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 (teeth grinding).

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. If a sleep disorder is the culprit, you’ll need to work with one or more healthcare providers to provide specialized care for the underlying cause.

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.

The most common types of morning headaches are:

1. Migraine

Migraine attacks, with or without head pain, occur most often in the morning. According to the National Headache Foundation, the body produces fewer natural painkillers (endorphins and 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. Pain may be localized on only the right or left side of your head and may last hours or even days. Many consider migraine pain to be the most severe headache (although not everyone experiences head pain during migraine attacks).

Migraines may cause early morning headaches while you’re asleep, causing you to miss the opportunity to take migraine meds to stop the attack before pain occurs.

Some individuals experience an aura (a set of visual symptoms) before or during a migraine attack, such as:

  • Bright spots in the vision
  • Flashing lights
  • Moving lines
  • Temporary loss of vision (in severe cases)

If you experience morning headaches with aura, it’s almost certainly a migraine. Migraine attacks may also cause ice pick headache symptoms.

2. Sleep Disorders

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.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60% of adults report having sleep problems multiple nights a week.

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.

The most common sleep disorders responsible for morning headaches are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): Sleep apnea causes temporary breathing lapses during sleep due to upper airway blockage. The most obvious symptoms may include snoring, sleep bruxism (teeth grinding at night), dry mouth in the morning, gasping during the night, and morning headache pain. 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. You will need a sleep study to diagnose this health condition.
  • Circadian rhythm disorders: These conditions disrupt your sleep-wake cycle so that you are unable to sleep and stay awake on a typical 24-hour schedule. Circadian rhythm disorders may cause you to wake up with a headache.
  • Insomnia: This condition prevents you from sleeping regularly and disrupts your circadian rhythm. Sleep deprivation is a common cause of morning headaches, among other conditions. 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.
  • Oversleeping: Oversleeping can cause morning headaches but the 2011 study most often cited for this 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. Hypnic Headaches

Hypnic headaches, also commonly referred to as “alarm clock headaches,” are a specific type of headache that begins during sleep. They are most common in adults 62 years or older and typically treated with caffeine first thing in the morning.

Dull, spread-out head pain that you feel as soon as you wake up is often associated with hypnic headaches.

4. 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, strained or tense muscles may trigger 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.

5. 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.

Jaw pain from teeth grinding is one reason you may wake up with a headache on top of your head.

6. Medication

Medication overuse headaches (MOH) occur when you overmedicate, causing a headache. You may experience MOH when your body builds 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:

  • 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.

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.

9. Diet

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:

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Caffeine
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Nitrates and nitrites
  • Smoked fish
  • Cured meats
  • Aged cheeses
  • Cultured dairy products
  • Fasting

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.

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:

  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 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:

Morning Headache Treatments

You can 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 a treatment plan with 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 like ibuprofen, though pain relievers may cause side effects if taken too often
  • 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:

  1. Reduce screen time a few hours before bedtime since 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. Don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime. Exercising increases your body temperature, making it harder to go to sleep.
  5. Do not consume 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.

FAQs

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.

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.

Dehydration accompanied by a very hot climate can also cause heat headaches.

Headaches after a nap may be caused by many of the same reasons for any morning headache, but are most often caused by poor sleep posture, teeth grinding, and dehydration.

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.

    1. Djavaherian, D. M., & Guthmiller, K. B. (2019). Occipital Neuralgia. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538281/
    2. Stall, R. S. (2013). Noninvasive pulsed radio frequency energy in the treatment of occipital neuralgia with chronic, debilitating headache: a report of four cases. Pain Medicine, 14(5), 628-638. Full text https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/14/5/628/1816050
    3. Mallory, M., Bauer, B., & Chon, T. (2019). Occipital Neuralgia Treated With Acupuncture: A Case Report. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 8, 2164956119890546. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6883661/
    4. Bond, B. M., & Kinslow, C. (2015). Improvement in clinical outcomes after dry needling in a patient with occipital neuralgia. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 59(2), 101. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4486992/
    5. Choi, I., & Jeon, S. R. (2016). Neuralgias of the head: occipital neuralgia. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 31(4), 479-488. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4810328/
    6. Meng, F., Peng, K., Yang, J. P., Ji, F. H., Xia, F., & Meng, X. W. (2018). Botulinum toxin-A for the treatment of neuralgia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Pain Research, 11, 2343. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6190814/
    7. Maroon, J. C., Bost, J. W., & Maroon, A. (2010). Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surgical Neurology International, 1. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011108/