You wake up in the night, heart pounding. You can feel it rattling your chest, and you can’t imagine what could be causing it all to happen. You’re just lying there in bed, no exercise, no heavy exertion. That pounding heart is a worrying condition, and you need to know what’s going on.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons your heart is racing during the night and what that might mean for you.
What Kinds Of Palpitations Might I Be Feeling?
Medical science recognizes a few different types of arrhythmias but here are the most common:
- Supraventricular tachycardia: Originates above the lower heart chambers and can cause the heart to beat quickly. You could feel dizzy and have the sensation of a “racing” heart.
- Atrial Fibrillation: The most common type and may cause blockages later on. It causes a rapid, irregular heartbeat along with possible shortness of breath and chest pains.
- Ventricular Tachycardia: Originates in the lower heart chambers and may indicate a structural issue within the heart. It could cause loss of consciousness or possibly cardiac arrest.
In general, many cases of a racing heart have nothing to do with genetics or defects in the heart chambers. Lots of external factors can trigger a pounding heart, causing you to feel it strongest when you’re lying still with no distractions.
So Why Am I Waking Up With A Fast Heart Rate?
It’s not just exercise that can send your heart racing. Critical physiological factors can cause your heart to race as well, and not all are harmless. Getting to the bottom of what it’s happening is the first step to making it stop.
Are you feeling the stress of everyday life? Are things making you feel like you’re under a tremendous strain?
Your worries don’t stop when you lay your head down. If you’re waking up with a pounding heart and no other symptoms, it’s a good sign you’ve got way too much on your plate. Stress causes hormones to run through your body and puts you in a constant fight or flight mode. Your body doesn’t care what your “danger” is. It only cares about keeping you safe. Once those hormones have started, that anxiety can continue well into the night without you realizing what’s happening.
Be honest. Are you drinking too much caffeine? You know that caffeine can elevate your heart rate and keep your body in a fight or flight response. The same chemicals that give you a quick pick me up in the morning may work against you when present in too great of an amount.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, it may not take that much to feel the same effect. Depending on your biology, it could be challenging to process even small amounts of caffeine, so watch the effects carefully.
Consuming large amounts of sugar before laying down can spike your blood sugar levels and cause your heart to race. As your body tries to digest these sugars, heart palpitations are likely. Even things as innocent as cereal for a snack can cause those same blood sugar spikes and keep you from fully resting.
Alcohol is processed much the same way as sugar. It’s dehydrating and causes blood sugar spikes that keep you from sleeping peacefully. When you drink heavily, whether just before bed or not, it’s a serious detriment to your peaceful sleep.
As your body processes the sugars from the alcohol, it can cause arrhythmias. If you’re drinking because you’re stressed and wanting to calm down, it may even make things worse for you in the long term. You could find it easier to go to sleep, but much much harder to stay that way.
Medication can be the cause of some heart issues. When you begin taking a new medication, check the side effects to see if heart issues could be present. It’s such a common side effect that doctors will often ask if you’re taking medications when you’re experiencing heart issues.
You may not even realize you suffer from Sleep Apnea, but one sign of the condition is a pounding chest in the morning. Sleep Apnea puts your body under constant stress that causes you to develop a condition called atrial fibrillation or a quickening of the heartbeat. It can happen at any time during the day, but it’s most common in the morning.
You may not think to get checked for Sleep Apnea, but it can be a vital part of your diagnosis if you’ve ruled out every other possibility.
If you suffer from hyperthyroidism, your body produces too much of a hormone called thyroxine. It speeds up your metabolism, which can cause irregular or rapid heartbeat. You may not notice as much during the day, but at night when you’re still, it can be a lot more noticeable. Other symptoms include sudden weight loss and an unusually strong appetite. All seemingly positive things, but in reality, the long-term effects of hypothyroidism are dangerous.
If your blood doesn’t have sufficient oxygen, your heart has to work harder to supply more blood so that the body doesn’t go into shock. More blood may mean more oxygen, but it also spells a racing, pounding heart. Anemia occurs when you don’t have enough blood cells or hemoglobin within the blood, and other symptoms could be fatigue, dizziness, and pale skin. Headaches are also common.
What Do I Do About It?
For many of the issues above, the answer is merely cutting out the trigger. Alcohol, sugar, and caffeine are stimulants, so carefully controlling the amount that you ingest, especially as the hours tick closer to bedtime, can be the solution.
For mental conditions, helping your mind to relax and slow down can help reduce the occurrences of a racing heart. Mindfulness training, or simply taking a day off work could help, as well as cutting out electronics and not working right before bedtime. Using calming scents to help relax and drinking (noncaffeinated) tea may help soothe your mind and subsequently your body into a more relaxed state of sleep.
Physical factors can be more difficult because you’ll need a diagnosis before knowing what to do. Treating the underlying physical cause may help alleviate the pounding heart, but you won’t know until your condition is under control. If your heart is still racing, you may have to explore other factors.
How Do I Get A Diagnosis?
Depending on the underlying cause, it may not be a deathly diagnosis right away. It’s essential, however, to distinguish between stress or other external triggers and an underlying heart condition. If you are experiencing a racing heart regularly when you wake up, cut out the external triggers. If a week passes, and you don’t feel any changes, it’s probably time to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Since your palpitations haven’t eased with the removal of known environmental triggers, your doctor will want to understand the basic structure of your heart as well as run tests for related conditions that could cause your heart to race. These may include blood tests to check for things like anemia or sleep tests for conditions such as Sleep Apnea.
You may also have an electrocardiogram to record your heart rhythms for 24 to 48 hours. It consists of small electrodes attached to your chest that sends signals to a box you can carry in your pocket or attach to a waistband. It records your heartbeat, giving your doctor a better idea of what your palpitations are like.
Is It Dangerous?
Long-term heart issues can cause stress on the heart itself, paving the way for high blood pressure, blood clots, or other dangerous conditions. When your heart is overworked, it weakens, causing a vicious cycle that may lead to chambers shutting down. You should never ignore heart symptoms.
What Happens Next?
If your heart pounding is caused by external triggers, lifestyle changes may be all you need to get back to feeling normal. Removing caffeine and sugar. Drinking fewer drinks or not at all. Calming exercises to help quiet your stress and taking steps to ensure quality sleep. Your doctor may also recommend that you add physical activity to strengthen your heart and switch medications that don’t have the same effect as your current medication.
If your condition is more significant, your doctor may prescribe a medication to help regulate the heart. Conditions like anemia sometimes require more than just lifestyle changes as well. Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers are often prescribed to help regulate the heart in the face of underlying conditions.
In the most severe case, surgery may be required to remove blockages causing your heart to work harder or to clear possible arterial issues. After your surgery, it’s vital that you follow the treatment plan your doctor has in place to prevent further problems.
A Pounding Heart Isn’t The End
Most cases of pounding hearts are simple lifestyle factors that can change. Getting your heart checked out and following the plan will help get you feeling like your usual self and sleeping without your chest feeling like it’s going to break. Put those palpitations behind you and get back to your life.