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Why am I waking up with headaches? Morning Headache Causes

You may be waking up with headaches in the morning because of various health conditions, such as sleep problems, poor posture, or even a tumor. In this article, we help you understand the common causes of morning headaches.

Morning headaches affect 1 in 13 people, according to an article published in The Archives of Internal Medicine. 

But just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to wake up every morning with head pain and live with it.

At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we believe in treating the root causes of your morning headaches. Click here to contact us to set up an appointment right away.

Why do I wake up with headaches every morning? You may wake up with headaches every morning because of sleep disorders, migraines, depression, certain medications, alcohol consumption, or bruxism.

Read on to find out more about these morning headache causes.


Migraine headaches include symptoms such as intense throbbing pain, a stiff neck, anxiety, and even light or sound sensitivity. Migraines are usually on only one side of your head and may last hours or even days. Many consider migraines to be the most severe headache.

The most common time for migraine attacks to happen is in the early morning. According to the National Headache Foundation’s page on “Early Morning Awakening Headache”, the body tends to produce fewer natural painkillers (endorphins, enkephalins) between 4:00 and 8:00 AM.

Migraines commonly occur early in the morning because most medications wear off within a few hours, and also because migraine symptoms may begin during sleep. If your head starts hurting while you’re asleep, you miss the ideal time to take medicine for migraines, which is at the onset of symptoms.

Some individuals experience an aura (a set of visual symptoms) before/during a migraine attack:

If you experience morning headaches with aura, it’s almost certainly a migraine.

Sleep Disorders

The National Sleep Foundation finds that 60% of adults report having sleep problems multiple nights a week. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has declared that Insufficient sleep is a national health crisis.

Unfortunately, sleep disorders and headaches go hand in hand. Getting a good night’s sleep is not only good for your overall wellness, but it can also prevent morning headaches.

What causes headaches while sleeping? A variety of conditions can cause headaches while sleeping. A lack of sleep, low-quality sleep, sleep disorders, or poor sleep posture can all lead to morning headaches and worse.

Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which you experience temporary lapses in breathing while asleep, due to upper airway blockage.

OSA may result in teeth grinding at night, headaches in the morning, dry mouth (which is horrible for your oral health), and even decreased quality of life for your bed partner.

Sleep apnea is a hidden cause of early morning headaches. Many cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed, so it’s hard to know OSA is the root cause of your morning headaches.

A sleep study is necessary to diagnose sleep apnea.

Nighttime Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

Nighttime grinding, or sleep bruxism, may be a sign of sleep apnea. When you grind your teeth at night, it can lead to jaw pain, ear pain, and headache pain.

Unfortunately, most cases of nighttime teeth grinding go undiagnosed. You may wake up with head pain, jaw soreness, and tooth sensitivity and not understand what caused it.

Your dentist can keep a lookout for early signs of nighttime bruxism, so you can get diagnosed and treated before it leads to long-term complications that will stay with you for the rest of your life.


Insomnia leads to sleep deprivation and morning headaches.

This serious condition prevents you from getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation results in all sorts of health problems, including headaches when you wake up.

According to 2016 research, 20% of migraine sufferers experienced excessive daytime sleepiness, which indicates that 1 in 5 migraines may be linked to sleep disturbances, such as insomnia.

Muscle Tension from Poor Sleep Posture

Muscle tension is a leading cause of headaches in general, including in the early morning. When your sleep posture is poor, this can lead to strained or tense muscles, which can trigger a morning headache.

Tension headaches are the most common of the types of headache. They are caused by muscle tension, bad posture, and/or stress. Poor sleep posture or muscle tension can both cause tension-type headaches in the morning.

Stress is another cause of muscle tension and tension headaches. Going to bed with stress on your mind may cause head pain when the sun comes up.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw joint. TMJ disorder (TMD) refers to pain in your jaw joint, caused by teeth grinding (bruxism) or jaw/head injury.

Headaches are the most common symptom of TMD. TMJ morning headaches occur because of teeth grinding and clenching that you may experience. Also, TMJ morning headaches could be due to poor sleep posture inflaming the TMJ.

Treatments for TMJ headaches include:


Medication overuse headache (MOH) is when you overmedicate and it causes a headache. You may experience MOH due when your body builds up a tolerance to certain medications.

The American Migraine Foundation outlines MOH diagnostic criteria as “[using painkillers] more than 2 to 3 days per week in a patient with chronic daily headache”.

After stopping the following medications, you might expect morning MOH:

Caffeine is similarly linked to MOH.


A brain tumor is a rare cause of morning headaches. Brain tumors can cause headaches at any time of the day but may be worse in the early morning.

Symptoms of a brain tumor include:

If you suspect you have a brain tumor, talk to a healthcare professional right away. The quicker the diagnosis, the better.

Alcohol or Drugs

Alcohol consumption and drug abuse increase your risk of a morning headache.

You may have a morning headache due to a hangover. When you drink alcohol the night before, you run the risk of waking up with a hangover headache the morning after.

Drinking alcohol is a migraine trigger. Separate from hangover headaches, drinking alcohol can cause a migraine.

Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and opioids, may bring on headaches. Withdrawal from drugs may also cause head pain, including morning headaches.

Prescription drugs may mess with your sleep patterns, which can lead to bad sleep habits and morning headaches.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are linked to morning headaches. Anxiety and depression mean you likely don’t have the ability to stop worrying and/or relax, leading to migraines.

Waking up with headaches is a common indicator of depression and/or insomnia.

Anxiety can lead to nighttime teeth grinding or muscle strain, which are both major causes of morning headaches.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the most significant risk factors for morning headaches are depression and anxiety.


Your diet is a very important preventive measure against morning headaches. A healthy diet means a lower risk of head pain in the early morning. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 1 in 5 headache patients may be food sensitive.

Common dietary morning headache triggers include:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Chocolate
  3. Monosodium glutamate
  4. Artificial sweeteners
  5. Caffeine
  6. Onions
  7. Garlic
  8. Nitrates and nitrites
  9. Smoked fish
  10. Cured meats
  11. Aged cheeses
  12. Cultured dairy products
  13. Fasting

Dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, and low blood sugar may all lead to waking up with headaches. So, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine if you have chronic headaches, and make sure your blood sugar levels are normal.

Being obese and being underweight seem to be linked to higher incidence of morning headaches. Poor diet is a contributing factor to obesity.

Migraine sufferers report that missing meals may induce headache pain. Skipping dinner may lead to a migraine that night or in the morning.

Can dehydration cause morning headaches? Yes, dehydration can cause morning headaches. When you’re dehydrated, your brain literally shrinks, pulling away from the inside of your skull. This triggers a headache.

Allergens in the Home

Home allergens can trigger waking up with headaches, especially after you’ve been sleeping in the same spot for 8 hours.

2 types of headaches are linked to allergies:

  1. Sinus headaches
  2. Migraine headaches

Allergy headaches may be triggered by mold, smoke, pets, certain foods, and so much more.

Black mold exposure will cause headaches if you are allergic to mold. One way to limit exposure to mold is to control the humidity in your home and prevent much outside air from getting in.

Rare Causes of Morning Headache

The following medical conditions are rare causes of morning headaches:

Morning Headache Treatments

How do you get rid of morning headaches? You get rid of morning headaches by identifying the root cause of your headache, then treating the root cause. For example, if your doctor identifies sleep apnea as the root cause of morning headaches, you may consider CPAP therapy or the DNA oral appliance.

Below are various treatment options for the different root causes of morning headaches:

7 tips for getting better sleep:

  1. Reduce screen time a few hours before bedtime, because blue light exposure tricks your brain into thinking the sun is out.
  2. Turn the temperature in your bedroom down a couple of degrees.
  3. Take a hot bath before bed, then sleep under cool sheets. As your body temperature decreases, you naturally want to go to bed.
  4. Do not exercise within a few hours of bedtime. This increases your body temperature.
  5. Do not consume any caffeine within several hours of bedtime, including coffee, sodas, or chocolate.
  6. Limit fluid intake within a few hours of bedtime.
  7. Go to bed and wake up at consistent times.

When to See a Doctor

See a doctor right away if you experience symptoms of a brain tumor alongside morning headaches, such as seizures or vomiting or memory problems. If you suffer from headaches every morning, you probably need to see a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we treat all sorts of headaches with revolutionary orthospinology adjustments. These upper cervical adjustments are gentle, precise, and often effective.

Click here to view patient testimonials on how Dr. Ty Cazoli and his team at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic helped them.

Click here to learn what to expect for new patients at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. We reserve Fridays for out of town patients.


  1. Kim, J., Cho, S. J., Kim, W. J., Yang, K. I., Yun, C. H., & Chu, M. K. (2016). Excessive daytime sleepiness is associated with an exacerbation of migraine: A population-based study. The journal of headache and pain, 17(1), 62. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4929100/
  2. Pavia, S., Fischer, R., & Roy, R. (2015). Chiropractic treatment of temporomandibular dysfunction: a retrospective case series. Journal of chiropractic medicine, 14(4), 279-284. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688559/
  3. Peres, M. F. P., Mercante, J. P., Tobo, P. R., Kamei, H., & Bigal, M. E. (2017). Anxiety and depression symptoms and migraine: a symptom-based approach research. The journal of headache and pain, 18(1), 37. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5360747/
  4. Ohayon, M. M. (2004). Prevalence and risk factors of morning headaches in the general population. Archives of internal medicine, 164(1), 97-102. Full text: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/216451
  5. Kempton, M. J., Ettinger, U., Foster, R., Williams, S. C., Calvert, G. A., Hampshire, A., … & Smith, M. S. (2011). Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Human brain mapping, 32(1), 71-79. Full text: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hbm.20999
  6. Ashley, E. A., & Niebauer, J. (2004). Chapter 6: Hypertension. Cardiology explained. London: Remedica. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2217/
  7. Chacko, J. G., Chacko, J. A., & Salter, M. W. (2015). Review of giant cell arteritis. Saudi Journal of Ophthalmology, 29(1), 48-52. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4314573/
  8. Singh, G. D., Griffin, T. M., & Cress, S. E. (2016). Biomimetic oral appliance therapy in adults with severe obstructive sleep apnea. J Sleep Disord Ther, 5(227), 2167-0277. Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297007618_Biomimetic_Oral_Appliance_Therapy_in_Adults_with_Severe_Obstructive_Sleep_Apnea

Dr. Ty Carzoli

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Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic

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Based on 139 reviews.

Dr.Ty Carzoli is extremely professional, punctual and informative. The office is clean and organized. My treatments from him have allowed me to think towards the future, not just day to day. Overall, a great experience!

Leslie Goodman

I absolutely LOVE going to Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. Dr. Ty knows his stuff and I've never felt better. His style of chiropractic care has improved my sleeping, mood, and fitness capacity. Plus, they are really great at making me feel appreciated. See super sweet picture from my birthday. I would HIGHLY recommend giving them a try, but only if you really want to improve how you feel.

Carla Streff

Overall, I didn’t necessarily feel that I had any particular issues other than a prior shoulder injury that slightly bothered me when I exercised with a heavy set of weights. I felt fairly energetic due to the typical routine of exercise and eating a well balanced healthy diet. The idea for my treatment was to be more proactive about my long term health and ensure that I was in proper alignment.
After my initial consultation, I found out my body was out of alignment more than I felt. I did not feel much different after the first few adjustments; however, what I did not realize until a few weeks in is that I had been waking up prior to treatment with kind of a groggy kind of feeling. After years of waking up like this I assumed this was just the norm. I now have been waking up with little fatigue and grogginess (even with a 10 month old baby) and a new burst of revitalization even if I did not get a full 8 hours of sleep. The feeling of being excited the day before a trip has been occurring on the standard day getting up for work. My workouts have also seen an improvement with the new improved energy levels as well as the standard weight I typically lift went up with little efforts.
Dr. Ty is extremely knowledgeable about what he does and would not think about using anyone else for my care. I love walking into the awesome environment that Dr. Ty has established and the overall care that comes from the visits. Dr. Ty and his fantastic staff has an amazing energy that I very much look forward to when visiting the office!
Even if you think that you have a good alignment, you should be sure to visit Dr. Ty for a great proactive health care plan!

Derek Greer


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