Just when you think your insomnia symptoms can’t get any worse, you start feeling sick to your stomach. Is it a coincidence or does lack of sleep cause nausea? Research shows that lack of sleep nausea is possible. The symptoms don’t usually stop there. You might also experience anxiety, headaches, excessive sweating, or diarrhea.
Nausea can be a side effect of dehydration and some medications. It can also be a reaction to drinking too much coffee or tea throughout the day to stay awake. Here are some other reasons why nausea from lack of sleep occurs and what you can do about it.
Why is Sleep So Important?
Even if you have not been diagnosed with insomnia, lack of sleep can still affect you. Sleep is crucial for maintaining many areas of your health. When you don’t get enough of it, there is no telling how badly you’ll feel. Studies show that people who don’t sleep well are more likely to develop chronic diseases. They also reported having a poorer quality of life than good sleepers (1).
Your body works hard to repair itself while you sleep. For adults, this means that sleep supports a healthy mind and body. In children and growing teenagers, sleep is essential for proper growth and development. Research shows that learning is improved after a good night’s sleep. It can enhance your problem-solving skills or make it easy for you to learn new things such as math or how to play the piano. It is also needed to develop the part of your brain responsible for creativity and attention (1).
Lack of sleep causes emotional and behavioral problems in both adults and children. It makes you more likely to develop anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Sleep deprivation contributes to problems with making easy decisions, driving, or controlling your emotions. It can also affect how well you get along with others. Studies show that sleep loss can make you irritable, impulsive, angry, sad, fatigued, or have mood swings. Children who are sleep deprived tend to earn lower grades in school while adults have poor work performances (1). Stress develops as a result. Symptoms, such as nausea and headaches, may then follow.
Sleep is needed to keep you physically healthy. It is necessary for healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. Chronic sleep loss is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (1). Studies show that people who are regularly sleep deprived produce more ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry, and less leptin, which is a hormone that tells you to stop eating. Additionally, research shows that sleep deprived people crave more high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods. Animal studies have shown that rats who were sleep deprived gained weight despite having a calorically controlled diet.
Your insulin levels and other important hormones are affected by sleep. Lack of sleep causes you to have higher than normal levels of blood glucose. Sleep loss also causes children to miss out on proper levels of the human growth hormone, which is needed for puberty and growth spurts. Your immune system produces protective proteins and antibodies that are necessary to fight germs during sleep. When you don’t get enough, your risk of getting sick increases.
Sleep loss affects how well you function throughout the day. Studies show that losing an hour or two of sleep each night for several nights in a row causes you to perform as if you haven’t sleep at all for several nights (1). It also increases your risk of having microsleeps throughout the day. A microsleep is a 30 second or so period in which your eyes are open, but your brain doesn’t process information accurately as if you were asleep. If you’ve ever been driving somewhere in your car and only remember part of your commute when you get your destination, you may have experienced microsleeps. Driving in this conditions is dangerous.
Even when you aren’t operating a vehicle, sleep loss is hazardous because it reduces your ability to retain information. If you’re sitting in a work meeting or a lecture at school while sleep deprived, you’re unlikely to retain much. When you add insomnia symptoms to the mix, such as nausea, headaches, or fatigue, it makes learning and other cognitive processes nearly impossible. Sleep loss also makes you underestimate your cognitive limits. You might think you can drive or perform hard labor when you shouldn’t (1). In many ways, sleep makes you as impaired as an intoxicated person.
Can Lack of Sleep Cause Nausea?
Although nausea isn’t one of the more common symptoms of sleep loss, it can happen. Insomnia is a unique condition that involves the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. It also affects your daytime performance levels. Everyone responds differently to sleep loss. While one person might only feel tired, another individual may have nausea, dizziness or headaches.
Nausea might be a result of sleep loss, but many different factors can trigger it. It might be your body’s way of dealing with stress or telling you that something is wrong. Too much stress can make you feel sick. According to a 2008 study, perceived stress is positively associated with nausea and vomiting (2). So whether you’re stressed over your inability to sleep or something at work is bothering you, you might start feeling nauseous as a result.
Research shows there is a strong relationship between stress and the gut. Stress can affect any body system, such as your sweat glands, urinary tract, or cardiovascular system. But your gastrointestinal system is especially sensitive to it. Common symptoms of stress may include indigestion, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea (3).
According to a report by the UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders, animal studies have indicated that gut motility is altered in stressed rats. The upper gut, which includes the small intestine and stomach, experiences reduced transit time as a defense mechanism to prevent eating and induce vomiting (3). At the same time, the large intestine increases stool output in an attempt to eliminate toxins. In other words, your stomach and bowels go into hyperdrive and try to get everything out of them when you experience stress. This process makes it easier for you to respond to fight or flight hormones and can cause you to feel nauseous, among many other things.
Additionally, a hormone called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) is released from nerve cells in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. Rat studies have confirmed that when CRF is administered into the brain, it stimulates a stress response. It also causes the colon to contract, which makes you have a bowel movement, while certain receptors in the upper gut cause you to lose your lunch (3).
Humans experience stress in a similar way to animals. One study found that volunteers who were told they had cancer experienced spasms in their colons. The spasms went away when the researchers explained that they did not have cancer. Research shows that other stressors such as driving in traffic and participating in mentally challenging tasks cause the same colonic spasms. Likewise, when you relax, so does your gut (3).
Heartburn, abdominal pain, and gastrointestinal dysfunction are common complaints of people with stress. Research shows that these conditions worsen as pressure intensifies. The sudden onset of stressful situations can cause you to develop a wide variety of symptoms, which all occur due to irregularities in the gut. Increased bowel transit or acid reflux can make you feel nauseous.
Your brain also undergoes a stress response that may cause nausea. The two most important parts of your brain that are involved in the stress response are the hypothalamus and locus coeruleus. When you’re stressed, these two parts of your brain stimulate each other, which fuels a dangerous cycle. Your limbic system is responsible for the part of your brain that experiences emotions. Cells from the locus coeruleus travel to the limbic system to stimulate arousal and alertness. When stress becomes overwhelming, it can cause high blood pressure, a racing heart, bowel spasms, and tension in your muscles (3).
Studies show that sleep loss significantly affects your gastrointestinal health. A 2016 study found that not getting enough sleep can change your gut microbiome (4), which is comprised of bacteria that resides within your immune system and digestive tract (5). The gut microbiome is responsible for keeping you healthy. It interacts with different parts of your body and responds to internal and external cues. Factors such as sleep loss and stress trigger your gut microbiome to become less protective. It also sends out signals of distress to the rest of your body, which can cause you to feel sick to your stomach.
How To Treat Nausea?
Several factors and conditions related to sleep loss can cause nausea. Some people get nauseous after drinking too much caffeine during the day to accommodate for their fatigue. Drinking too much caffeine can also make you dehydrated, which can leave you feeling nauseated. Likewise, some medications can cause nausea. According to WebMD, the following medications can cause nausea or vomiting (6):
- Narcotic pain medication
- Chemotherapy or other cancer treatments
- Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen
If you are on a medication that makes you feel nauseous or interrupts your sleep, ask your doctor to change your dosage or switch to another medicine. Staying hydrated can also help relieve nausea. Carry a water bottle with you and sip on it during the day. Limit caffeine by replacing coffee with herbal tea or water. According to a 2010 study, chamomile contains healing compounds that can help nausea among other gastrointestinal symptoms (7). Sipping on chamomile tea at night is a good way to reduce nausea and improve sleep.
Some people become nauseated when they are hungry. Be sure to keep your meals consistent. Eating small meals every two or three hours is better than indulging in three large meals a day. Avoid greasy or fried foods that may make you feel sick. Supplementing with certain herbs and vitamins can help. One study found that 31 female patients who took one vitamin B6 tablet orally every eight hours for 72 hours significantly reduced their nausea and vomiting when compared to a placebo group (8). Taking 25 milligrams of vitamin B6 three times a day may be able to help improve nausea.
Ginger has been used as a natural nausea medication for years. Several studies have shown that taking it in supplement or tea form has helped improved nausea from chemotherapy, morning sickness and seasickness (9). It also significantly reduces vomiting associated with nausea. You can buy bagged ginger tea or make your own at home by boiling slices of ginger root in water for ten minutes. Strain the ginger, let it cool for a few moments, and then drink the water.
Several essential oils have been shown to reduce nausea. Peppermint helps relax muscle contractions that may induce nausea and vomiting. According to a 2012 study, women who complained of nausea after having surgery experienced relief from inhaling peppermint essential oil (10). Keep a small bottle of peppermint essential oil on your desk at work, in your gym bag, or in your purse. Take a sniff when you feel sick. Adding a few drops to a warm bath can also help.
Fresh lemon can be used to settle an upset stomach. A 2014 study found that lemon essential oil improved nausea and vomiting symptoms in a group of 100 pregnant women (11). Drinking lemon water, biting into a lemon or inhaling lemon essential oil can help reduce nausea. You can also slice open a fresh lemon and smell it for instant relief.
Stress is one of the main reasons why people can’t sleep at night. If you regularly lay awake thinking about anxious thoughts, your gut responds accordingly by making you feel sick. Additionally, lack of sleep causes you to feel even more stress. The two scenarios feed off each other, and your health suffers as a result. Stress can make you feel physically ill and so can sleep loss. Natural remedies can be used to treat anxiety and nausea alike.