Why Does My Stomach Hurt When I Wake Up?

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Waking up with stomach pain is an unpleasant way to start your day, and the discomfort can make it harder to get up and get moving. You may experience morning pain that goes away after a while or sticks around for the whole day. If this has happened to you, you may be left wondering why it happens.

Fortunately, most of the time the causes behind this aren’t serious, but there could be cases in which medical attention is needed. Below, we’ll go over some common reasons your stomach might hurt in the morning, when a doctor needs to be involved, and other helpful information on the topic.

12 Reasons Your Stomach May Hurt in the Morning

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Experts estimate that 10 – 15 percent1 of adults in the United States experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Even though this condition is common, it’s often undiagnosed.

Symptoms can include abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, changes in the appearance of a bowel movement, or changes in how often you’re having a bowel movement. These symptoms can vary from person to person, but the common thread is that IBS symptoms are usually present for a long period of time.

IBS is mostly triggered by food sensitivities and stress. Cutting out certain foods2 and beverages like dairy, sweeteners, caffeine, carbonated drinks, and certain hard-to-digest vegetables (like broccoli and Brussels sprouts) can help. Perhaps more importantly, though, is making sure your nervous system is regulated and calm. Digestion happens in a parasympathetic state3, also known as the “rest and digest” state, and if you are consistently stressed, you’ll likely have issues with digestion.

Indigestion

Indigestion is not all that different from IBS. In fact, indigestion is one of the most common symptoms of IBS, though it can occur in people who don’t have long-term, chronic symptoms of IBS.

You might be experiencing indigestion if you have pain or discomfort in your upper abdomen, a burning pain behind the breastbone (heartburn), a feeling of fullness or bloating, nausea, gas, or burping. Indigestion commonly occurs shortly after a meal (or perhaps a heavy or unusual meal the night before), but it can also be caused by smoking, drinking, pregnancy, stress, or certain medications.

You can treat indigestion by changing your diet4, and for occasional indigestion, try taking over-the-counter antacids like Pepto Bismol. If you have any other underlying conditions, though, you should speak with your doctor before using any new medication.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is one of those things where if you’ve had it, you probably know you’ve had it. Symptoms can be intense and may include upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.

If you wake up with food poisoning, it’s likely that something you ate the previous night or day was contaminated, often because of a lack of being cooked fully. According to the CDC5, some common culprits include raw or undercooked shellfish, beef or poultry, and raw or expired dairy products.

Luckily, food poisoning, as unpleasant as it is, usually resolves on its own. Be sure to replace fluids you’re losing with lots of water with electrolytes, avoid eating until symptoms are resolved (and then only eat small bites of bland food, like crackers or toast), and don’t take antidiarrheal medications, as these might prolong your symptoms.

Dehydration

We hear all the time how important water and hydration are for our bodies — after all, about 60 percent6 of our bodies are made up of water. However, if you’re waking up with stomach pain, it might be because you’re not hydrated enough. Water helps with digestion and the elimination of waste, and therefore, a lack of water could lead to digestive issues.

You might be dehydrated if, in addition to stomach pain, you have a headache, dizziness, confusion, a lack of appetite (but crave sugar), dry mouth, chapped lips, muscle cramps, constipation, and dark-colored urine.

Treating dehydration can be as simple as upping the amount of water you’re drinking throughout the day, but you might also want to increase the minerals you’re consuming so that your body actually absorbs the water you’re drinking. That means you need the right amount of sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride, and more. Adding an electrolyte powder or tablet to your water once or twice a day can help get your hydration back on track.

illustration of a Lady Drinking Water Right Before Going to Bed

Food Allergies

Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans7 have food allergies. The most common food allergies are shellfish, dairy products, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, fish, and wheat. If you regularly consume these types of foods, and you are waking up feeling pain in your abdomen (lower belly) and have diarrhea, gas, and bloating — it might be because you’re allergic to something you’re eating. Additional food allergy symptoms can include headaches, migraines, acne/breaking out, night sweats, joint pain, hives, trouble breathing, itching, and swelling.

In this case, you could try an elimination diet8, which is when you eliminate certain food groups from your diet one at a time to figure out what is causing the food allergy. Start with cutting out just one of the foods from the list of most common food allergies above (peanuts, for example), and see if that helps. If it doesn’t, keep eliminating foods one by one until you notice a difference (next, shellfish, then soy, for example). This should let you know which food is causing the issue.

Constipation

Put simply, constipation is the inability to pass a complete bowel movement. This also probably means when you do go to the bathroom, your stools are hard and dry, your bowel movements might be painful or difficult, and you have a feeling that you haven’t fully emptied your bowels once you go.

In your gut, constipation might feel like cramps, a feeling of needing to go to the bathroom but not being able to, and might be accompanied by dehydration. If you’ve recently stopped eating as much fiber or have started a new medication, you may develop constipation.

The good news is that this condition is usually not dangerous and relatively easy to treat. You’ll want to eat foods higher in fiber, drink more water, exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, eat less dairy, and try to manage your stress levels. Having a calm and restful nervous system should help relieve constipation. Try adding in 10 minutes of meditation every morning and evening, and see how that impacts your gut.

For immediate relief, studies show that certain abdominal massages9 can help relieve constipation and the abdominal pain that it can cause.

Illustration of a Woman Sitting on a Toalete and Having Stomach Ache

Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers have a distinct feeling; it’s like a burning or gnawing inside your stomach, between your breastbone and your belly button. An ulcer might improve temporarily when you eat or drink, or take an antacid, and it may feel worse between meals or at night when your stomach acid builds up without food to digest. Ulcers will also feel different than something like heartburn because the pain of a stomach ulcer is localized to the ulcer itself, whereas heartburn affects a broader area.

If you think you may have a stomach ulcer, your treatment will depend on what caused the ulcer in the first place. For example, if it was caused by a bacterial infection, you’ll need to get a specific type of medication. If it was caused by taking NSAIDS (non-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen), you’ll likely need a course of PPI medication. If you think your stomach pain might be due to an ulcer, don’t try to remedy it on your own; instead, you should seek medical attention.

Celiac Disease

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine10, more than 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with Celiac disease. This condition occurs in people with a gluten sensitivity and can be hereditary. Symptoms can include gas, chronic diarrhea or constipation, weight loss, and stomach swelling or bloating accompanied by pain. In addition to these gut issues, you may experience muscle cramps, joint pain, an itchy rash, anemia, or loss of enamel in your teeth.

The only treatment for Celiac disease is to remove gluten from your diet. Gluten is a kind of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and some oats. Eliminating gluten from your diet may feel challenging at first, but there are now lots of gluten-free options for many favorite foods.

Diverticular Disease

There are two types of diverticular diseases: diverticulosis and diverticulitis. They both take place in the large intestine and are caused by diverticula, which are small bumps or bulges that form on the wall of your colon.

Diverticulosis is quite common and doesn’t usually cause any symptoms or need to be treated. However, it can lead to diverticulitis, which means an infection of one or more of your diverticula. This will feel distinct, and you may experience pain, cramps, tenderness, and sensitivity in the lower left part of your abdomen. Additional symptoms might include fever, nausea, or chills.

If you have diverticulosis, you may not know you have it, but it can be treated by increasing the amount of healthy fiber and water in your diet. Diverticulitis, however, needs to be treated with medication or possibly even surgery, so talk to your doctor if you think you might have this.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

If your stomach pain is lower and more located in the pelvis, it might be Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). This condition only occurs in those with female reproductive systems.

Symptoms of PID include pain around the pelvis and lowest part of the belly, discomfort during sex (felt deep inside the pelvis area), bleeding between periods or after sex, heavy or painful periods, or pain when peeing.

If you think your stomach pain might be caused by PID, talk to your doctor. You’ll get a course of antibiotics, and you’ll need to abstain from sex until after your treatment is completed to prevent the infection from coming back.

Gastritis

Gastritis happens when something damages or weakens the protective lining of your stomach. What that something is can vary, but the possibilities are a bacterial infection, certain medications, stress, alcohol abuse, and autoimmune diseases.

Gastritis is normally felt as pain or discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen, and you might feel extra full during or after a meal. If you’re waking up in the morning with these symptoms, possibly accompanied by loss of appetite and/or black stool, gastritis might be the culprit.

If you think you have gastritis, you’ll want to see a doctor since medication may be needed. However, if you don’t have gastritis, there are ways to prevent it, such as avoiding fried or spicy foods, cutting back on caffeine, eating smaller meals throughout the day, managing stress, and cutting back on alcohol.

Illustration of a Woman Having Heartburn

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis can be acute or it can be chronic. Both can show up as severe belly pain that may spread to your chest and back, and will probably be worse after you eat. You might have swelling and tenderness in your upper belly or even fluid buildup in your stomach. Additional symptoms might include fever, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

Whether it is acute or chronic, Pancreatitis can be serious, so if you think you have it, call a doctor. They’ll likely help you give your pancreas a rest by putting you on an IV and providing you with whatever medications are needed. Unfortunately, Pancreatitis isn’t something you can treat at home, but you can help prevent it by avoiding alcohol and cigarettes.

Can Sleeping on Your Stomach Cause Stomach Pain?

There are multiple reasons why stomach sleeping is bad for you. Not only can it put increased pressure on your lower back and neck, but it also has an impact on your digestion.

lady sleeping on her stomach in the skydiver position

One study11 showed that low back pain, which can be caused by sleeping on your stomach, can lead to chronic constipation and other gut/bowel issues. This creates a problematic cycle for your quality of rest because gut and bowel issues can then cause sleep difficulties.

When to See a Doctor

As mentioned in the beginning, fortunately, many of the reasons your stomach might be hurting when you wake up are no cause for alarm and can be treated at home by changing up your diet or even the way you sleep. Sometimes, though, it’s best to get in touch with a doctor straight away.

For example, if you think you might have stomach ulcers, diverticulitis, PID, gastritis, or pancreatitis, you’ll want to contact your doctor as medication might be involved in your treatment.

Always see your doctor if your pain is persistent or severe, unexplained or not impacted by diet, or if you have been injured or are pregnant.

What Can You Do Right Now?

Try Over the Counter Treatments

Depending on what sort of stomach pain you’re experiencing when you wake up, there are plenty of over-the-counter medications that can provide you with some immediate relief. If you’re experiencing gas pain, try a medication with the ingredient “simethicone” like Gas-X, or try taking digestive enzymes with foods that are hard to digest (like crunchy vegetables or beans).

For heartburn, there are antacids like Pepcid AC, and for cramping or general stomach upset, Pepto Bismol is a safe and reliable solution.
Occasional constipation can be relieved with a mild laxative or stool softener — or you can load up on fiber, water, and magnesium. To reduce pain immediately, you can take an acetaminophen like Tylenol but stay away from NSAIDs like Ibuprofen as they can further irritate your stomach.

Although these medications are over the counter, we encourage you to consult with your doctor first if you have any other underlying conditions.

Make Lifestyle Changes

If you’re regularly waking up with stomach pain, there are several lifestyle changes you can make to feel better quickly. First of all, if you’re eating just before going to sleep, avoid these late-night meals. Experts recommend not eating a meal at least three hours before sleep.

Adding in more exercise during the day and eliminating or cutting back on things like alcohol, sugar, caffeine, spicy foods, fried and processed foods, and cigarettes, will also directly impact your gut health. If this seems like a tall order, you can at least start by cutting back on these things at night before bedtime to avoid waking up with stomach pain.

If you are eating any of the most commonly-triggering foods for those with allergies (peanuts, soy, eggs, dairy, wheat, shellfish, tree nuts, or fish), you might try eliminating one of these groups at a time to see if that helps.

Changing your sleep style could also make a positive difference. Rather than sleeping on your stomach, try lying on your left side, which is considered a helpful position for digestion.

See a Doctor

If you’re waking up regularly with stomach pain, call your doctor. They can make sure there isn’t something serious going on and help guide you to finding some immediate relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my stomach pain is serious?

If you’re concerned your stomach pain is serious, the best way to find out is to consult your primary care physician. Otherwise, be on the lookout for these symptoms12, which can indicate a more serious problem: persistent fever, ongoing nausea or vomiting, blood in your stools, urine or vomit, swelling and tenderness to the touch, jaundice, pain in other parts of your body, or shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.

Why does my stomach hurt when I’m lying on it?

Lying on your stomach can cause gastritis, heartburn, indigestion, or stomach ulcers to feel more painful. Experts say the best position for those with any sort of digestive issues is to sleep on your left side. This is because when lying on your left side, your stomach and its gastric juices remain lower than your esophagus while sleeping, preventing heartburn. This position also allows gravity to help move any waste through your colon.

How do I make my stomach stop hurting?

For immediate relief, there are several things you might try, depending on the cause of your stomach pain. If you’re experiencing gas, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, or diarrhea that isn’t caused by food poisoning, you can take relatively fast-acting over-the-counter medications.

You can also try lying down on your left side to aid in digestion. If this doesn’t help, try going for a walk to get things moving again, or taking a warm bath to relax your nervous system.

Additionally, you can try sipping some mint or ginger tea and be sure you are drinking enough (non-carbonated) water.

Resources:

  1. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified September 24, 2020. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4342-irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs.
  2. “5 Foods to Avoid if You Have IBS”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed September 6, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/5-foods-to-avoid-if-you-have-ibs.
  3. Noyes, Frank R., Barber-Westin, Sue D. “Diagnosis and Treatment of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome”. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/parasympathetic-nervous-system#:~:text=The%20parasympathetic%20nervous%20system%20is%20responsible%20for%20the%20body%27s%20rest,heart%20rate%20and%20increases%20digestion. 2017.
  4. “GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed September 6, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/gerd-diet-foods-that-help-with-acid-reflux-heartburn.
  5. “Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last modified February 22, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foods-linked-illness.html.
  6. Water Science School. “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body”. U.S. Geological Survey. May 22, 2019. https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body#:~:text=In%20adult%20men%2C%20about%2060,their%20bodies%20made%20of%20water.
  7. “Facts and Statistics”. FARE. Accessed September 6, 2022. https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/facts-and-statistics.
  8. “Why and How To Start an Elimination Diet”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified April 12, 2022. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/elimination-diet/.
  9. “Self-abdominal massage”. National Health Service. 2019. https://www.wchc.nhs.uk/content/uploads/2019/12/Self-abdominal-massage.pdf.
  10.  “Celiac Disease”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed September 6, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/celiac-disease.
  11.  Arai, Young-Chang., Shiro, Yukiko., Funak, Yasushi., Kasugaii, Kunio., Omichi, Yusuke, Sakurai, Hiroki., et. al. “The Association Between Constipation or Stool Consistency and Pain Severity in Patients With Chronic Pain”. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6139698/. 2018.
  12.  “Abdominal Pain”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Last modified April 18, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/4167-abdominal-pain.
Natalie G.
Natalie G.
Writer

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

When she's doing none of these things, you will most likely find her outdoors, at the gym, or... asleep.

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