Waking up with headaches: why does it happen?

Waking up with headaches can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. There are several potential reasons why this phenomenon occurs, and understanding these causes can help you address the issue and find relief.

Here are some common explanations for waking up with headaches:

Sleep disturbances: Disrupted sleep can contribute to morning headaches. Conditions like sleep apnea, where breathing interruptions occur during sleep, can lead to oxygen deprivation and subsequent headaches upon waking. Additionally, grinding or clenching your teeth during sleep (bruxism) can cause tension headaches.

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when your upper airway becomes blocked many times while you sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow.

Reference: nhlbi.nih.gov

Sleep position and pillow support: Your sleeping position and the support provided by your pillow can influence headache development. Sleeping in an awkward position or using an unsupportive pillow that does not maintain proper neck alignment can strain the muscles and lead to tension headaches.

Dehydration: Lack of sufficient hydration during sleep can trigger headaches upon waking. During the night, your body continues to lose water through respiration and sweat, which can result in dehydration. Dehydration can cause blood vessels in the brain to constrict, leading to headaches.

Low blood sugar levels: If you experience a drop in blood sugar levels during the night, it can result in headaches upon awakening. This is particularly relevant for individuals with diabetes or those who have irregular eating patterns.

Medication side effects: Some medications, such as certain sleep aids or medications used to treat high blood pressure, may have side effects that include headaches upon waking. If you suspect your medication is contributing to your headaches, consult your healthcare provider for guidance.

Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are intense headaches that often occur in cycles, typically waking people from sleep with severe pain around or behind one eye. These headaches can be debilitating and require medical attention for appropriate diagnosis and management.

Migraine headaches: Migraines are a complex neurological condition characterized by severe headaches, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, light sensitivity, and visual disturbances. Migraines can occur upon waking or be triggered by factors during sleep, such as changes in sleep patterns or disrupted sleep.

waking up with headaches

Which types of headaches are more common in the morning?

Two types of headaches are commonly associated with mornings:

Tension headaches:

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and can occur at any time of the day. However, many individuals experience tension headaches upon waking or shortly after getting up.

These headaches typically manifest as a dull, aching pain that affects both sides of the head. Tension headaches are often caused by muscle tension and stress, which can build up during sleep due to poor sleep posture, grinding or clenching of the teeth (bruxism), or sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

Migraine headaches:

Migraines are another type of headache that can frequently occur in the morning. Migraines are characterized by intense, throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head.

Along with the pain, migraines may be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances. While migraines can occur at any time, some individuals experience “morning migraines,” which either awaken them from sleep or develop shortly after waking up.

Changes in sleep patterns, such as oversleeping, insufficient sleep, or irregular sleep routines, can trigger morning migraines.

How do you treat morning headaches?

How do you treat morning headaches?

The treatment of morning headaches depends on the underlying cause and the specific type of headache you are experiencing. Here are some general strategies that can help alleviate morning headaches:

Identify and address triggers: Keep a headache diary to track potential triggers such as sleep patterns, diet, stress levels, and environmental factors. By identifying and addressing triggers, you may be able to prevent or reduce the frequency of morning headaches.

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Improve sleep hygiene: Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Create a sleep-friendly environment that is cool, dark, and quiet. Use a comfortable and supportive pillow and mattress, and ensure that your sleep position promotes proper neck and spine alignment.

Manage stress: Stress can contribute to headaches, including morning headaches. Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or engaging in relaxing activities to help reduce stress levels.

Stay hydrated: Dehydration can trigger headaches. Make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day, including before bed. Hydrating your body can help prevent dehydration-related morning headaches.

Adjust caffeine intake: Caffeine can both relieve and trigger headaches, depending on the individual. If you regularly consume caffeine, try to maintain a consistent intake and avoid abrupt changes. It may be helpful to limit or avoid caffeine close to bedtime, as it can interfere with sleep.

Consider pain relief options: Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen sodium (Aleve) may provide temporary relief for mild to moderate morning headaches. However, it’s important to use these medications as directed and consult a healthcare professional if you frequently rely on them or if your headaches are severe.

Apply cold or warm compresses: Depending on the type of headache, applying a cold or warm compress to the affected area may provide relief. Cold compresses can help numb the pain and reduce inflammation, while warm compresses can help relax tense muscles.

Relaxation techniques: Engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or taking a warm bath or shower can help alleviate tension and promote headache relief.

Seek professional help: If your morning headaches persist, worsen in severity, or significantly affect your quality of life, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. They can provide a proper diagnosis, identify any underlying causes, and recommend appropriate treatment options, including prescription medications or specialized therapies.

Remember, the treatment of morning headaches should be tailored to your specific needs and the underlying cause of your headaches. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized recommendations.

waking up with headaches


It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if you frequently wake up with headaches to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

They can evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and conduct any necessary tests to identify potential triggers and provide personalized recommendations for headache management.

Additionally, practicing good sleep hygiene, staying hydrated, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and using supportive pillows can help reduce the likelihood of waking up with headaches.

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