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Can Sleep Deprivation Cause Nausea? (Research Review)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jan 12, 2022

While it’s not the most studied area, more and more evidence seems to suggest that sleep deprivation and nausea are linked.

What’s not clear is whether or not sleep deprivation causes nausea, or if the opposite is true (or both).

This post is a short summary of the current research available on this topic that shows that nausea and poor sleep quality are interlinked.

Sleep Deprivation Enhances Motion Sickness and Nausea

Exhaustion is known to cause many side effects like headaches, elevated blood pressure, and nausea. But even minor sleep deprivation can cause symptoms like nauseas.

One study looked at how common motion sickness is, which nausea is a common symptom of (1). They found that:

The range of vulnerability (to motion sickness) in the normal population varies about 10,000 to 1. Sleep deprivation can also enhance susceptibility.

In another study on this topic, researchers looked at the effect of oscillation motion on a variety of metrics (2).

They found that sleep deprivation:

  • Increases susceptibility to motion sickness and nausea
  • Impairs cognitive performance
  • Impairs motor performance

SummaryResearch shows that being sleep deprived can make you more vulnerable to nausea (at least while in motion).

Does Poor Sleep Cause Nausea, or the Other Way Around?

One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients are nausea and vomiting. Data from just under 200 breast cancer patients was studied and revealed (3):

Chemotherapy-induced nausea was significantly associated with poor sleep quality (odds ratio 2.48)

In other words, the patients that had poor sleep were much more likely to develop nausea symptoms.

Technically, that correlation could indicate that nausea causes poor sleep quality, or it could mean that poor sleep leads to nausea. Or even a combination of both.

However, another study looked at motion sickness and nausea while driving, and found that sleep deprived drivers were significantly more likely to develop nausea, along with other side effects like disorientation (4).

SummaryCurrently, data suggests that sleep deprivation is the main driver of nausea in the sleep quality-nausea relationship.

The Degree of Sleep Deprivation Scales With Nausea

There’s one last study we need to look at.

Researchers wanted to know if the amount of sleep deprivation correlates with the severity of nausea.

They set up an experiment with 4 experimental groups, divided between 4 and 8 hours of sleep, and either staying in a stationary position or on a slow swing for long periods of time. This took place over 2 days (5).

The graphs below are the most interesting to me, I’ve summarized their findings just below.

There are a few important takeaways:

  • Chart A - A gentle and constant swing makes you sleepier (no big shock there). More importantly, subjects with only 4 hours of sleep recorded higher degrees of sleepiness than the 8 hours of sleep group.
  • Chart B - Neither stationary group developed nausea, even if sleep deprived. However, the group with only 4 hours of sleep that were more sleep deprived recorded a significantly higher nausea rating when on the swing.

SummarySleep deprivation in a stationary position isn’t more likely to cause nausea. However, once you start moving around, especially when doing something like driving or swinging, sleep deprivation makes nausea far more likely.

How to Deal With Nausea From Sleep Deprivation

Nausea is either left alone or treated with medication classified as antiemetics.

In terms of over the counter medication, antihistamines typically are used to treat nausea. However, antihistamines can actually make you sleepier, which can obviously be a problem.

In chronic cases of nausea, treatment needs to be handled by a doctor. In those cases, doctors will usually prescribe medications like antidepressants or benzodiazepines (6). However, these can have many side effects, including worsening sleep, so they need to be carefully monitored by a physician.

SummaryMild cases of nausea caused by sleep deprivation can often be treated by over the counter medicine like Benadryl, but recurrent cases should be taken more seriously and seen by a doctor to treat the root issue.

References

  1. Motion sickness: more than nausea and vomiting
  2. The influence of sleep deprivation and oscillating motion on sleepiness, motion sickness, and cognitive and motor performance
  3. Longitudinal Association of Poor Sleep Quality With Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting in Patients With Breast Cancer
  4. Quantifying visual attention and visually induced motion sickness during day-night driving and sleep deprivation
  5. The influence of sleep deprivation and oscillating motion on sleepiness, motion sickness, and cognitive and motor performance
  6. Practical Perspectives in the Treatment of Nausea and Vomiting

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.