I'm not pregnant...so why do I have morning sickness?

December 8, 2017 Bonnie Connolly, MD


In this article:

  • Morning nausea isn’t always caused by pregnancy.

  • Diet, sleep habits, and anxiety can all affect your digestive health.

  • Providence physician Bonnie Connolly explains the reasons why you can't stomach the thought of eating breakfast.

Morning sickness is one of the most well-known hallmarks of pregnancy, but what may not be well known is that you don't have to be pregnant to experience it.

"There can be many causes behind a feeling of morning sickness that have nothing to do with pregnancy," says Bonnie Connolly, MD, an internal medicine physician at Providence’s St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "There is, of course, something simple such as the stomach flu or food poisoning, which goes away after a few days. But there are other causes of morning nausea that can be eliminated with simple lifestyle changes."

Poor Sleep Habits

Insomnia, sleep apnea, and just not getting enough hours of rest at night can have a detrimental effect on your overall health, and that includes your digestive system.

"Studies have found that the circadian rhythms that govern your sleep patterns are linked to your digestive system," Dr. Connolly says. "That means if you have a problem getting enough sleep--usually about seven to nine hours for adults–it can affect your appetite and metabolism, and cause that morning queasiness."

If the problem is chronic, such as insomnia, cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful, as would a visit with your physician to discuss the problem.

Low Blood Sugar

"Your body converts food into sugar, or glucose, so you have the energy you need to get you through the day. But if you're in the habit of skipping meals, you can wake up with the nausea and weakness associated with a temporary drop in blood sugar levels," Dr. Connolly says.

"You should make sure you eat healthy meals with a balance of lean protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, and don't skip meals," she says. "And if you do wake up with a sick stomach from not eating much the day before, try a small snack such as whole-wheat crackers with cheese or an apple with almond butter to get your blood sugar back up."

If you regularly feel nauseous and weak in the mornings, and are experiencing other symptoms such as irritability or shakiness, have your blood glucose levels checked by your doctor.
"Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, is a common marker of prediabetes and diabetes,"

Dr. Connolly says. "You can also experience hypoglycemia as an offshoot of a medication, drinking too much alcohol to the point where it impairs liver function, or a deeper health issue with the heart, liver, or kidneys."

Acid Reflux

If your food isn't digesting properly, some of the stomach acid travels up the esophagus, causing heartburn and nausea. "You can avoid the aftereffects of acid reflux in the mornings by eating well the night before," Dr. Connolly says.

To prevent acid reflux, don't eat heavy dinners, and avoid eating entirely three hours before bedtime, Dr. Connolly recommends. "At dinner, skip fatty foods, caffeine or carbonated drinks, which can increase the chances of acid reflux. If you often struggle with acid reflux, start incorporating acid reflux-fighting foods such as kale and brown rice into your meals, and also try sleeping with your head elevated on a couple of pillows."


Anxious about a big meeting? Those butterflies in your stomach can make food seem unappealing. "Relieve worry with the use of common relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation that are quick and easy to practice in the morning," Dr. Connolly says.

Dr. Connolly adds that you should keep an eye out for the following warning signs: morning nausea that lasts for more than a month; vomiting for more than two days in a row that's not caused by a flu or food poisoning; head or stomach pain and extreme weight loss.

"There could be a bigger health issue at work than just morning sickness, so talk with your physician about your symptoms," she says.


Find a doctor

If you're experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed want to visit a doctor. Use our provider directory to find the right Providence physician for you. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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