You're Not Hungover or Pregnant, So Why Do You Feel Sick in the Morning?

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If you’ve ever woken up in the morning and been hit with a wave of nausea, you know it’s a pretty miserable way to start the day. But if you’ve ruled out two of the more obvious culprits – pregnancy or a hangover – it can also be confusing. Morning sickness and one too many glasses of wine are certainly not the only reason you may feel queasy. So, what is making you want to reach for the saltine crackers and ginger ale first thing in the morning? POPSUGAR spoke with experts to learn more about the underlying causes of morning nausea and how you can find relief.

Why Do I Feel Nauseous in the Morning?

While there are many reasons you may feel nauseous, some of the more common culprits tie back to your eating habits. “Going all night without food can leave stomach acid to cause morning stomach upset,” Jason Womack, MD, associate professor of family medicine at Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells POPSUGAR. Lying flat at night allows the acid to back up into the esophagus, resulting in what’s commonly known as acid reflux. “Gastritis or acid reflux can be associated with morning nausea,” Dr. Womack says.

What you eat before bed can exacerbate the issue. “Many times, timing – eating too late – or food content, like fat-laden or heavily-seasoned foods, can lead to the reflux of stomach acid,” explains Becky Batiste Ferrier, MD, a family medicine physician at North Oaks Primary Care in Hammond, LA. “Quick changes, such as allowing a two-hour window prior to bedtime and the avoidance of potential triggering foods, may alleviate symptoms.” Dr. Womack adds that propping yourself up in bed can help reduce acid reflux, and “you can also try morning antacids for temporary relief.”

But food, or the lack thereof, is not the only thing that could be to blame. “Nausea also can be medication related,” Dr. Batiste Ferrier says, adding that taking medication on an empty stomach or starting a new medication can both cause you to feel sick. If you’re taking a prescription and struggling with morning nausea, talk to your doctor. “All medications and the medication schedule should be reviewed,” Dr. Ferrier tells POPSUGAR.

Dr. Womack notes that nausea can sometimes be linked to vertigo. “Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is one of the most common causes of vertigo,” he says. “The symptoms often occur with change in position. In the morning, it happens when a person goes from a lying to a seated and standing position.” Persistent vertigo symptoms should be discussed with a doctor. Finally, Dr. Batiste Ferrier explains that stress, exhaustion, and anxiety – which often surface on busy mornings – can also manifest in physical symptoms like nausea. If that’s the case, you should talk to your doctor or therapist to address your emotional health.

When to See a Doctor For Morning Nausea

Don’t wait to talk to a doctor about nausea if it becomes a persistent problem, especially if your symptoms don’t go away with lifestyle modifications or the temporary use of medication. “More worrisome causes of morning nausea are problems that increase brain pressure,” Dr. Womack says. “This could be related to brain tumors.”

Related and concerning symptoms to be aware of include changes in vision, weakness, vomiting, fever, weight loss, trouble walking, or confusion. “If these are present, it is strongly encouraged for patients to consult their primary care provider,” Dr. Batiste Ferrier says. “This could potentially be due to more concerning health issues related to possible infectious, structural, or metabolic causes of nausea.”

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