Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed with a headache yet again? There’s probably nothing crummier than starting your day with a pounding headache. It certainly puts a damper on the whole seizing the day thing.
Morning is the most common, albeit annoying, time of day to get a headache. Sometimes headaches just happen, but if these early risers start to come regularly, they may point to specific causes—sleep disorders.
“Though there may be other causes, morning headaches are often thought to be an indicator of a sleep disorder,” said Holly Yancy, DO, a headache medicine specialist with Banner Brain & Spine. “We do know that both headaches and sleep disorders come from the same parts of the brain—the same parts that control sleep and mood also control pain.”
Don’t wake another day with a crummy headache. We share five common causes, tips to fend them off and what your doctor can do to help give you some peace of mind and a more restful sleep.
Common Reasons for Your Morning Headache
Migraines and other primary headache disorders
Migraines are the most common type of headache, affecting nearly 30 million Americans. They can occur at any time, but many people develop them early in the morning, just before they wake up.
There are also other headaches that tend to occur during sleep, such as hypnic and cluster headaches. Hypnic headaches, a.k.a. alarm clock headaches, wake people up at a similar time every night. Cluster headaches will often wake people from sleep in the night or in the early morning hours.
“Some headache disorders, such as cluster or migraine headaches, have been related to specific stages of sleep, such as waking during REM or slow wave sleep,” Dr. Yancy said. “It’s important to discuss your triggers with your doctor so they can find a treatment that helps you avoid them as much as you can and get back to better sleep."
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
OSA is a progressive medical condition that causes you to stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night. This occurs when tissue in your airway collapses and blocks air from entering your lungs. While it might not wake you up physically, the lack of oxygen will cause your brain to wake up enough for you to inhale more oxygen. The result: You’ll most likely wake up feeling tired and nursing a headache.
This is a serious condition that should be treated early on, as it can get progressively worse with age and weight gain. Small changes can have a profound impact. In some cases, weight loss can help, and in other cases, the use of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) or BiPAP machine may help.
Tossing and turning can not only be frustrating but doing so can definitely be a trigger for headaches—even migraines. The good news is that insomnia can be treated a variety of ways through medication, therapy or a combination of both. Your doctor may track your sleep patterns to help diagnose your condition and work with you on the best treatment options.
Has anyone told you it sounds like you are chewing on rocks at night? You may be suffering from bruxism, or teeth grinding. Grinding your teeth at night can inspire morning headaches and can even affect your jaw.
If you believe you—or your loved one has told you—are grinding your teeth at night, talk to your dentist or orthodontist who can fit you with a night guard. It might not be pretty, but it’s better than waking with a headache.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
Recent studies have shown a significant association between RLS and primary headache disorders, such as migraines. RLS is a movement disorder that most often occurs in adults who are middle-aged or older. There currently isn’t any cure for RLS, but there are many treatment options available that can help manage the symptoms and aid in better sleep.
Tips to help combat morning headaches
Achieving restful and restorative sleep can be a struggle for many people. Everything you can do to promote quality sleep is valuable and may help to decrease daytime sleepiness, stress levels and, most importantly for you, those morning headaches.
Here are a few things you can do to help promote a better night’s rest:
- Participate in stress-relieving activities, such as mindfulness, meditation and physical activity and exercise.
- Practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as watching TV.
- Avoid heavy meals and stimulants, such as alcohol, close to bedtime.
- Reduce screen time at night.
“If morning headaches persist, even with your best efforts, it may be time to talk your doctor or see a headache specialist for a new headache or a change in headache pattern that’s atypical for what you are used to,” Dr. Yancy said. “For example, for women with predictable headaches. If she’s never woken up before but now she does, it may be necessary to rule out a secondary cause.”
Other red flags include severe headaches that escalate over seconds to a couple minutes, headaches associated with vision changes, night sweats, fevers and unwanted weight loss should all be evaluated by your doctor.
How your doctor can help
Occasional headaches probably aren’t a big deal, but if they become your regular Monday through Sunday wake up call, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or headache specialist who can help listen to your history and perform a comprehensive exam.
“Your doctor can lead you to the right diagnostic studies to determine if sleep or other issues are contributing to the headaches, followed by a treatment that may improve the underlying cause or factors that are leading to morning headaches and a difficult start to the day,” Dr. Yancy said.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.