Heart Racing at Night: Should You Worry?

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.

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

12 Comments

  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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular