Waking up with a racing heart can be confusing and scary, but it is rarely a cause for concern. Many factors can cause a person to wake up with a racing heart, including diet, stress, sleep deprivation, and arrhythmia.

Sometimes, upon waking, it may feel as though the heart is beating very fast or pounding in the chest. A person may also feel shaky or anxious when this happens.

A racing heart may feel similar to heart palpitations or arrhythmia. Although this might feel worrying, it is typically linked to everyday factors such as anxiety and diet, and it is usually only temporary.

A person may 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 experience this regularly may want to check in with their doctor, who will be able to determine or treat the underlying cause.

This article takes a look at the reasons a person may wake up with their heart racing and when to see a doctor.

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There are many factors that may cause a person to wake up with a racing heart.

Increases in anxiety and stress levels may trigger the release of hormones in the blood that raise heart rate.

Anxiety is a very common cause of heart palpitations. In fact, according to American Family Physician, around 31% of heart palpitation cases are due to a mental factor such as stress, anxiety, or internal conflict.

People with high stress lifestyles and those with anxiety disorders might sometimes experience heart palpitations when they wake up. This may be more pronounced during periods of high stress or when anxiety symptoms are worse, though it can also happen out of the blue.

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

  • trouble falling or staying asleep
  • persistent worrying
  • difficulty resting
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid, shallow breathing

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

Sugar before bed

Consuming sugary foods before a nap or before bed may cause a person to wake up with their heart racing.

The body absorbs sugar easily, and eating sugary foods can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels.

This extra sugar in the blood may cause the body to release stress hormones, which can cause similar symptoms to those of stress.


Caffeine consumption may also cause heart palpitations in some people. The stimulant — which is present in coffee, tea, and soda — may cause the heart to race.

A person may also experience symptoms such as:

  • jitters
  • nervousness
  • anxiety
  • trouble falling or staying asleep


Dehydration can also cause an irregular heartbeat. Minor dehydration may cause symptoms such as thirst, a dry mouth, and a decrease in urine output.

If the dehydration gets worse, a person may also experience a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, and low blood pressure.

Alcohol at night

Drinking a lot of alcohol at night may cause a racing heart in the morning, especially after heavy drinking.

Alcohol consumption speeds up heart rate, and it can take some time for the body to recover from this.

A person may notice other symptoms, such as:

People with anemia do not have enough healthy red blood cells circulating in their bodies. This can give rise to a number of symptoms, including heart palpitations.

A person may also experience other symptoms, such as:

  • headaches
  • general fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty concentrating

A nightmare is a disturbing dream. Nightmares can cause physical symptoms in the body and may cause a person to wake up with a racing heart. They might also experience sweating and shaking.

Night terrors can also cause a person to wake up feeling panicked and with a racing heart. They are more common in children than adults. People do not always remember the specific details of these episodes.

Sleep paralysis can also lead to a racing heart. During these episodes, a person wakes up unable to move. They will usually experience intense fear and hallucinations, and they may also feel a pressure on their chest.

If nightmares are the cause, the racing heartbeat will usually subside shortly after waking up.

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Sleep deprivation may cause a number of health issues.

A lack of sleep may also cause a person to feel that their heart rate is higher than usual.

Sleep disturbances or not getting enough sleep may cause a number of health issues. The next day, the person may also feel that their heartbeat is slightly faster.

The Radiological Society of North America note that after just 24 hours of sleep deprivation, study participants experienced increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Other signs of not getting enough sleep include:

  • fatigue
  • clumsiness
  • mental fog

Sleep apnea causes many sleep related symptoms, and it may also cause a racing heartbeat upon waking.

Sleep apnea occurs when a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night. These sudden pauses in breathing can lower oxygen levels and put extra stress on the heart.

Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • very loud snoring that may wake the person up
  • waking up gasping for air
  • a dry mouth when waking up
  • not feeling well rested the next day

Treating sleep apnea is important, as the reduction of oxygen to the brain and body can be very harmful over time.

According to the American Thoracic Society, sleep apnea may also contribute to new appearances of atrial fibrillation (A-fib).

A-fib occurs when the electrical signals in the heart are out of sync, which causes the upper chambers to beat too fast.

A-fib is the most common type of abnormal heartbeat. It causes heart palpitations, which some people may describe as a racing heart.

It may also cause people to experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • anxiety
  • chest pain
  • weakness and fatigue
  • dizziness

A-fib itself is not a serious condition, though it may increase the risk of some complications, including heart failure and stroke.

Diabetes is a condition that affects people’s blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are low (hypoglycemia), a person may experience a pounding heart and anxiety.

This is because it triggers the release of epinephrine in the body. Epinephrine is a hormone linked to the “fight-or-flight” response.

The release of epinephrine can also cause:

  • anxiety
  • tingling
  • sweating

Low blood sugar can also give rise to fatigue, confusion, hunger, and nausea.

Over time, repeat instances of high and low blood sugar levels can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular and other circulatory issues. Effectively managing diabetes helps reduce these risks.

Waking up with a racing heart may also be linked to the menstrual cycle. More specifically, a racing heart may occur due to shifts in the body’s hormone levels.

Significant changes in the estrogen and progesterone levels in the body may lead to a racing heart in some females.

As they near menopause, their estrogen levels naturally decline, which may also cause the heart rate to rise. Episodes of hot flashes may also cause a rapid heartbeat.

Changes in the body’s temperature, such as from having a fever, may also cause changes in heart rate. A person with a fever may also experience symptoms such as:

  • sweating
  • chills
  • general fatigue
  • achy or sore muscles

Certain medications, specifically stimulants, might also cause a person to wake up with their heart racing.

Heart palpitations may be a side effect of the following medications:

  • inhaled steroids, such as those that people use to treat asthma
  • pseudoephedrine, which is a common ingredient in cold medications
  • Ritalin and Adderall, which people use to treat the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • some thyroid medications

Anyone taking medications should check their label or contact a pharmacy to find out about possible side effects that may affect the heart.

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If a person is concerned about a racing heart, they should see their doctor for a physical exam.

Anyone who experiences serious symptoms alongside a racing heart, such as chest pain and dizziness, should contact emergency medical services. These are signs of a heart attack and require immediate medical care.

That said, experiencing a racing heart for a few seconds after waking up from a nap is likely not an issue. However, if it keeps happening, it is important to see a doctor. This is because consistent heart palpitations may be a sign of an underlying issue.

Anyone with a history of heart disease who experiences heart palpitations should also see a doctor.

Correctly diagnosing the issue may take time. Doctors may perform a physical exam and ask the person about any medications they are taking. They will likely order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor the heart.

In many cases, doctors will also order a Holter monitor, which acts as a long term ECG. The person wears this for a full day, and it records the heart’s pulses. This gives the doctor a better overall view of the heart activity and greatly helps them with their diagnosis.

Learn about methods that people can use to try to stop heart palpitations here.

Waking up with a racing heart does not tend to be a cause for concern. Episodes that last for a moment or two before subsiding generally do not require treatment.

However, regularly experiencing a racing heartbeat after waking up is a sign to see a doctor. People should note any other symptoms they experience, as this may help the diagnostic process.

Treating any underlying medical issues should help treat the heart palpitations in most cases.