Why It's Normal To Feel Sick In The Morning — Even If You're Not Pregnant

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
If your morning starts with an earlier-than-usual wakeup call, there's a good chance the rest of your day may be thrown out of whack. In addition to feeling cranky, sluggish, and tired, you might also feel queasy, or like your stomach just isn't sitting right. If you Google your symptoms, you'll probably convince yourself that you're pregnant. But being nauseated in the morning isn't necessarily "morning sickness."
"Nausea is a difficult symptom to pinpoint because it does not always stem from a gastrointestinal issue," says Daniela Jodorkovsky, MD, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. And while pregnant people do experience nausea in the morning (and, in some cases, every other time of day), there's a whole slew of other reasons why you feel so bleh.
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If you have a night of irregular sleep, wake up way earlier than usual, or have insomnia, your natural circadian rhythms will be disrupted, which can make you feel queasy, Dr. Jodorkovsky says. Research has shown that your digestive system is linked with your circadian rhythms, so if you mess with one, the other is probably going to be affected, too.
Your stomach might feel weird first thing in the morning because you have low blood sugar, Dr. Jodorkovsky says. "While it sounds counterintuitive, eating a light snack or breakfast when feeling nauseated in the morning can alleviate the symptoms altogether," she says. If you're also used to having breakfast first thing in the morning, but skip it because you had super-early plans, then your body might be confused. Either way, having a snack just to get something in your stomach is typically all it takes to ease the, well, uneasiness, Dr. Jodorkovsky says.
Or you could have acid reflux, which can sometimes make you feel barfy in the morning, "particularly if you had eaten a heavy meal the evening prior," Dr. Jodorkovsky says. If you eat a fatty meal, it delays your stomach from emptying, which makes it easier for acid to rise up your esophagus when you're lying down and sleeping, she says. "For patients with reflux symptoms in the middle of the night, we also recommend elevating the head with pillows," she says. If you know you have acid reflux, Dr. Jodorkovsky says you should wait at least two to three hours to lie down after eating, and avoid eating heavy meals at night in general.
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A few causes of morning nausea aren't related to your stomach at all, such as post-nasal drip or sinus congestion, Dr. Jodorkovsky says. Anxiety can also cause nausea, so if you're nervous about making an early morning flight or meeting, that could be why you feel so off, she says. Of course, if you had a lot to drink the night before, there's always a chance that you're just experiencing a hangover. And if none of this sounds like you, but you're feeling sick most mornings, then you might want to consider taking a quick pregnancy test, because morning sickness is a hallmark sign that you're pregnant, she says.
Morning nausea might be something that you've just gotten used to over time, but it's easy to prevent once you figure out what's causing it, Dr. Jodorkovsky says. For starters, try to get a restful night of sleep and work on establishing consistent sleep patterns. When you feel nauseous, it's best to eat a light meal and go about your day as best as you can. And if anxiety is causing the nausea, then you might want to consider a relaxation technique, like meditation or taking a walk, particularly on days when you anticipate having stomach troubles.
"Of course, if you have concerning symptoms like vomiting, weight loss, severe headaches, or abdominal pain, see your doctor," she says. Otherwise, your best bet is to eat a little and sleep — and honestly, what more could you possibly want?
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