Can Sleep Deprivation Cause Nausea?

There’s nothing worse than feeling nauseous — that awful sensation that you might throw up. Of course, you're going to try to avoid it. But what you might not know is that your bad sleep habits could be making things worse. This article explains how not getting enough sleep can make you feel nauseous and gives tips on how to relieve nausea caused by lack of sleep.

Understanding sleep deprivation

Sleep is essential for our health and well-being. According to experts, most adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep per night to stay healthy.


But it’s easier said than done, and many people fail to follow the advice. It’s no surprise that more than a third of Americans admit they sleep less than the recommended amount.

Some people might stay up late or not sleep at all for a night or two when they’re out partying or studying hard for a test. Scientists refer to this short-term lack of sleep as sleep deprivation.

When you consistently don't get enough sleep because of bad sleep habits, health problems, work schedules, or social obligations, it's called sleep insufficiency or sleep restriction.

Symptoms of lack of sleep

Not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health. Here are some of the ways sleep deprivation can affect your body:

  • Impairing memory and cognition. Not getting enough sleep can make it harder to concentrate and stay focused. As a result, solving problems, making decisions, and completing daily tasks can become more challenging. Plus, sleep deprivation affects the way your brain absorbs and stores new information, causing learning and memory problems.
  • Triggering mood changes. Sleep deprivation messes with our brain’s ability to regulate emotions. That’s why some people feel down, irritable, or anxious when sleep-deprived.
  • Inducing fatigue. The longer you spend awake, the more pressure for sleep builds up. This sleep drive tells your body it’s time to go to bed, which is why we feel so tired after a night of sleep deprivation.
  • Disrupting the body’s natural rhythms. Lack of sleep can mess with your body's natural rhythms. You may feel sleepy during the day when you should be active and struggle to fall asleep at night. This can result in less sleep until your sleep schedule gets back on track.

It's also worth knowing that sleep deprivation affects people in different ways. Some can handle it better, while others really struggle with the lack of sleep.

Can lack of sleep cause nausea?


Besides turning you into a zombie, sleep deprivation can also make you feel sick to the stomach. Scientists are not entirely sure why this happens. They are studying how sleep affects the immune system and its role in gastrointestinal diseases to better understand this connection.

What we know is that sleep plays a crucial role in regulating the immune system. When we don’t get enough sleep, the body increases the production of inflammatory substances called cytokines. These substances trigger inflammation throughout the body, including in the tissues that make up the digestive tract, leading to unpleasant symptoms like nausea.

Gastrointestinal disorders

Research has linked poor or insufficient sleep with gastrointestinal issues that can make you queasy. Some of the most common are gastroesophageal reflux (GER), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colorectal cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Gastroesophageal reflux

A common example is GER or acid reflux. When you have GER, the contents of your stomach move back up into your esophagus, causing symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, and nausea.

In a study, researchers observed a group of adult women over 10 years. They found that those who didn’t get enough sleep were twice as likely to develop acid reflux at night compared to those who had enough sleep.

Irritable bowel syndrome

IBS is another condition affecting the digestive system. People with IBS experience changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, and nausea. These symptoms can make it difficult to have a good night’s sleep.

On the other hand, not getting enough sleep might also contribute to IBS by increasing inflammation in the intestines.


Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide. It starts in the colon or rectum. When the tumor obstructs the intestine, it can prevent the passage of liquid or solid waste and gases, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and bloating.

Research suggests a link between not getting enough sleep and an increased risk of developing colorectal polyps (abnormal growth), which are precursors to colorectal cancer.

Inflammatory bowel disease

IBD refers to two conditions that cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract, while ulcerative colitis occurs in the colon and rectum.

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to an increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis. Poor sleep may also exacerbate Crohn's disease symptoms, including digestive issues like diarrhea and nausea. Further studies need to be carried out to better understand this link between IBD and lack of sleep.

How to manage nausea from lack of sleep

Some people may experience nausea following a night of sleep deprivation. Though not usually a cause of concern, it can be pretty unpleasant. The good news is you can alleviate the discomfort with a few simple tricks.

To do:

  • Open the windows to let fresh air in.
  • Find a distraction like listening to music or watching a movie.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water or other cold drink.
  • Try eating smaller, more frequent meals. Eat slowly.
  • Consider incorporating foods and drinks with ginger into your diet.

To avoid:

  • Eating hot, fried, strong-smelling, and spicy food.
  • Lying down soon after eating.
  • Wearing tight, uncomfortable clothes.

Other ways lack of sleep affects your body

Lack of sleep doesn’t just impact the digestive system; it affects the whole body. As sleep deprivation persists and it becomes chronic, it can trigger issues like:

  • Heart conditions. The American Heart Association recognizes insufficient and poor-quality sleep as a risk factor for heart disease. They advise maintaining healthy sleep habits to support good heart health.
  • Obesity. People who sleep less than needed are more likely to be overweight and obese than those who get enough sleep.
  • Higher propensity to diseases. Lack of sleep affects your body’s natural defenses. When you don't get enough sleep, you become more likely to get sick when exposed to viruses, bacteria, or other disease-causing organisms. Your body also has a harder time recovering when you’re sleep-deprived.
  • Accidents and workplace errors. If you don’t sleep well at night, you’ll probably feel sleepy or fatigued the next day. It can be difficult to focus and pay attention to things, making it easier to get involved in accidents and make mistakes.

Tips for getting better sleep

For better sleep, start by improving your sleep habits. A healthy sleep routine involves going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, making sure your sleep environment is comfortable, exercising regularly, getting some sunlight exposure, and avoiding artificial light exposure in the evening. Also, try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and large meals before bedtime. If you are struggling with sleep and need support, it is best to speak to your healthcare provider for personalized advise.

When to seek medical help

Feeling queasy is usually nothing to worry about and tends to go away by itself. But if your nausea doesn’t go away or comes with other symptoms like high fever, consistent vomiting, confusion, headache, severe stomach pain, or signs of dehydration, it's best to get checked out by a doctor.

Lack of sleep can make digestive problems worse, leading to feeling sick to the stomach. Although it can be unpleasant, nausea usually goes away on its own or can be relieved with home remedies and achieving better sleep. But if it persists for a long time, it's best to see a doctor.


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