Morning headaches affect 1 in 13 people, according to an article published in The Archives of Internal Medicine. Women and people ages 45-64 are more likely to get chronic morning headaches, but they can happen to anyone.
You may wake up with headaches every morning due to sleep disorders, migraines, other headache disorders, depression and/or anxiety, certain medications, alcohol consumption, poor posture, or bruxism. Rare causes of morning headaches include tumors, exploding head syndrome, giant cell arteritis, and high blood pressure.
- Tension headaches
- Cluster headaches
- Hypnic headache
Just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to wake up every morning with head pain and live with it.
How can I stop waking up with a headache? You can stop waking up with a headache by seeking chiropractic care, taking OTC medications, or making specific lifestyle changes, like getting good sleep, avoiding alcohol and drugs, cutting out caffeine, and relieving stress.
This article will help you understand the common causes of morning headaches and what you can do about them.
At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we believe in treating the root causes of your morning headaches. Contact us right away to set up an appointment.
The most common time for migraine attacks is in the early morning, making it a primary culprit behind early morning headaches. According to the National Headache Foundation, the body tends to produce fewer natural painkillers (endorphins, enkephalins) between 4:00 and 8:00 AM.
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.
Migraines commonly occur early in the morning because most medications wear off within a few hours, and migraine symptoms may begin during sleep.
If your head starts hurting while you’re asleep, you miss the ideal time to take migraine medicine, which is at the onset of symptoms.
Some individuals experience an aura (a set of visual symptoms) before/during a migraine attack:
- Bright spots
- Flashing lights
- Moving lines
- Temporary loss of vision (in severe cases)
If you experience morning headaches with aura, it’s almost certainly a migraine.
2. 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 — poor sleep quality and a lack of sleep both increase the likelihood of getting a headache when you wake up. 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, and bad sleep position can all lead to morning headaches.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes temporary lapses in your breathing while asleep due to upper airway blockage.
OSA may result in teeth grinding at night, headaches in the morning, dry mouth, and decreased quality of life for your bed partner.
Why do I wake up with a headache and dry mouth? Morning headaches accompanied by dry mouth are frequently caused by sleep apnea. Most people with obstructive sleep apnea sleep with their mouths open, which causes dry mouth, and get poor quality sleep, which causes headaches.
You may also wake up very sleepy, so excessive sleepiness along with headache and dry mouth often point to sleep apnea.
Many cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed, so it’s hard to know OSA is the root cause of your morning headaches. Some studies indicate that the worse your sleep apnea symptoms, the worse your morning headache pain may be.
Patients typically experience OSA-related morning headaches as pain or pressure occurring on both sides of the head, not just one side.
A sleep study is necessary to diagnose sleep apnea.
Nighttime Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)
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 disrupts your circadian rhythm and prevents you from getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation results in many health problems, including headaches when you wake up.
According to 2016 research, 20% of migraine sufferers experienced excessive daytime sleepiness. This indicates that 1 in 5 migraines may be linked to sleep disturbances like insomnia.
The Sleep Foundation cites a study that says oversleeping can cause morning headaches. However, this 2011 study links both oversleeping and low sleep quality to morning headaches — not oversleeping by itself.
You may experience oversleeping headaches if your sleep quality or sleep posture is poor.
3. Muscle Tension from Poor Sleep Positions
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, triggering a morning headache.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They are caused by muscle tension, bad posture, and stress. Poor sleep posture and muscle tenseness 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 rises.
4. 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:
- Chiropractic care
- Dental procedures
- Oral appliances (MAD, nightguard, etc.)
- Physical therapy
- Pain relievers
A small 2021 study found that over 30% of people stopped having headaches caused by TMJ pain after oral appliance therapy.
Medication overuse headaches (MOH) occur when you overmedicate, causing a headache. You may experience MOH when your body builds tolerance to certain medications.
After stopping the following medications, you might expect morning MOH:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Painkillers (Percocet)
- Ergotamine (Ergomar)
- Sumatriptan (Zomig, Imitrex)
- Opiate analgesics, like hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Caffeine is similarly linked to MOH. Caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches because of the way it causes your blood vessels to constrict.
A brain tumor is a rare cause of morning headaches. Brain tumors can cause headaches at any time but may be worse in the early morning.
Symptoms of a brain tumor include:
- Headaches, especially in the morning
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Nausea and vomiting
- Personality changes
- Memory problems
If you suspect you have a brain tumor, talk to a healthcare professional right away. The quicker the diagnosis, the better.
7. 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 disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to bad sleep habits and morning headaches.
8. Depression and Anxiety
Mental health concerns, specifically depression and anxiety, are linked to morning headaches. Anxiety and depression can keep you from relaxing and make you worry, leading to migraines.
Waking up with headaches is a common indicator of depression and insomnia.
Anxiety can lead to nighttime teeth grinding or muscle strain, both significant 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 crucial 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.
The most common dietary triggers for morning headaches are:
- Monosodium glutamate
- Artificial sweeteners
- Nitrates and nitrites
- Smoked fish
- Cured meats
- Aged cheeses
- Cultured dairy products
Dehydration, caffeine withdrawal, and low blood sugar may all lead to waking up with headaches. Drink plenty of water, avoid caffeine if you have chronic headaches, and monitor your blood sugar levels.
Being obese and being underweight may both be linked to a 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 shrinking triggers a headache.
10. 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.
Two types of headaches are linked to allergies:
- Sinus headaches
- 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 mold exposure is to control the humidity in your home and prevent much outside air from getting in.
Rare Causes of Morning Headaches
The following medical conditions are rare causes of morning headaches:
- Cervicogenic headache
- Exploding head syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Intracranial hypotension
- Giant cell arteritis
- Musculoskeletal disease
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.
Check out these treatment options and lifestyle changes that may address the possible causes of morning headaches:
- 7-8 hours of high-quality sleep every night
- Relaxation techniques for stress relief
- Massage therapy for muscle tension
- Chiropractic care
- Heat pack for muscle tension
- Cold pack for migraine
- Prescription or over-the-counter pain medication, though they may have side effects
- No longer taking certain medicines (seek medical advice before stopping any medication)
- Avoiding alcohol, drugs, caffeine, and unhealthy foods
- CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) for sleep apnea
- DNA oral appliance for sleep apnea and teeth grinding
- Mouth guards for sleep apnea
Since high-quality sleep is the biggest culprit for morning headaches, try these tips to get better sleep:
- Reduce screen time a few hours before bedtime since blue light exposure tricks your brain into thinking the sun is out.
- Turn the temperature in your bedroom down a couple of degrees.
- Take a hot bath before bed, then sleep under cool sheets. As your body temperature decreases, you naturally want to go to bed.
- Don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime. Exercising increases your body temperature, making it harder to go to sleep.
- Do not consume caffeine within several hours of bedtime, including coffee, sodas, or chocolate.
- Limit fluid intake within a few hours of bedtime.
- 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, 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.
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