If you wake up with headaches every morning (or even occasionally) you are familiar with the feeling. You feel that you have the blahs, you don’t have energy, you cannot work at your optimum and you may even take aspirin for the headache and coffee or another stimulant in an effort to get your brain to focus. Now whether this happens frequently or sometimes, there will come a time when you wonder why it is happening. The research may surprise you since, among other things, it has to do with the quantity and quality of your sleep!
Obviously if you don’t get enough sleep you may well face problems in the morning. What if you do feel that you sleep enough (anywhere above 6 hours should make the cut), but you still wake up with morning headaches? Then it is likely the quality of sleep that may be the root cause of your morning headaches.
Is it possible that sleep can cause morning headaches?
Sleep, both the lack of it or too much of it, can lead to grogginess, an inability to focus and morning headaches. If you sleep too much then you will constantly feel as if you are in a daze. Sleeping too much can be a sign of depression as well. The quantity of sleep that you get is easy to measure. The quality of sleep may be more difficult to discern.
Regularly getting up with morning headaches is a sure sign that something may be up with your health. It can cause physical and psychological problems and impact your work life, leading to even more difficulties. That is why it is important to find out what is the reason for the morning headaches and seek medical help to eliminate it.
So what are the causes of morning headaches?
Morning headaches can result from a variety of factors including:
Insomnia may be primary (not being able to sleep quickly) and/or lying awake tossing and turning. This can occur due to wrong bedding, too much light, digestive disturbances, urinary problems, anxiety, stress, depression, uncomfortable room temperature, obsessing over problems and more. Once you do fall asleep and get up at your usual time you may have the morning blahs and a splitting headache. Secondary insomnia can be even worse because you do not get a continuous block of sleep. Depending on how much sleep you get and when, you may still wake up with a headache caused by lack of good quality sleep.
Grinding of teeth or bruxism occurs due to a variety of reasons. You may suffer from teeth grinding and/or jaw clenching in your sleep. This can cause teeth to erode and wear out. It can also cause jaw pain and headache in the morning. Bruxism is usually unconscious and you may not even know that you have this problem.
Bruxism can be treated by the use of a mouth guard or mouth splint. This can be custom made for greater comfort and is longer lasting or you can buy the device from the local pharmacy to try it out and then opt for the custom made one, which is more expensive. If you have other dental problems then these are best treated by a dentist. If stress causes your bruxism, then you need to learn to relax.
You have to practice good sleep hygiene. Make sure that your bedding is comfortable and that your pillow is at the correct height. Often tension headaches can be caused by neck spasms resulting from the head/neck placed at an angle during sleep. Make sure that your mattress is comfortable as well.
The room temperature should be comfortable, not too hot or too cold. You should also establish a night-time ritual that will stand you in good stead and help you sleep. This includes eating early enough, relaxing before bed time, going for a post dinner stroll, taking a shower, brushing reading or other soothing activities that will help you wind down. These sleeping tips should go a long way in helping you sleep.
If you are snoring whether continuously or frequently, this may be reason for morning headaches as well. Snoring can be caused by something simple like a deviated septum or sleep disordered breathing or even sleep apnea any of which can result in disturbed sleep. Sleep apnea, which occurs when a person stops breathing and wakes up due to this many times while sleeping, affects as many as 22 million Americans and is a highly undiagnosed condition.
Sleep apnea needs medical intervention: perhaps you need to use a device that keeps your nasal passages open. If you have your garden variety of snoring then you need to find the reason for it. It can be due to allergies (which should be treated by anti-allergy medicines), a deviated septum (surgery will correct this) or a continuously blocked nose (medical treatment or use of an external nasal dilator or nose strips that will help with breathing).
Sleep apnea can also affect your blood pressure which may also be a possible cause for morning headaches. This is simple to get checked even with an at-home pressure monitoring machine. If you do have high blood pressure, you need to go to a doctor and take medicines to bring it down. High blood pressure is known as a silent killer because it often does not present any other symptoms and can lead to stroke or heart attack, can be disabling or even fatal.
What can be done to eliminate morning headaches due to sleep?
Firstly if you do wake up constantly with morning headaches you need to find the cause and this is not going to be easy. It would be a good idea to keep a diary or journal and write down the time that you sleep and wake up and how many times you get up in the middle of the night and for what.
You can try a few simple things, such as changing your sleeping position, eliminating or minimizing the use of alcohol and smoking and also losing weight if you are obese. As for sleep hygiene and rituals to help you sleep, you have to be proactive on that front.
A dentist will be able to tell from the condition of your teeth whether or not you have possible bruxism. Your partner (if you don’t live alone) will let you know whether or not you snore. A chest or sleep specialist will be able to guide you if you have sleep apnea (and you may also need a sleep study for confirmation). So you may have to make a round of medical specialists to find out the root cause of your headaches, especially since headaches are of different types and there can be many other causative factors that are not related to sleep.
When you have undergone the required tests and got help from medical professionals, ideally you should no longer wake up with morning headaches that are related to sleep. This isn’t necessarily instantaneous, but if you’ve followed the correct treatment protocol, this should take you 90% along the way to relieving your symptoms.
Do you frequently wake up with headaches in the morning? What was the cause and how did you solve your problem? It would be great to share your experiences in the comments below! Sleep well till next time.