from insomnia, stress, anxiety or you've been eating poorly, this could contribute to more regular feelings of nausea. Lifestyle improvements such as a regular sleeping pattern, drinking more water and eating a balanced diet might help to banish nasty feelings of sickness.
Always speak to your GP if you have concerns.
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Senior writer Ali Horsfall has almost 15 years of experience as a journalist and has written for national print titles and women’s lifestyle brands including Woman & Home, Woman, Woman's Own, BBC magazines, Mothercare, Grazia and The Independent.
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