Waking up suddenly with a racing heart: the main causes

Waking up with a racing heart can be confusing and scary, but it’s rarely a cause for concern. Many factors can cause such a phenomenon, including diet, stress, lack of sleep and arrhythmia. Sometimes when you wake up you may feel like your heart is beating very fast or your chest is pounding. You may also feel shaky or anxious when this happens.

A racing heart may feel like heart palpitations or an arrhythmia. Although this phenomenon may seem disturbing, it is usually related to everyday factors such as anxiety and diet, and it is usually only temporary. You can also wake up with a racing heart due to the presence of a medical condition, such as diabetes, a sleep disorder, or anemia. People who suffer from it regularly should see their doctor, who will be able to determine or treat the underlying cause. This article looks at why you might wake up with a racing heart and when to see a doctor.

1 High stress or anxiety

There are many factors that can cause a person to wake up with a racing heart. Increased levels of anxiety and stress can trigger the release of hormones in the blood that increase heart rate. Anxiety is a very common cause of heart palpitations. In fact, about 31% of cases of heart palpitation are due to a mental factor such as stress, anxiety, or internal conflict. People with very stressful lifestyles and those with anxiety disorders can sometimes experience heart palpitations upon waking. These palpitations may be more pronounced during times of high stress or when anxiety symptoms worsen, but they can also occur out of the blue.

People suffering from stress or anxiety may also notice other symptoms, including:

– difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
– persistent worry
– difficulty resting
– shortness of breath
– rapid and shallow breathing

2 Diet

Diet can have a significant impact on sleep quality, and certain types of food, especially if a person eats them in the evening, can increase the risk of waking up with heart palpitations.

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sugar before bedtime

Consuming sugary foods before a nap or before bed can lead to waking up with heart palpitations. The body easily absorbs sugar, and eating sugary foods can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. This extra blood sugar can cause the body to release stress hormones, which can cause stress-like symptoms.


Caffeine consumption can also cause heart palpitations in some people. This stimulant, found in coffee, tea and sodas, can make your heart race.
A person may also experience symptoms such as
– tremors
– nervousness
– anxiety
– difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep


Dehydration can also cause an irregular heartbeat. Minor dehydration can cause symptoms such as thirst, dry mouth, and decreased urine flow. If the dehydration gets worse, the person may also experience a rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and low blood pressure.

alcohol at night

Drinking a lot of alcohol at night can cause your heart to race in the morning, especially after heavy drinking. Drinking alcohol makes your heart beat faster, and the body may take some time to recover. A person may notice other symptoms, such as:

– extreme thirst
– nausea
– muscle aches
– headaches
– tiredness


A nightmare is a disturbing dream. Nightmares can cause physical symptoms in the body and cause a person to wake up with a racing heart. She may also sweat and shake. Night terrors can also cause feelings of panic and rapid heartbeat upon waking. They are more common in children than in adults. People don’t always remember the specific details of these episodes. Sleep paralysis can also cause an increased heart rate. During these episodes, the person wakes up unable to move. She usually experiences intense fear and hallucinations, and may also feel pressure on her chest. If nightmares are the cause, the racing heartbeat usually subsides soon after waking up.

Lack of sleep

Lack of sleep can cause a number of health problems. A lack of sleep can also cause a person to feel that their heart rate is higher than usual.
Sleep disturbances or lack of sleep can cause a number of health problems. The next day, the person may also feel that their heart rate is slightly faster.
Here are other signs of a lack of sleep
– tiredness
– awkwardness
– mental fog

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Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the cause of many sleep-related symptoms and can also cause a rapid heartbeat upon waking. Sleep apnea occurs when a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night. These sudden pauses in breathing can reduce oxygen levels and put extra pressure on the heart.
Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
– very loud snoring that can wake the person up
– a feeling of lack of air on waking
– a dry mouth on waking
– not feeling well rested the next day

It is important to treat sleep apnea because the reduced oxygen supply to the brain and body can be very harmful in the long term. Sleep apnea can also contribute to new onsets of atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s electrical signals are out of sync, causing the upper chambers to beat too quickly. Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart rhythm abnormality. It causes heart palpitations, which some people describe as a racing heart.
It can also cause the following symptoms
– shortness of breath
– anxiety
– chest pain
– weakness and tiredness
– dizziness

Atrial fibrillation itself is not a serious condition, but it can increase the risk of certain complications, including heart failure and stroke.


Diabetes is a disease that affects blood sugar levels. When the blood sugar level is low (hypoglycemia), the person may have a racing heart and anxiety. This is because it triggers the release of epinephrine in the body. Epinephrine is a hormone associated with the “fight or flight” response.
The release of epinephrine can also cause:
– anxiety
– tingling
– sweats
Low blood sugar can also cause fatigue, confusion, hunger, and nausea. Over time, repeated episodes of high and low blood sugar can increase the risk of cardiovascular and circulatory problems. Effective management of diabetes can reduce these risks.

female sex hormones

Waking up with a racing heart can also be linked to the menstrual cycle. Specifically, a racing heart may be due to changes in the body’s hormone levels.
Significant changes in estrogen and progesterone levels in the body can cause the heart to race in some women. As you approach menopause, estrogen levels naturally decrease, which can also lead to a rapid heart rate. Episodes of hot flashes can also cause your heart to beat faster.

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Certain medications

Certain medications, especially stimulants, can also cause a rapid heartbeat upon waking.
Heart palpitations can be a side effect of the following medicines:

– inhaled steroids, such as those people use to treat asthma
– pseudoephedrine, which is a common ingredient in cold medicines
– Ritalin and Adderall, used to treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity
– certain thyroid medicines.

Anyone taking medication should check their label or contact a pharmacy for possible side effects that may affect the heart.

When to consult a doctor

Anyone with serious symptoms in addition to a racing heart, such as chest pain and dizziness, should contact emergency medical services. These are signs of a heart attack and they require immediate medical attention. That said, having your heart racing for a few seconds after a nap is probably not a problem. However, if it happens again, it is important to see a doctor. Indeed, constant palpitations can be a sign of an underlying problem. Anyone with a history of heart disease who suffers from palpitations should also see a doctor. Correctly diagnosing the problem can take time. Doctors may perform a physical examination and ask the person about the medications they are taking. They will likely order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor the heart


Heart palpitations. (nd). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-palpitations
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). (nd).
Kendzerska, T., et al. (2017). Sleep apnea increases the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation: A clinical cohort study [Résumé].
Wexler, R., et al. (2017). Palpitations: Assessment in the primary care setting.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice.

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