3 Main Reasons Why You Wake Up with Heart Racing

A pounding heartbeat can be a terrifying thing regardless if it wakes you up while asleep or in the morning. Sometimes, a racing heart is harmless and occurs occasionally. However, in other cases, it can be a sign of serious medical condition which requires medical assessment and treatment. Did you just wake up with a racing heart? If yes, read on and find out the most common causes of a pounding heartbeat and the treatments.

Wake Up with Heart Racing: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Whenever you wake up with a racing heart, regardless if it is accompanied by other signs and symptoms or not, you should make an appointment with your doctor and get a medical evaluation of your condition. The most common causes of a racing heart include:

1.   Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a medical condition characterized by a lack of the necessary amount of oxygen while sleeping. These breathing pauses in the long term can increase the risk of serious health conditions. They also have a huge effect on the quality of our life.


Sleep apnea is caused by a relaxation of the muscles of the upper respiratory system, making the throat become narrower or even completely blocked while sleeping. As a result, the body does not get enough oxygen. This also leads to a fall of the pulse and the blood pressure. Due to these breathing problems, the brain sends signals for you to wake up. While you wake up suddenly, your heart starts beating faster than normally. 

Being overweight, obese, drinking too much alcohol or taking sleeping pills will make your sleep apnea even worse.


People suffering from sleep apnea tend to snore very loudly while asleep, followed by a phase of shallow breathing and breathing pauses. Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Dry mouth when waking up
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Poor concentration
  • Night sweats
  • Frequent urination
  • Waking up suddenly, with a racing heart and shortness of breath


  • If you are overweight or obese, losing some weight can help you relieve the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea.
  • If you drink alcohol, avoid alcohol abuse or at least avoid drinking before you go to sleep.
  • If you take sleeping pills, reducing their dosage or even skipping them might be helpful.
  • Mouth guards, machines that support the breathing while sleeping, or even surgery can help you relieve the symptoms as well.
  • The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment.

2.   Atrial Fibrillation

Did you wake up with heart racing? Atrial fibrillation might be the cause. 


Possible causes of atrial fibrillation are:

  • Abnormal heart valves
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Heart attacks
  • Lung diseases
  • Metabolic imbalance
  • Thyroid diseases
  • Viral infections
  • Sleep apnea
  • Previous heart surgery, etc.

Sometimes, atrial fibrillation occurs with no reason at all. This kind of atrial fibrillation is known as lone atrial fibrillation.


Signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation vary from one person to another. Sometimes, there are no signs at all, and the person is not even aware that he/she is having heart rhythm problems. In these cases, the atrial fibrillation is discovered during a physical examination. However, in most of the cases, atrial fibrillation is symptomatic. The most common known symptoms of atrial fibrillation are:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitation when waking up
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Reduced physical ability, etc.


If you notice the signs of atrial fibrillation, you should go to see a doctor. He/she will run an ECG (electrocardiogram) to determine the nature of your heart rhythm, the presence of atrial fibrillation or the presence of another arrhythmia. In cases of sudden chest pain, seek emergency medical help. Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack.

If atrial fibrillation makes you wake up with heart racing, try the following treatments:

  • Rhythm Control – It converts an irregular heart rhythm to a regular one. This can be achieved by the help of antiarrhythmic medications like amiodarone or cardioversion.
  • Rate Control – It involves monitoring the heart rate and bringing it to normal as soon as possible. Several medications are used to slow a faster heartbeat like beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers or digoxin.
  • Anticoagulation Treatment – It is necessary in order to prevent a stroke.
  • Other Treatments – Sometimes other treatments are necessary depending on the underlying cause of atrial fibrillation like hyperthyroidism, hypertension, angina pectoris, etc.

3.   Panic Attack

If you wake up with heart racing, you may have a panic attack.


The real cause of a panic attack is not known; it tends to run in the families. A panic attack also has a major connection to big changes in life, like having a baby, getting married, finishing high school, finishing college, getting a new job, getting a divorce, losing a loved one, etc.

Panic attacks can also be caused by various medical conditions like hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, medication withdrawal, the use of stimulants like cocaine, amphetamines, mitral valve prolapse, etc. Seek medical help in cases of a panic attack to rule out the above mentioned medical conditions.


Panic attacks can occur anytime and anywhere. The signs and symptoms of a panic attack start suddenly, reaching the peak within 10 minutes. In general, panic attacks end within 20 to 30 minutes. Rarely, panic attacks last longer than one hour.

Signs and symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Faster breathing
  • Racing heart
  • Chest discomfort and pain
  • Shaking
  • Feeling detached from the surrounding
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensations
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of dying, etc.


Panic attack is a treatable medical condition. A series of therapy sessions are helpful.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment for panic attacks. This therapy is focused on the thinking patterns and behaviors that trigger these panic attacks.
  • Exposure therapy is another treatment method for panic attacks. In this therapy, you are exposed to the physical sensation of panic in a safe and controlled environment, giving you the opportunity to deal with these panic attacks when they occur.
  • Certain medications can also help you reduce or temporarily control a panic attack. Medications include benzodiazepines and antidepressants.

Medications and professional treatment can make a big difference when it comes to the treatment of panic attacks. However, there are many self-help tips in cases of a panic attack:

  • Learn how to control your breathing – Faster breathing just makes lightheadedness and dizziness get worse. By learning how to control your breathing and by breathing deeply, you will relieve the symptoms of a panic attack.
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine – They can trigger panic attacks.
  • Exercise regularly – With regular physical exercise, you can relieve your stress and anxiety. Swim, walk or go for a run, whichever you prefer.
  • Get enough rest and sleep – If you don’t get enough rest or a good night sleep, you will be anxious and tired during the day. It is recommended to sleep at least 7 hours every night.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Medication, yoga or relaxation massages can help you feel better and relieve your stress and anxiety, preventing panic attacks. 
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