Heart Racing at Night: Should You Worry?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

One of the most universal experiences I heard in my cardiology practice was the frustration of lying down at night and not being able to sleep because of a racing heart.

The storylines were all similar. “Doc, it was just like any other night. I was trying to relax and then I started to notice that my heart was charging. When I couldn’t stop it, I started to worry—and it just got worse!”

If this has happened to you, I want you to know that your experience is common. More importantly, I want you to relax and understand that most episodes of heart racing at night are not dangerous.

Why Your Heart May Be Racing at Night

Emotions

What’s going on in your life? Are you excessively worried about something? Are you trying not to worry about something? This is the first cause I explore when patients describe a racing heartbeat.

What often happens when people experience their hearts racing at night is that they’re worried about a person or a circumstance in their life, and those heavy thoughts put them into a state of “sympathetic overdrive.” They stimulate the fight-or-flight response, and the body responds by increasing respiration and blood pressure, as well as speeding up the heart. Feeling out of control ratchets up the response even more.

Even if you think you’re doing fine, I challenge you to look deeper. Our thoughts—even unconscious ones—are always revealed in the heart. It will reflect what we’re truly feeling, regardless of what our brains tell us to believe.

Alcohol

Whether from wine, beer, or spirits, alcohol affects the heart in many ways—some good, and some bad. Having a drink to help you relax and go to sleep? That’s a bad idea.

Alcohol is high in sugar and its metabolites are associated with many types of arrhythmias, and may well be the cause of a racing heart at night. Worse, if you have a drink because you’re worried and can’t relax, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. You’ve just doubled down on the number of things that can bring on this type of heart palpitation.

Research shows that one drink a day can have protective effects on the heart. If you want to have that drink, try to do so with your dinner. That way you’ll avoid setting yourself up for potential palpitations.

Sugar

A third potential cause of nighttime heart racing is bedtime snacks. We know that eating too much sugar can cause heart palpitations—so hopefully you’re not eating cake or other sweets before bed. But I would also warn against something that seems more innocent, like a bowl of corn flakes.

I’ve heard a lot of patients say they do this to take advantage of the tryptophan in milk. What they miss, unfortunately, is that milk is also high in sugar, and that corn flakes are high glycemic. The glucose from them hits your bloodstream quickly and can cause racing and palpitations immediately after eating. If your body’s insulin response happens to overshoot the spike in blood sugar, you then run the risk of becoming hypoglycemic. The adrenaline bump that comes with hypoglycemia can also cause palpitations and racing. If you love a bowl of cereal at night, make sure to add nuts, full-fat milk, and even fresh berries to it, to help slow down insulin release with fat, protein and fiber.

3 Foods that Cause Heart Palpitations

Is a Racing Heart at Night Dangerous?

For people with good heart rate variability, a racing heart at night is not usually dangerous. Although, if it happens repeatedly, you should consult a cardiologist just to make sure you don’t have some kind of underlying cardiovascular disease.

© 2016 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

  1. Lessie Hardley

    on October 25, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for the information. I am guilty of having a glass of wine before bedtime. I appreciate your information.

  2. Tami Thatcher

    on October 27, 2016 at 12:13 am

    Cell phone tower EMF has two prevalent symptoms: insomnia and heart palpitations. Your blue tooth, WIFI and cordless phone can do this also.

  3. Brenda

    on October 27, 2016 at 5:27 am

    I’m truly grateful for this report because I can now connect my palpitations to an ongoing emotional issue that I feel unable to resolve. As a matter of interest, I am also doing a lot of sighing and I’m guessing that this, too, is related. Any comment on this would be helpful.

    Thank you again for keeping us all so well informed on these matters.

  4. Elizabeth Zelenak

    on May 1, 2017 at 11:34 am

    I would like to know if Dr. Sinatra does phone consultations, for a fee of course. I have just been diagnosed with polycythemia vera which the hematologist described as the reason for my massive PE last September and then a lacunar stroke in January of this year. While I will start the recommended medicinal treatment, I’m wondering if there are any supplements I can take. I am currently on Coumadin and will start Hydrea today. Also prescribed atorvastatin which is scaring me after reading your reports.

  5. Sherine

    on September 13, 2017 at 3:31 am

    Thank you very much for the information. I now know why this is happening to me. This is so scary, I am unable to sleep at night. But after reading this, I know that I have to limit my sugar intake before bed as I have a sweet tooth and always have something sweet before I go to bed. I am also a worry wart, I’m always worried about the simplest things. I now know what I need to do to get a good night’s rest.

    Thanks again.

  6. HeartMD Editor

    on September 13, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Hi Sherine,

    So glad you found the article helpful!

  7. Linda

    on September 20, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Excellent article, informative and concise!

  8. Blessed H.

    on September 21, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    I experience heart palpitations at night after lifting heavy stuff at work. A doctor diagnosed me with duodenal ulcers and I am on medication. Is this related or I have an underlying heart condition as this has been going on for a long time (over 3 years) I have taken numerous tests ie ecg,chest x-rays etc and they always say nothing is wrong with my heart but am living with serious duodenal ulcers, do I have an underlying heart condition, angina maybe? Please help me doctor.

  9. HeartMD Editor

    on October 5, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Dear Blessed H.,

    Heart palpitations can be alarming. Dr. Sinatra can’t give direct medical advise relating to your condition. It sounds like you still have concerns about your heart health status and could benefit from getting a second opinion and perhaps having additional diagnostic tests performed. I would recommend that you try to contact one of the cardiologists on Dr. Sinatra’s Top Docs List as Dr. Sinatra is no longer practicing (see the list here).

  10. Joseph Ratnasingham

    on November 12, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Very good article. I am living with heart palpitations for several years. Mostly I get it in the night when I am fast asleep. The main reasons for my palpitations are (1) having a late heavy dinner (red meat), 2. Alcohol in the night (Beer), 3. sweet dessert after dinner. If and when you get palpitations, do the following to reduce or go away. 1. Don’t sleep on your left side. Sleep on your right side. 2. Wash your face in cold water 3. Keep an ICE cold jelly Ice pack on your forehead as long as you can. 4. Sit on the Toilet and pretend or do No.2. Sit there until the palpitations slows down. (May be 30 minutes or more). Then go to bed and sleep on your left side only. Eat a light dinner before 7:00PM. This works for me well.

  11. Mike

    on November 21, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Hello everyone. I had the racing heart for over 2 years. I’m 43 and have sleeping problems that cause me to wake up about 15times through out the night. I’m also beginning to believe is affecting my memory. Does anyone here experience the same?

  12. HeartMD Editor

    on November 21, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Mike,

    We have heard reports of people experiencing similar effects when exposed to different types of pulsed radiation (Wi-Fi, smart meters, etc.). If you are being exposed to these at night you might want to look into minimizing your exposure – either by moving your place of sleep or turning them off if able (switch off Wi-Fi at night etc.). You may also want to give sleeping grounded a try. You can learn more below:

    EMF Section at HeartMD
    Wifi Dangers: What You Can’t See Can Hurt You
    What is Earthing or Grounding?

  13. Lisa brunetta

    on January 30, 2018 at 2:35 am

    I have had racing pulse mostly night,thru my sleep. Tonight I have them very bad. I did eat dinner late for bday,and 2drinks,I don’t drink normally. My meal was steak,broccoli and yes dessert.i also have lost my leg,extreme pain,on insulin pump,other illnesses,and to top it off, I’ve lost my only sources of income,totally disabled yet lost my s.s my mom is dying n as well, b.f and I not doing well. Sdo that’s alot.when do I know if stress ous about to Tully give me a heart attack? when do I go to hospital? If so common. Recent EKG is good tho.help!

  14. Don L.

    on March 22, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Had a couple drinks last night with chicken wings. Ha d a doctors appointment Monday and heart rate was 58. Woke up this morning at four thirty and heart rate was 172 .After about 10 minutes it dropped to 88. At seven thirty it was 105. Now at 9oclock it is still at 99.
    Never happened before. ???

  15. Gregory H.

    on March 30, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    My wife experiences palpatations after intimacy and she can experiance a racing heart several times over the next few days. These things frighten her.
    In addition she see’s intimacy as allowing me to give her an orgasm before I go inside her. She doesn’t see that she needs to do things with me very much, further, I have had prostate surgery and need an injection to get an erection, this doesn’t always work properly, and can be painful for awhile, intimacy therfore is now few and far between. I have run out of medication and temporarily can’t afford it so intimacy is in fact non existant.
    Can you give me any helpfull suggestions, I love her very much and feel I need to resign myself to accepting the situation. She will allow me to give her an orgasm now and again but nothing that will cause her heart to race.

  16. Paula Girard

    on April 22, 2018 at 11:59 am

    At age 7, I was diagnosed with heart murmur. As an adult, I took an antibiotic prior to dental procedures but later discontinued this practice per doctor advice. When I experienced heart palpitations in my 50s and 60s, my doctor ordered a stress test and an echocardiogram. These initial tests proved negative. After several years, the tests were repeated with no change reported. When the good results came in, I vowed never to worry about the palpitations again. I exercise vigorously daily, and take a 10 mg. statin for cholesterol. Now, I’m in my 70s and the palpitations seem to be increasing in intensity and frequency gut occur primarily at night when I first get in bed. What should I do?

  17. Barrie M.

    on April 25, 2018 at 2:20 am

    What a relief, I get a racing heart now and then it does not last long, I had one about thirty minutes ago so I looked it up on line, thanks you have put my mind at ease.

  18. Carmie R.

    on May 1, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    When I start to fall asleep my heart starts racing. I have not checked my pulse. If I take a deep breath it stops most of the time. I take Atenolol 50 mg twice daily, Amolodipine 5 mg once a day, Klonopin .05 mg twice a day for anxiety, and Claritin 10 mg b.i. d. Can any of these medications or the combination be causing this? I only drink one cup of coffee in the morning and try not to drink caffeine the rest of the day. This is very disturbing and upsetting me to the point I do not want to relax and go to sleep. I think my anxiety is making it worse. Any ideas. I also take potassium, one a day vitamin, Vit C and D, and fish oil. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

  19. Jan

    on May 27, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Thank you. You’ve put my mind at ease too. Just woke up with 110. Went to the bathroom, but in about a minute it went down to 110. Then to a resting of 76. Then to 70. Isn’t that too low?
    I am a 67 y o female.

  20. Lee S.

    on June 26, 2018 at 10:22 am

    In the last 6 months, I have had the elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate about 5 times mostly at 2-3 in the morning. Am not a late eater. Have been on blood pressure medication for at least 10 years. Could the fact that it’s almost like clockwork in timing be related to some sort of hormonal or adrenal problem? I am in my late 70’s

  21. Christine B

    on July 31, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    Hi Dr. Sinatra,
    Over the past few years I have developed a sensation that feels like a balloon being blown up in the middle of my chest when I start to fall asleep. I also get internal tremors and my heart rate seems to increase, again while lying down. I had a stress test and an echocardiogram two years ago and nothing showed up. Suggestions were made that the sensation could be arthritis or indigestion. I am now concerned as this seems to be getting worse. I am not looking for a diagnosis but maybe a suggestion that I could pass on to a cardiologist, (they misdiagnosed my brother in law’s heart attack, so unfortunately I’m not confident in their ability.) I am a 54 year old female who has always been otherwise healthy. Any insight is greatly appreciated, thank you!

  22. Richard L.

    on August 15, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Dr. Sinatra
    While out on vacation in London I was having a hard time breathing walking around. 14k steps later I felt my heart start to give palpitations. That night my resting pulse rate jumped into the 90’s and I was not able to get it under control for hours. I have been to 5 specialist including a cardiologist. They all say I am healthy. I am still experiencing a higher pulse and do wake up 2-3 times at night and I am in terror. I have another cardiologist appointment this week. Can you give me some hope around what this condition may be.
    So far I have had 3 normal EKG’s, 2 lung and heart x-rays that were unremarkable, blood work all turned out great. Blood gases were off but DR said that was because I was hyper ventilaling. I had a doctor also due an echocardiogram and found that my heart was working fine. Just makes no sense to be on week 4 and my heart rate still is up.

  23. Linda A.

    on August 29, 2018 at 8:23 am

    I’ve just started experiencing heart palpitations. They wake me up. I was afraid at first but if I take a deep breath my heart rate slows down. Must be the cereal I’m eating before bed. I’m a diabetic.

  24. Ankita R.

    on September 13, 2018 at 8:10 am

    Hello doctor. I feel extremely sleepy during the nights but somehow I fail to sleep if I do not take sleeping pills. Its not that I am insomniac. However even though I might feel extremely sleepy but my heart starts racing. I am 25 yrs old.Please help me.

  25. Christina

    on October 23, 2018 at 9:56 am

    I experience it every night for about a week then it goes away, I am fine for a few months then BAM it happens again. I now write it on my calendar. I’m to scared to go to the cardiologist. I do suffer from panic disorder so once that heart starts beating even the tiny bit fast of course I start to worry and then that sometimes leads into a panic attack.

  26. Frederick

    on November 8, 2018 at 7:07 am

    I’ve been experiencing heart palpitations for a few weeks now; mostly at night. I would be woken by palpitations and then find it difficult to fall asleep again. I’ve had chronic blocked sinuses for a couple of years, but over the last few weeks it’s been almost totally blocked making it very difficult to breath through my nose. I’m starting to think that the palpitations could be caused by not breathing correctly during sleep and therefor not getting sufficient oxygen. I was just wondering if anyone else had similar thoughts, I haven’t heard of this mentioned despite many searches online.

  27. Richard Iacino

    on November 24, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    One of the things that may cause palpitations that seems to be never mentioned anywhere is artificial sweeteners.
    I think artificial sweeteners should always be seriously considered as a cause of palpitations.

  28. Tammy M.

    on November 28, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    Oh my gosh, I was never so glad as the day I found this page and read all these comments from other people as I too have been experiencing the same sort of issues. I am a 56 year old female who has never had any heart issues. I am on thyroid medication for an under active thyroid and I am in menopause and both have been for about the past 10 years. Some nights I will go to bed and about 1 hour into my sleep I am awoke with my heart racing and beating so hard it feels like its going to jump out of my chest, if it lasts long enough I start to shiver and feel cold and I’ve been told its because the body is protecting my organs by pulling from limbs (so to speak). As with everyone else on this page I get scared and the more I get scared the worse it gets so I have started to just tell myself its nothing and I will get up and just slowly pace around my living room or walk outside and take a small slow walk and I have found that it seems to help make the episode pass more quickly. Another issue I have is I will start to go to sleep and my body acts like my temperature drops and I start to shake, feel cold, get dry mouth and immediately feel hungry, this usually takes a minimum of an hour to get to pass and again I have found that by pacing or walking helps. I drink water and sometimes have a half of peanut butter sandwich. Everything I have read for both of these issues points to my possibly being hypoglycemic. I also have a feeling of a bubble every now and then in my chest area and I immediately check my pulse and some times I have found my heart rate increased for a few beats and then goes back to normal. I check my blood pressure every day and I range from 117/75 to 138/80. I have a doctors appointment January of 2019 and will have my blood work done then and I hope she can shed some light on that part for me. I have blood work done every year and everything comes back normal including my thyroid. This past year I had an ultra sound of all of my main arteries into my heart and the artery along my stomach checked for blockages and its all good there is no plaque build up at all. He also checked for the thickening of my walls and its perfect. Now that I have read this about the heart racing a feel a little better but can someone shed some light on the tremor feeling at night, am I along the correct path on the diagnosis?

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