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Why Does My Heart Beat Fast When I Lay Down?

Oct 21, 2020

Woman in bed in pain holding her chest


The feeling that your heart is racing when lying down is commonly known as heart palpitations. This is a common occurrence for many people and often does not indicate a serious problem.

What to Know About Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations is the feeling of having heart flutters when lying down. It can also be the feeling of having a fast heartbeat or the feeling that the heart is pounding strongly. They can occur at different times for different reasons, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Some people experience their heart beating fast at night and can't sleep. Patients may ask, "Why does my heart beat fast when I lay down?" Most often palpitations are caused by the change in position of the body. When you lay down you compress the stomach and chest cavity together, putting pressure on the heart and blood flow and increasing circulation. The easiest fix for this is to simply change position.

Experiencing heart palpitations when lying down on the left side may be from activating the vagus nerve. This is an important nerve that reaches from the brain to the abdomen. It is responsible for controlling the heart rate. Lying on your left side can stimulate the vagus nerve, sending abnormal electrical signals to the heart causing palpitations. It is a harmless reaction and if it worries you, change position or avoid lying on your left side.

Other Causes

In some cases, rapid heartbeats may be caused by other health conditions. According to the Harvard Medical School, rapid heartbeat can be caused by stress, anxiety, dehydration, low potassium, low blood sugar, too much caffeine, hormonal changes and certain prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Other conditions that may cause heart flutters may include anemia or hyperthyroidism.

Most of these conditions are easily treated with simple techniques to address the problem based on your lifestyle. Things to try:

  • Avoid drinking caffeine.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Use deep breathing and meditation to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Make sure to drink enough water to avoid dehydration.
  • Make sure to eat a well-rounded diet including fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid skipping meals so your blood sugar does not drop too low.
  • If possible, avoid the prescription or OTC drugs that may aggravate the issue. Talk to your doctor first, however.

Sometimes you may need the guidance of a doctor to help determine the cause and how to approach it.

Complex Issues

However, some people may have explored these simpler causes and made some dietary and lifestyle changes. After making improvements they still experience issues and wonder, "Why do I still get heart palpitations when I lay down even after I've changed these factors?"

In some cases, heart flutters may signal more serious health conditions. They can mimic other conditions, but the cause may be complex underlying conditions requiring more thorough testing.

For example, a rapid heartbeat may be due to arrhythmia, which can be a symptom of heart disease. At times arrhythmia is harmless and will lead to no other symptoms or concerns; however, some patients will suffer serious side effects. It is important to speak to cardiology specialists if you are concerned about your heart.

Experiencing a rapid heartbeat may signal more serious issues. It may be an indicator of a heart defect or cardiac arrest. The American Academy of Family Physicians warns it may be a sign of sinus tachycardia, premature ventricular contractions, atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia.

These are all serious heart conditions that require testing, at times invasive, to determine the true cause. Only a doctor can diagnose you conclusively with one of these conditions.

When to See a Doctor

Heart palpitations don't always signal a serious problem. As mentioned, they are often a result of simple changes to position or effects of outside stimulants, like coffee. On the other hand, there are times when it may indicate a serious medical concern. So when should you worry and see the doctor?

If you experience any of these symptoms regularly along with rapid heartbeat contact your doctor:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Prolonged fatigue
  • Swollen feet

Diagnosing Heart Conditions

In order for a doctor to diagnose a problem with the heart, you will need to provide a complete medical history and details regarding the episodes, including frequency, history, and factors that may have influenced the onset.

Additionally, your doctor may need to run further testing. Oftentimes, an EKG, or electrocardiogram, is conducted. This tracks the beats of the heart by measuring the electrical impulses. An echocardiogram may be necessary to take images of the heart to check for structural problems. Stress tests may be ordered to determine if other factors are triggers, such as blood pressure and exercise. Finally, CT scans, or computed tomography imaging, may be necessary for a more detailed view of the heart.

The bottom line is heart palpitations can be normal. Yet, if you feel concerned about your symptoms or if the symptoms are prolonged and continue after making lifestyle changes, it is best to contact a doctor immediately to get to the bottom of the issue.