Headache after waking up

MANY of us don’t need to have been out drinking the night before to wake up the following morning with a cracking headache.

Morning headaches are common and can occur for a variety of reasons, with persistent pain a potential indicator of an underlying problem. Let’s take a closer look.

4 Morning headaches are common but it is vital to identify why they are happeningCredit: Getty – Contributor

What is a morning headache?

A morning headache usually begins between 4am and 9am and often interrupts a sufferer’s sleep.

The pain can fall into a number of categories making it either a cluster or tension headache, or even a migraine.

Other types of morning headache can include paroxysmal and medicinal overuse headaches.

Studies have found that most people who suffer morning headaches also suffer with sleep disorders.

4 Most people who suffer morning headaches also suffer with sleep disordersCredit: Getty – Contributor

Why do they happen?

The same part of the brain that controls sleep and mood also controls the pain you are waking up with.

If you are not getting enough sleep, this can trigger a headache.

And as chronic sleep loss lowers the pain threshold, headaches can begin to feel intense over time.

Insomnia is one of the major reasons for a morning migraine.

The condition can prevent you from getting enough rest by keeping you up when you are trying to fall asleep, waking you up once you fall asleep, and causing restless sleep.

4 The pain can fall into a number of categories making it either a cluster or tension headache or even a migraineCredit: Getty – Contributor

Depression and anxiety are also lead causes of chronic morning headaches, as they are intertwined with insomnia.

Additionally, withdrawal effects from pain medications, ergots and caffeine often produce chronic headaches and migraines.

Many sufferers also report experiencing sleep movement disorders like sleep bruxism (where people unknowingly grind or clench their teeth while they sleep) and restless leg syndrome (where people experience an intensely uncomfortable “pins and needles” sensation in their lower limbs while sleeping which is accompanied by the intense urge to move them in order to find relief).

Research has found that headaches in the morning can also be caused by circadian rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, sleepwalking, allergens in the bedroom environment, tension headaches from sleeping with the wrong pillow or in an exceptionally cold room, and any sudden changes in sleep schedule, such as oversleeping or sleep loss.

4 Insomnia is one of the major reasons for a morning migraineCredit: Getty – Contributor

How can I get rid of a headache fast?

As well as over the counter tablets, it is important to stay well hydrated to avoid headaches in general.

Here are some ways to banish the pain today:

  • Cold Pack: Placing a cold pack on your forehead can do wonders for a migraine. Ice cubes wrapped in a towel, a bag of frozen peas, or even a cold shower may lessen the pain. Keep the compress on your head for 15 minutes then take a break for 15 minutes.
  • Heating pad: For tension headaches, place a heating pad on your neck or the back of your head. If you have a sinus headache, hold a warm cloth to the area that hurts. A warm shower might also do the trick.
  • Ease pressure on your head: If your ponytail is too tight, it could cause a headache. These “external compression headaches” can also be brought on by wearing a hat, headband, or even swimming goggles that are too tight. Some people say this method works almost instantly.
  • Dim the lights: Bright or flickering lights can trigger migraines. If you’re prone to them, cover your windows with blackout curtains during the day and try to wear sunglasses outdoors. You might also want to add anti-glare screens to your computer.
  • Avoid chewing too much: Chewing gum hurts not just your jaw but can cause headaches too. And it’s not just gum, as the same is true for chewing your fingernails, lips, the inside or your cheeks, or handy objects like pens. Avoid crunchy and sticky foods if you are suffering and make sure you take small bites. If you grind your teeth at night, ask your dentist about a mouth guard as this may curb early-morning headaches.
  • Get Some Caffeine: No, this isn’t a mistake. Small amounts of caffeine can often relieve a headache and can even boost the effect of over the counter painkillers. However, too much caffeine can interrupt sleep and cause different types of headaches. Moderation is key.
  • Practice yoga: Whether it is stretching, yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, learning how to chill out when you’re in the middle of a headache can help with the pain.
  • Limit alcohol: Alcohol can trigger migraines in about one-third of those who experience frequent headaches. It has also been shown to cause tension and cluster headaches in many people.


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When should I see a doctor?

Not everyone with early morning headaches will necessarily need to see a doctor. Any of the signs below suggest that a person should see a doctor:

  • if two or more headaches occur in a week
  • recurring headaches, particularly in those over age 50, who have not experienced them before
  • a sudden or severe headache accompanied by a stiff neck
  • headache that occurs after a head injury
  • headache accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting that is not explained by another disorder
  • headache with confusion, weakness, double vision, or loss of consciousness
  • headache that suddenly changes in pattern or severity
  • chronic headaches in children
  • headache accompanying weakness or loss of sensation in any body part
  • headache with seizures or shortness of breath
  • frequent headaches in someone with a history of HIV or cancer

How to get rid of headache or migraine in TWO minutes or less

Morning Headache: Why You’re Waking up with Headaches

We all go to bed at night with intentions of waking up feeling rested, refreshed, and ready for the day. But for many people, waking up with a headache interferes with that.

Headaches are not uncommon and neither is waking up with them. There are several causes for waking up with headaches, and discovering the cause is the first step to putting a stop to them.

15 Reasons you could be waking up with a headache:

  1. Tension/Stress. Tension headaches are typically caused by stress, anxiety, and depression. Not only will you have a dull, aching pressure in your head, you’ll also most likely feel it in your neck and shoulder muscles as well.
  1. Not getting enough sleep is known to mess with hormone production and blood pressure, and cause added stress to the body, which can cause headaches.
  1. Too much sleep. Sometimes getting too much sleep can cause you to miss your morning meal or not get your coffee in time before a headache strikes.
  1. Sleep position. Certain sleep positions can lead to bad posture and put pressure on your neck and shoulders.
  1. Incorrect pillow. Not using the correct pillow for the position you sleep in can also put pressure on your neck and shoulders.
  1. Low blood sugar. If you have difficulty regulating your blood sugar, you may wake up with headaches. Other symptoms that may come with the headaches are feeling damp or sweaty when you wake up, nausea, or feeling shaky.
  1. Teeth grinding (bruxism). Clenching or grinding your teeth during sleep can create tension in the jaw and facial muscles, causing you to wake up with a headache. Many people are unaware that they grind their teeth.
  1. Cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are usually described as a sharp pain on one side of the head, often around or behind one of the eyes. Many times this can be accompanied with a stuffy or runny nose and may last for several days.
  1. Snoring/Sleep apnea. Snoring is caused by narrowing of the airways during sleep, and sometimes snoring is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Sleep apnea is characterized by shallow breathing and periods of apnea (pauses in breathing) that can last from several seconds to several minutes. When this happens, your oxygen levels are low, and you may wake up gasping for air. You may not get a good night’s rest because of this and many times, someone with sleep apnea doesn’t even know he or she has it. This can also be a cause for waking up with a headache. If left untreated, OSA can lead to more serious conditions so if you think you may have it, see your doctor.
  1. Sinusitis/Allergies. Sinus inflammation and congestion can lead to headaches. Many times sinus congestion can be related to allergies.
  1. High blood pressure. When blood pressure gets high, the force of blood through blood vessels can cause headaches. High blood pressure can be a risk factor for other serious diseases, so this needs to be addressed by your doctor.
  1. Not drinking enough water throughout the day can cause you to wake up with headaches. These headaches may also be accompanied by fatigue, dry mouth, or nausea.
  1. Caffeine or medication withdrawal. If you’re hooked on caffeine or another medication, going all night without it can cause you to wake up with a headache as a sign of withdrawal.
  1. Lifestyle habits. Lifestyle habits such as smoking and alcohol can cause morning headaches. Other chemicals such as perfumes could also be a factor to consider.
  1. Too much caffeine. While some caffeine in moderation can be okay or even act as a treatment for a headache, too much caffeine throughout the day can actually cause you to wake up with headaches or migraines.

What you should do if you have been waking up with a headache:

  • See your doctor for help if you’re blood pressure is high, your blood sugar is low or high, or you snore and think you may have sleep apnea.
  • Work on getting in a regular sleep routine. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, getting at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Try sleeping in a different position. Also, there are pillows made specifically for stomach sleepers, side sleepers, etc., so make sure you have the correct one.
  • Relax Stress is a common cause for waking up with tension headaches. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and massage therapy can help to relieve stress.
  • Cut down on caffeine. Just be aware that if you quit caffeine cold turkey, you may have temporary headaches from withdrawal.
  • If you’re a teeth grinder, try a night guard to help prevent clenching. If you’re unsure whether you grind your teeth or not, it could be a possibility so talk with your doctor.
  • Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated throughout the day can help. Don’t drinking too much water before bedtime so you can sleep through the night without waking up for bathroom breaks.

  • Avoid alcohol and smoking.
  • Avoid chemicals or perfume that could possibly trigger your headaches.
  • If you think it may be sinus or allergy related, try a decongestant or antihistamine. It’s a good idea to speak with your doctor before starting a new medication.
  • Avoid certain foods. According to the National Headache Foundation, there are foods that may trigger headaches. These foods include:
  • Ripened cheeses such as cheddar, Emmentaler, Stilton, brie, and camembert
  • Permissible cheeses like American, cottage, cream cheese, and Velveeta
  • Chocolate
  • Fermented foods
  • Peanut butter
  • Certain breads containing cheese or chocolate
  • Some beans, such as lima beans, fava, and snow peas
  • Foods containing MSG
  • Several processed meats, such as bologna, pepperoni, salami, and hot dogs
  • Citrus fruits and bananas
  • Sour cream
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

Usually, for someone that wakes up with headaches, the cause isn’t very severe. But in rare cases, headaches can be a sign of more serious conditions so it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor.

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A number of factors can cause waking up with a morning headache, but the first one I suggest you explore is your blood pressure. I would recommend getting a general medical checkup with special attention to your blood pressure, but also to rule out any other condition that might be associated with waking up with a headache. If you snore, be sure to tell the doctor, because morning headaches have been associated with snoring and sleep apnea. Treatment may mean weight loss or use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device worn at night to prevent interruptions in breathing during sleep.

If you get a clean bill of health, your morning headaches may mean you are suffering from chronic tension or migraine headaches. You’re not alone. About four percent of the population has chronic daily headaches, as do up to 80 percent of patients seeking treatment from headache centers. In most cases, these morning headaches are “transformed migraines,” meaning that they started out as migraines, which became more frequent and more like tension headaches. Some people who have chronic daily morning headaches have common tension headaches (pain that is mild to moderate may feel like it is pressing or tightening on the head, and felt on both sides of the head). These headaches often respond well to massage therapy and stress reduction techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation. In most cases, transformed migraines are due to taking too many painkillers. If you take pain medication (prescription or over-the-counter) for headache relief, your morning headaches may be the result of overnight “withdrawal” from the caffeine and other components commonly found in these medications. If so, the only solution is to stop taking them. Depending on how long you’ve been using them, going “cold turkey” can be very challenging and can temporarily lead to even more severe headaches. For this reason, it is best to withdraw from the drugs under the supervision of a neurologist who specializes in treating headaches.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

When you have a pounding headache, being unconscious might sound like a nice alternative. But what happens when sleep itself is the trigger for your aching head?

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Headaches and sleep problems are partners in crime. “If you’re dealing with chronic headaches, or headaches that seem to appear as soon as you wake up, it could be a sleep disorder,” says Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, sleep medicine physician and Director of the Sleep Disorders Center.

Insomnia headache

Headaches and slumber troubles are linked in a variety of ways. Being sleep deprived can make you more likely to develop a tension headache during the day. It’s often a vicious cycle, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer explains. “Insomnia can cause tension headaches, which can make it harder to sleep, which can lead to more headaches.” (AHHH!!)

Lack of shuteye can also turn up the volume on other types of headaches. “When people aren’t sleeping well, their pain is magnified,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.

And even if you’re well-rested, sleep isn’t always an escape from chronic headaches. Both migraines and cluster headaches can come on while you’re snoozing. Of course, they can also strike when you’re wide awake, and the sun is shining.

Other headache syndromes are closely tied to sleep, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.

Sleep apnea and headaches

People with sleep apnea stop breathing off and on for short periods during the night. Snoring is the symptom most commonly associated with sleep apnea. But sleep apnea headaches are also surprisingly common, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.

“We think more than half of the people with sleep apnea have headaches,” she says. “The classic scenario is that a person wakes up with a headache each day, which goes away within 4 hours.”

People usually describe apnea-related headaches as pressing pain that occurs on both sides of the head. They differ from migraines, which often cause pulsing pain on one side or the other and are usually accompanied by nausea or other symptoms. And the good news: “Typically when we treat the apnea, the headaches go away,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.

Hypnic headaches

Like Freddy Krueger, hypnic headaches only come after you when you’re deep in slumber. They can happen every night, sometimes more than once a night.

Hypnic headaches are something of a mystery, says Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer. “We don’t understand them well.” Fortunately, they’re rare, and treatments are available to keep bedtime from feeling like a nightmare.

Exploding head syndrome

Yes, there is a disorder called exploding head syndrome. No, it’s not what it sounds like. (Although it would make a great story if it were.)

This sleep disorder causes a person to hear an imaginary crash or exploding sound in the hazy moments between wake and sleep. It’s often painless, but some people report a stab of pain in the head. (Even if you don’t feel pain, though, it’s freaky to feel like a bomb just went off in your bedroom as you were drifting off to dreamland.)

Like hypnic headaches, exploding head syndrome isn’t well understood, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says. “We believe it’s a phenomenon that happens as your wake systems shut down and your sleep systems come online. It’s similar to the way your muscles sometimes suddenly jerk as you transition from wake to sleep.”

Treatment for sleep-related headaches

Sleep itself is pretty mysterious, so it’s no surprise that scientists have a lot to learn about the weird and wild ways our sleep systems can go awry. But the link between headaches and sleep problems is fairly straightforward — and mostly treatable.

“Many of my patients found that their headaches disappeared when we treated the insomnia or sleep apnea, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says. “If you have chronic headaches, it’s worth exploring whether a sleep disorder is an underlying trigger.”

Why do you wake up with a headache?

If you start each morning with a headache, there’s a reason for it. Consider the following findings, courtesy of the American Migraine Foundation:

  • 50 percent of migraines occur during the sleeping hours of 4:00 to 9:00 am.
  • 80 percent of people with regular migraines often wake up still feeling tired.
  • More than half of patients in headache clinics also report chronic sleep issues.
  • People with sleep disorders experience headaches at 2 to 8 times the rate of others.

Clearly, sleep and head pain are closely related. If you are waking up regularly with a headache, you may have what’s called an “awakening headache.” The timing of awakening headaches – upon waking or shortly afterwards – is what distinguishes them from other types of headaches.

Why do sleep problems cause headaches?

It all stems from your brain. The same regions of your brain control your sleep, headache, and mood.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you can expect to experience changes in mood or headache. Likewise, chronic sleep loss lowers your threshold for pain, so headaches can feel worse, and make sleep harder to achieve.

Not helping matters is that in the morning, your cortisol levels (your stress hormone) are higher, while your endorphins and enkephalins levels (your natural painkillers) are lower.

Common sleep problems associated with awakening headache

The following sleep issues are associated with morning headaches.


Insomnia, which describes difficulty falling or staying asleep. or related sleep deprivation – related depression and stress feedback loop. Over half of migraine sufferers report sleep-onset or sleep-maintenance insomnia. The problem with insomnia is that it often leads to chronic sleep deprivation. For example, migraine sufferers with insomnia tend to sleep 6 or less hours per night. Even just a night of sleep deprivation can worsen mood, memory, and focus the following day. Over time, it can develop into depression or anxiety about not being able to fall asleep.

Snoring and sleep apnea

Besides insomnia, snoring or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are the most common sleep issues reported by headache sufferers. Snoring is heavy breathing during sleep, while OSA Researchers between sleep apnea and migraines. However, sleep apnea does result in sleep disturbances like insomnia that can cause morning headaches, and some research has indicated that treating sleep apnea reduces the amount and severity of headaches.

Sleep movement disorders

Morning headaches are also experienced by people with sleep movement disorders, including:

  • Sleep bruxism, a sleep disorder where people unknowingly grind or clench their teeth while they sleep. It’s related to stress and often causes headaches.
  • Restless legs syndrome, a condition where people experience an intensely uncomfortable “pins and needles” sensation in their lower limbs while they’re in a supine position, accompanied by an equally intense urge to move them in order to find relief.

Hypnic headache

Hypnic “alarm clock” headache syndrome describes a condition where you wake during the night (1:00 to 3:00 am) due to a headache. The timing in the early middle of the night differentiates these from awakening headaches. Thus far researchers believe this to be a relatively rare and benign condition, although it is uncomfortable and the resulting sleep deprivation can cause the other types of headaches discussed in this article.

Other causes

Thanks to the sleep issues described above, migraine sufferers are also much more likely to experience excessive daytime sleepiness.

Additionally, waking up with headaches has been tied to:

  • Circadian rhythm disorders
  • Narcolepsy
  • Sleepwalking
  • Allergens in the bedroom environment
  • Tension headaches from sleeping with the wrong pillow or in an exceptionally cold room
  • Any sudden changes in sleep schedule, such as oversleeping or sleep loss

How to reduce sleep-related headaches

If you suffer from morning headaches, here’s the good news: improving your sleep often improves your migraine symptoms. Here are seven ways to enjoy better sleep, with fewer headaches.

1. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep.

The best temperature for sleep is a cool, low- to mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything colder than that, and you could induce a tension headache. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and clear of clutter. This will prevent noisy or visual distractions that can induce stress and anxiety.

2. Choose comfortable bedding and mattress.

If you suffer from tension headaches, the solution can be as simple as getting a better pillow so you don’t strain your neck while you sleep. Side sleepers should be sure to get one with a proper height to keep their neck and spine aligned while asleep.

Assess your sleep position, body weight, and other health factors to determine whether it might be time for a new mattress. For instance, memory foam does wonders for pressure point relief, but it can make hot sleepers even hotter, disrupting sleep and leading to sleep-deprivation headaches.

If your headaches are caused by allergies and sinus congestion, find ways to remove allergens from your bedroom. Get a HEPA filter and invest in hypoallergenic sheets and bedding. There are even fully hypoallergenic, antimicrobial mattress options, such as all-latex beds.

3. Get better sleep, consistently.

Too much or too little sleep are common headache triggers. Reduce headaches caused by sleep deprivation by getting sufficient, quality sleep on a regular basis. Set aside enough time for you to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

4. Address your snoring.

Treating snoring or sleep apnea can eliminate headaches. Invest in anti-snoring chinstraps, mouthpieces, or pillows. If you think you have something more serious, like sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. They may order additional overnight sleep testing before fitting you for a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

5. Avoid headache-triggering substances.

Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine all interfere with sleep. Alcohol also causes dehydration, another risk factor for headaches, and daily caffeine consumption has been linked with chronic headaches.

Drinking coffee or alcohol late at night can make you need to urinate during the night, leading to sleep disruptions that result in headaches. Instead, drink plenty of water during the day, but limit your fluid intake in the hour before bed and use the restroom before going to sleep.

Also watch out that you don’t become dependent on any of these substances, as withdrawal itself can induce a headache. The same goes for pain relievers. Since you’re go without the substance for several hours while you sleep, by the time you wake up your levels are low and can trigger a withdrawal or rebound headache.

The one caveat to all this: If you suffer from hypnic headaches, caffeine can be an effective treatment.

6. Keep a sleep and headache diary.

This will aid your doctor in diagnosing the cause of your headache and related sleep issues, as well as inform their treatment plan. Note when you have headaches, the intensity and location of the pain, and any other symptoms. Note when you go to bed, when you wake up, your total sleep time, and any sleep issues (such as reports of snoring from your partner or waking during the night).

7. Seek out alternative therapies.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety in addition to insomnia, it’s worth noting that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown to be an extremely effective treatment. Patients meet with a psychotherapist and learn how to recognize the anxiety-producing thoughts and behaviors that prevent them from getting quality sleep, and then learn how to replace them with healthier thoughts and habits. In some cases, just a few sessions can eliminate or significantly reduce symptoms.

Besides helping you fall asleep sooner, taking a melatonin can have an anti-inflammatory effect. In the case of cluster headaches and some migraines, it may reduce your migraine symptoms or prevent them.

Headaches are pretty awful at any time, but getting one in the A.M. is a sure-fire way to get your day off to crappy start. Unfortunately, you aren’t the only person who struggles with these. “Morning headaches are very common,” Amit Sachdev, M.D., an assistant professor and director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University, tells SELF. And, he says, they can happen for a variety of different reasons.

Sometimes headaches just happen and you don’t experience them again, but if you’re regularly getting morning head pain, there might be a specific cause—which also means there might be a way to prevent them. Here are a few potential causes:

1. You might actually suffer from migraines.

The most common time of day for migraines to surface is between 4 and 9 a.m., Jennifer Kriegler, M.D., a physician in the Center for Headache and Pain at the Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. During that time, your body tends to produce less endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural pain-killers, than at any other time of day, according to the National Headache Foundation. Adrenaline is also released in higher amounts during the early morning hours, the organization says, and since adrenalin impacts blood pressure and the regulation of dilation or contraction of the blood vessels, it could prompt a migraine.

Migraines are often genetic, meaning there’s not much you can do to control whether or not you get them, but you can manage them, Dr. Sachdev says. The key is to identify your triggers—stress, poor sleep, and diet are some of the biggies, he says—and avoid them as much as you can. If you do develop a migraine, resting, using ice, relaxing, and meditating can help, Sachdev says. If you have really bad migraines, your doctor may also be able to prescribe medication that can help.

2. Or you might have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition that causes people to repeatedly stop breathing during their sleep, can cause you to wake up with a headache. The headache is due to lack of oxygen and increased pressure that can develop in your head due to the condition, Vernon Williams, M.D., sports neurologist and director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, tells SELF.

Unfortunately, it can be tough to know if you have sleep apnea on your own, but if your partner complains that you snore a lot, you often feel tired even though you got enough sleep, and you’re having morning headaches, it’s time to talk to your doctor, Dr. Williams says.

3. Maybe you’re going through caffeine withdrawal.

This normally happens in people who have multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, but it can happen to anyone, Dr. Williams says. Caffeine may impact blood flow to the brain, Dr. Sachdev says, and if you don’t have as much as usual it can cause neurological side effects that are similar to withdrawal from other drugs like alcohol. A big part of that: A raging headache. And, since many people drink coffee in the morning, it can come on first thing.

To compact caffeine withdrawal headaches, Dr. Kriegler recommends trying to avoid caffeine in the afternoon. If you’re trying to go caffeine-free but could do without the headache, wean yourself off slowly. She recommends having ¼ cup decaf with the rest regular, and gradually decreasing how much caffeine you have over time.

4. You could be grinding your teeth at night.

Grinding your teeth can cause tension in your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), which connects your lower jaw to your skull in front of your ear, and it can also cause changes in the positioning of your jaw, Dr. Sachdev says. All this leads to tension, which can spark a headache.

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