Waking Up With a Headache

One unpleasant side effect of not sleeping well is waking up to a morning headache. Good sleep is as important to a healthy lifestyle as eating right and proper exercise. In our day-to-day lives, many factors take precedence over good, uninterrupted rest. It could be work, your phone, or social engagements that’s keeping you up. Any of these distractions can result in a serious disruption of your sleep pattern.

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    Almost 50% of migraines are known to occur during the sleeping hours of 4:00 to 9:00 am. Studies have shown that poor sleep and morning headaches are very closely related. So, problems with one may be causing issues with the other.

    Why Am I Waking up with a Headache?

    There could be a lot of reasons why you’re waking up with a headache every morning. The root cause is the way your brain works. Your sleep, headaches and mood are all controlled by the same region of the brain. The Ventrolateral Preoptic Nucleus (VLPO or VLPN) region directly impacts periods of sleep and wakefulness. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your mood will be affected, as will your sleeping patterns.

    The VLPO of the hypothalamus is one area of the brain that is particularly involved in the switch between wakefulness and sleep. Neurons in this small area help to promote sleep by inhibiting activity in areas of the brain stem that maintain wakefulness.

    Your pain threshold is affected by sleep loss, which intensifies the physical and emotional experience of pain. So if you’re not sleeping enough, your headache will feel more severe. Similarly, getting good sleep will help alleviate pain and also have a great effect on your otherwise sullen mood.

    The level of particular hormones in the body at a certain times of the day can also make matters worse. When you wake up, the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body is higher than usual. At the same time, the natural painkillers, endorphins and enkephalins, will be lower than what they would be at other times of the day. This will makes morning headaches more severe.

    Other factors can also trigger your migraine or stress-related headaches. Periods of oversleeping or an erratic sleep schedule can be a cause as well. Or, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder that does not allow you to get the right amount of rest. If this is the case, determining the type of disorder and subsequent treatment is vital to eliminating your morning headaches.

    Types of Sleeping Disorders

    Your morning headaches could be stemming from a condition that has yet to be diagnosed. Here are some common sleep disorders that could be the source of your problem.


    The primary symptoms of insomnia are the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This is the most common sleep disorder that people with severe headaches suffer from. It can also affect your regular functioning during the day and cause fatigue, lack of concentration as well as a loss of motivation.

    Just one night of sleep deprivation can lead to a headache, a bad mood or lack of focus the next day. Prolonged periods of sleepless nights can develop into more serious issues like depression or anxiety. Severe cases should be taken seriously and treated by a specialist. This should improve your sleep-induced headaches and overall well being.

    Sleep Apnea

    Another common sleep disorder that can hamper a good night’s rest is sleep apnea. There are two types of sleep apnea. The first is central sleep apnea where the brain is not able to send the signals needed to breathe. The second and more common is called obstructive sleep apnea. This is where the upper airway gets blocked repeatedly while you sleep. More than just snoring, this condition can be quite dangerous.

    While scientists haven’t been able to confirm a direct link between sleep apnea and migraines, some evidence suggests the possibility. There have been studies that show a reduction in severity of headaches once sleep apnea has been treated.

    Sleep Movement Disorder

    Sleep Movement Disorder is a condition where your body experiences involuntary movements while sleeping or trying to sleep.

    An example of this disorder is sleep bruxism, where people unknowingly grind or clench their teeth while they sleep. This constant tension while you sleep can lead to headaches in the morning. This condition can usually be traced to excessive stress. Another similar disorder is the restless legs syndrome, where you experience the “pins and needles” sensation in your lower limbs while lying down. Constant movement again inhibits proper sleep.

    Hypnic Headache

    Commonly known as the “alarm clock” headache, Hypnic Headaches cause you to wake up at specific times during the night. They usually occur during the hours of 1:00 am and 3:00 am. The sleep deprivation that stems from this can also lead to morning headaches, making it a vicious cycle.

    How Can I Improve My Sleep and Reduce Headaches?

    Getting 7 -8 hours or adequate sleep is the first step to controlling sleep-related headaches. There are, however, a number of steps that can be taken to ensure that you’re getting better sleep and fewer headaches.

    Make Your Bedroom Your Sacred Space

    Your bedroom should be a safe space away from all the stress of daily life. Keep the temperature cool but not cold, as that can lead to headaches as well. Make sure your room is dark, quiet and not cramped with unnecessary things.

    Another very important thing to keep in mind here is to remove all unnecessarily distractions from the bedroom. There should be no television, tablets or cell phone when you’re lying in bed. Instead, meditate and practice calming activities.

    Get Comfortable Bedding

    One of the most common reasons why you you may have trouble sleeping is an uncomfortable mattress. In addition to headaches, if you are waking up feeling stiff and sore, your mattress may be the cause. Remove your sheets and check your current mattress for sags, lumps, or other irregularities. Excessive wear is a sign it’s time for a new mattress.

    Pillows and other bedding are equally important. Your pillow should be of the right size so that you’re not straining your neck as you try to sleep. Also, just like your mattress, individual firmness preferences vary depending on your sleeping style.

    Be Consistent with Sleep

    Your bedtime and waking up time should be consistent so that your body gets into the right rhythm. Research has found that both sleeping too much and sleeping too little can cause health risks. If you’re sleeping less than six hours every night or more than nine hours each night, you may end up with a more severe headache. The optimum amount of sleep for an average adult is between seven and eight hours and should help in avoiding regular sleep-related headaches.

    Don’t Ignore the Snoring

    Often times, people think snoring is harmless. But, it could be a sign of a much more serious health problem such as sleep apnea. Treating your sleep apnea, however, is one of the best ways of getting uninterrupted sleep and reducing morning headaches. While anti-snoring chin straps, mouthpieces and pillows work for some people, you may want to consult a doctor for an expert opinion.

    Seek Specialized Therapy

    If you’re waking up with a headache, it could be an issue with your mental health. In such cases, visit a doctor to diagnose the problem and come up with suitable treatment options. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been known to have a good effect on patients who are suffering from depression, anxiety or insomnia. A psychotherapist can be very helpful in such cases.

    Final Thoughts

    Headaches are a frustrating way to start your day. Knowing potential causes will help you narrow down solutions for your discomfort. Not sleeping properly is at the heart of most morning headaches and migraines. It may only require simple lifestyle changes to eliminate the problem. Keep a consistent sleep schedule and avoid distractions that can stand between you and a restful night. It’s important to keep your bedroom a clean, uncluttered oasis for sleep. Reducing your caffeine and nicotine intake will also help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

    Not all morning headaches can be remedied so easily. Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea require help from a medical specialist and should not be taken lightly. While your headaches are uncomfortable, they may also be an indicator of a more serious medical issue. Rest assured, with proper treatment, relief is available.


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