Waking Up With a Headache

Learn why you might be waking up with a headache and read tips for preventing it

By Jayna Nickert

Waking up with a headache in the morning can be an excruciating feeling. It may even cause anxiety over whether or not the pain will subside in enough time to fall back asleep for a few more hours before the alarm goes off. There are many reasons why a person may be waking up with a headache in the middle of the night, and those who suffer from a sleep disorder have two to eight times the normal risk for developing headaches. Migraine headaches, for example, have a 50% chance of starting between the hours of 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., leaving 80% of migraine sufferers still feeling tired when they wake up. This can make getting adequate rest every night a bit of a challenge.

In this article, we’ll help you understand why you might be waking up with a headache and provide tips for preventing it in the future. 

Unhappy girl waking up

Why Are You Waking Up With a Headache?

It’s important to note that migraines aren’t the only cause for headaches that wake a person out of their sleep. Other factors that may be contributing to sleep deprivation and waking up with a headache include:

Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder among those who suffer from headaches. It’s characterized by having a difficult time falling and staying asleep. A person who has insomnia may also wake up frequently in the early hours of the morning—not feeling refreshed when the alarm goes off. The parts of the brain and the chemicals that help regulate sleep are also responsible for headaches and moods. This is why people who suffer from poor sleep, insomnia, and chronic headaches may also experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea 

Oftentimes the act of snoring can contribute to an increased risk of headaches while sleeping. Snoring is also very common for sufferers of sleep apnea. While not all snoring is associated with having sleep apnea, it is something that those who have it will experience. Another symptom associated with sleep apnea is headaches. Additional symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Waking up often throughout the night
  • Fatigue or sleepiness during the day
  • Night sweating
  • Stop breathing throughout the night

Teeth Grinding 

Grinding your teeth in the middle of the night can also lead to headaches. Teeth grinding causes soreness in the jaw muscles and joints. This soreness is what leads to headaches. It may be difficult to determine whether or not you are grinding your teeth during your sleep, but a dentist should be able to tell you. There may also be a joint issue with your jaw that is contributing to teeth grinding and headaches. 

Using the Wrong Pillow or Mattress

Having a supportive pillow and mattress are vital components for getting a good night’s rest. Since we are all so unique, the right pillow and mattress for one person may not be the right fit for another. This is why it’s important to discover the ideal type of support for your unique sleep needs. If you’re wondering which type of mattress would be more beneficial, take our mattress quiz to determine the best mattress for you based upon your unique sleep style and personal preferences.

Types of Headaches

In addition to these sleep problems that may be causing chronic headaches, it’s also possible that if you’re simply not getting enough sleep each night. The lack of sleep—in general—may be causing headaches. Research shows that those who sleep fewer than 7 hours per night have a greater risk for headaches. In addition to migraines, the types of headaches most commonly associated with sleep include:

  • Cluster headaches
  • Tension headaches
  • Hypnic headaches
  • Wake-up headaches (or morning headaches)

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches tend to occur approximately one hour after falling asleep. These types of headaches are characterized by intense pain in, around, or behind the eyes. They typically last anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours and can cause eye redness and watering, a runny or stuffy nose, and a droopy eyelid.

Tension Headaches

These are the most common types of headaches. Tension headaches affect the head and neck and can be caused by a number of lifestyle factors and headache triggers, such as caffeine, alcohol, eye strain, smoking, illness, stress, certain foods, etc. These headaches present with dull pain around the head with pressure on the forehead that may feel like a band is wrapped around it. The severity of the pain is typically mild to moderate, but it can become intense.

Hypnic Headaches

Hypnic headaches are much rarer and are classified as a disorder. They tend to occur frequently, but only while a person is sleeping. Lasting 15 minutes to four hours in length, these headaches are sometimes referred to as “alarm clock” headaches because they wake up the sufferer. Hypnic headaches are similar to migraines because they have been associated with symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity and nausea. If you are concerned with such symptoms it is important to talk to your doctor to determine if you are experiencing chronic migraines or hypnic headaches.

Wake-up Headaches

Most commonly referred to as a migraine attack, wake-up headaches come on while a person is sleeping. One reason so many headaches come on during the sleeping hours is because medications wear off while the migraine sufferer is sleeping. This is also a time when the body produces fewer endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural pain-killers. We also release adrenaline in larger amounts during this time which impacts our blood pressure and can trigger a migraine.

Tips for Developing Healthy Sleep Patterns

If headaches are negatively impacting the quality of your sleep or if you generally suffer from irregular sleep patterns, there are some ways to help you get better sleep. In addition to these tips, seeking medical attention from your doctor can be a good idea depending on the severity of your condition. Some tips for developing healthier sleeping patterns include:

  • Make getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night a top priority
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day
  • Identify any causes of stress in your life, and work to eliminate them
  • Take melatonin and/or valerian root tea before bedtime
  • Turn off blue light screens from computers, televisions, and smartphones one hour before bed, or use blue light filtering glasses
  • Limit or reduce your caffeine intake
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Have a snack before bed
  • Wind down before bed (with a bath, meditation, etc.)
  • Get regular exercise (not too late in the evening)

Sleep is one of the most important factors for living a happy, healthy life. If you’d like some support in getting a better night’s rest we’d love to help you find the right mattress for you. Feel free to have a look at our mattress guides to learn more.


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