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Why Is My Heart Racing at Night and How to Calm It?

Ever experienced the sensation of your heart racing, pounding, or fluttering seemingly out of the blue? These are what we call palpitations, and they often make their grand entrance during quiet nighttime hours. In this article, we'll talk about why your heart might race at night and provide some tips to aid relaxation.

What causes heart racing at night?

As night falls and you get ready for sleep, you may notice your heart pounding in your chest. Its rhythm fluctuates, sometimes speeding up, other times slowing down. It may even feel like you skipped a beat or two. This sensation of a rapid or irregular heartbeat is known as palpitation. While it can happen anytime, it can be easier to detect at night. That’s likely because things are quieter, and you’re not as distracted, so you notice your body’s sensations more.

Waking up with a racing heart or having palpitations when trying to sleep may seem concerning. Although most minor palpitations are nothing to worry about, they can sometimes indicate more serious problems. You may feel heart palpitations at night for many reasons, which we will cover below.

Mental health conditions

Anyone dealing with anxiety or panic attacks has likely felt their heart racing or pounding. This is because constant stress triggers the release of hormones like adrenaline, causing your heart to beat faster. And when you notice your heart speeding up, it can amp up your anxiety even more, keeping you stuck in that endless loop.

At night, when there are no distractions, anxiety can become worse. Your mind starts racing with worries the moment you lie down, which might explain a faster heartbeat.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances

Dehydration occurs when the body lacks enough water to function correctly. This can lower blood pressure, make you feel dizzy, or even cause you to faint. To compensate, the heart beats to get more blood where it’s needed.

When you’re dehydrated, your electrolyte balance can get disrupted. Insufficient levels of certain electrolytes like magnesium or calcium can interfere with the electrical signals in your heart, potentially causing irregular heartbeats.

During sleep, your body loses water through breathing or sweat, which can further contribute to dehydration. This could also be a potential cause of palpitations during the night. Studies also suggest that being dehydrated might shorten sleep time, making you more likely to notice palpitations.

Fever or illness

Normal body temperature typically ranges from 97.5 to 98.9 °F (36.4–37.2 °C). It's usually lower in the morning and higher in the evening. This variation, especially when you're sick, can sometimes cause palpitations at night.

When you get sick, your body temperature typically goes up. The fever makes your heart beat more quickly, pumping more blood around the body and helping fight the infection.

Sleeping positions

Only a few studies looked at how your sleeping position might affect your chances of having palpitations. These studies suggest that sleeping on your side could increase the chances of palpitation. However, most of these studies have focused on individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.

In healthy individuals, sleeping on your left side can make your heart shift and turn due to gravity. This movement can lead to changes in the heart's electrical activity, which is why some people get palpitations when lying on their left side.

Also, if you’re prone to sleep apnea, sleeping on your back makes it more likely to happen. In people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep due to a temporary obstruction in the airway. This can lead to fluctuations in the oxygen levels in the blood and disturb the heart’s normal rhythms.

Heart diseases

Palpitations can be common among those with heart disease. Conditions like arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), cardiomyopathy (a disorder of the heart muscle), heart attack, heart failure, and heart valve disease can all lead to palpitations.

Palpitations caused by heart conditions may become more noticeable at night. Laying down can alter body flow and put pressure on certain parts of the body, triggering palpitations or making existing ones worse.

Hormonal changes during menopause or pregnancy

During menopause and perimenopause, estrogen levels drop. Estrogen helps keep the heart and blood vessels healthy and regulates cholesterol levels. When estrogen levels decline, this can lead to heart issues and palpitations.

In pregnancy, there’s an increased blood flow to support the baby’s growth, which causes the heart to work harder and beat faster. Plus, high levels of both estrogen and progesterone affect how the heart contracts, contributing to palpitations.

Lifestyle factors

Certain habits, especially when done close to bedtime, can contribute to heart palpitations at night. Here are a few examples:

  • Caffeine consumption
  • Alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Late-night exercise

Metabolic issues

Many metabolic conditions can result in palpitations. For example, an overactive thyroid can cause the heart to beat faster and irregularly. Additionally, low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can trigger feelings of anxiety, which can cause palpitations in some people.

Symptoms of heart palpitations at night

Heart palpitations manifest in different ways. You may experience the following sensations when lying down at night:

  • Sensation of feeling your heartbeat
  • Feeling like your heart is beating faster than usual
  • Feeling like your heart is fluttering or skipping beats
  • Sensation of having stronger than usual heartbeats
  • A discomfort or tightness in your chest

How to calm a racing heart at night

Most palpitations are harmless and don’t need treatment. You should be able to relieve them by yourself. Let's take a look at a few things you can try.

Breathing techniques

A simple way to slow down a racing heart is through deep breathing. One way to practice it is by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth for at least twice as long with pursed lips.

Another method involves taking deep breaths in through your nose. While you do that, pay attention to your belly expanding with each breath. Then, exhale through your mouth for at least two to three times longer than you inhaled, letting your belly deflate.

Stay well hydrated

If you don’t drink enough water, you might end up dehydrated, which can lead to palpitations. There’s a simple solution to that — make sure you drink plenty of fluids (ideally water) throughout the day.

In general, men should aim for roughly 13 cups a day, while women should aim for about 9 cups a day. Of course, these recommendations can vary depending on your level of physical activity or if you live in a hot environment.

Change sleeping position

There is no ideal sleeping position for everyone. If you notice that a specific position triggers palpitations, consider changing positions until you feel comfortable.

How to prevent heart palpitations at night

There are many things you can do to lower your chances of experiencing palpitations at night.

  1. Limit your intake of alcohol and coffee, especially close to bedtime.
  2. Try to quit smoking, or at least reduce the times you smoke, especially before going to sleep.
  3. Avoid eating heavy meals before going to bed.
  4. Take measures to reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
  5. Keep a healthy weight.
  6. Get enough sleep and establish healthy sleep habits.

When palpitations are caused by heart conditions or other serious medical issues, treatment might be necessary. In this case, treatment will depend on what’s causing them. For example, if you’re having nighttime heart races because you're feeling anxious, your doctor might prescribe anti-anxiety medication or suggest you talk to a therapist. However, if an arrhythmia is causing palpitations, they might prescribe beta blockers to help your heart stay steady.

When to seek professional help

If you find that heart palpitations happen too often or episodes are lasting longer than usual, it might be a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional. Other signs that suggest it's time to seek help include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fainting or losing consciousness

Feeling your heart racing at night can be alarming. In most minor cases, there’s nothing to worry about. Maintain healthy lifestyle habits, avoid stress, try changing your position in bed, and you should no longer notice the palpitations. But if this starts to occur frequently and is associated with other symptoms, medical assistance is imperative.

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