Do you find yourself thinking you should be well-rested and ready to hop out of bed in the morning with the verve and vigor a 7-9 hour sleep session is supposed to give you but instead are unfortunately (and inconveniently) wake up with a headache in the morning? You’re not alone, and your concern is warranted. Morning headaches aren’t uncommon, as there are lots of reasons why you might find yourself in such a state—we know, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with but hopefully we can help get to the root of the problem so you can find a solution. Why do I wake up with a headache?
Waking up with a headache is no joke. It can be absolutely debilitating to your morning routine and honestly quite a stressful way to set the tone for your whole day. A morning headache never says, “hey, let’s kick off a great day,” it tries to drag you down to the depths, to feel burdened and less-than-100-percent. So where do morning headaches come from?
Why Do I Wake Up With a Headache?
Despite the fact that getting enough sleep seems like it would be the simple solution to your problem, waking up with a headache can actually be triggered by sleep. It’s unfortunate, we know, but a morning headache starts with your brain. The regions of your brain that control sleep, headaches, and your mood are one in the same. If you don’t get enough sleep, you can find yourself experiencing headaches or mood changes. If you suffer from chronic sleep loss, your pain threshold can actually become lower, so headaches feel worse and it’s harder to get a good night of sleep. Ugh.
Sometimes, however, what you may be battling against is a sleep disorder (or symptoms of a sleep disorder) that causes morning headaches.
Common Sleep Disorders that Cause Morning Headaches
Sleep Apnea — Commonly associated with bad snoring, one of sleep apnea’s symptoms are morning headaches. What happens with apnea sufferers is that your breathing is cut off while you sleep, which causes the brain to get a lack of oxygen. Commonly treated with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, sleep apnea is not something to leave untreated. Snoring (even a little bit) can be a symptom of sleep apnea, but if you’re waking up with a headache you might want to see a sleep specialist to get this problem under control.
Teeth Grinding (Bruxism) — The main symptoms include frequent headaches or having a sore jaw when you wake up in the morning, but it can be pretty difficult to recognize this issue unless you have a bedmate. Around 45 million Americans suffer from bruxism, and sometimes the fix is simply cutting out stressors or anxiety-inducers in your life. You can also alleviate the effects of bruxism by wearing a sleep mouth guard, so if you’re feeling that morning headache creep in the morning, this might be the undiagnosed cause.
Insomnia — It’s pretty common and it can happen to anyone. If you find yourself sleeping less than 6 hours per night, have trouble sleeping through the night, or wake up frequently throughout the night, you might have insomnia (or the trappings thereof). Aside from waking up with a headache, insomnia (even just a single night of sleep deprivation) can worsen your mood and damage your focus and memory-retention for the following day. Insomnia over a long period of time can develop into depression and anxiety.
Circadian Rhythm Disorder — This is a sleep disorder in which your body is desynchronized from internal sleep-wake rhythms and the light-dark cycle, causing your internal clock to function incorrectly. Circadian rhythm at its core is pretty simple to understand—during the day we’re awake and at night we go to sleep—our bodies regulate this with proteins that build up during the day and break down at night, letting us know when it’s time to sleep in a 24-hour period. If your circadian rhythm is thrown off (from something even as simple as jet lag) you can find yourself suffering from morning headaches. Take a melatonin in the early evening and get back on schedule!
A Quick Fix For Your Morning Headache
Sometimes, you need a quick fix, even though there’s not much you can do. You can’t go back in time and change your previous night of sleep, but you can stay hydrated (sometimes a morning headache is simply caused by dehydration) and do some simple things to alleviate the pain, so you can get on with your day despite initial setbacks.
Massage — Your neck and temples can use a massage to improve the blood flow and soothe the pain of a tension-related headache. Gentle, circular rubbing with your fingertips may make all the difference in getting past the initial discomfort.
Warmth — Put a heating pad or warm cloth on your neck at the base of your head to ease your headache. Sometimes the warmth can help relax your muscles. Likewise, the opposite might work better for you, applying an ice pack to your neck or head.
Relaxation — Meditate, breathe deeply, and let your mind wander toward something more peaceful. According to the American Migraine Foundation, “meditation may inhibit the part of the nervous system responsible for stress,” and sometimes stress or anxiety are the root causes of a morning headache.
Stress Relief — Likewise, if you’re in a noisy environment, you’ve got bills to pay, or you have a lot of work deadlines looming, you might be waking up with a headache simply because your stress levels are too high. If you can take a day off, or even just leave a little early from work, or let the chores go for a couple days while you recuperate, you might be able to get back on a regular sleep schedule and kick morning headaches to the curb. Even sitting in a dark room with relaxing music can help!
Better Sleep, Better Days
Waking up with a headache is… well, frankly it’s awful. It can impede your whole day to kick things off without a sense of well-being and comfort. That’s why it’s so important to figure out what the issue is and alleviate it. Whether it’s from snoring through the night or insomnia, simple dehydration or grinding your teeth, take the time to suss out the source and say goodbye to morning headaches for good. Waking up with a headache doesn’t have to be a part of your life!