10 Unexpected Reasons You’re Waking up with a Headache
When you wake up with a headache, your morning won’t be pleasant. We’ve asked health experts on what causes these early-morning headaches and what you can do to wake up with a clear head.
Dehydration from alcohol
Drinking too much at night can certainly wreck your morning. Surprisingly, drinking water before you hit the sack can make all the difference. Just a few drinks can make you dehydrated, which reduces the volume of blood flowing to your brain and cause your head to ache, Mark Khorsandi, DO, of the Migraine Relief Center in Dallas and Fort Worth, TX, told Men’s Health.
Poor sleep patterns
Dr. Khorsandi mentions that alcohol can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. But poor sleep for any reason can trigger a morning headache. Tossing and turning can leave you sleep-deprived and your body reacts. David Dodick, MD, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, told WebMD that sleep disruption is one of the most important migraine triggers, yet very little is known about the molecular pathways that link sleep to headache pain. “The trigeminal nerve is thought to be the conduit through which migraine attacks are generated,” said Dr. Dodick. “If you think of it as a highway, this study helps us begin to understand at a very basic level the molecular changes that are occurring that causes the traffic that causes pain.” These are the 8 types of headaches you can get (and how to get rid of them).
Awkward sleep position
Sleeping in an unusual position can result in muscle strain in the head and neck area, leading to headaches, says Nada Milosavljevic, MD, a physician and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Proper support could help ease the likelihood of morning headaches. Check out sleep-position aids such as the Casper Pillow, which creates a balance of softness and support and evenly distributes fill to provide spine alignment and neck support.
Anna Morrison, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC, a family nurse practitioner and certified health coach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says anxiety is a leading cause of pain and ailment in the body. “From tense jaws to even tenser headaches, anxiety, though psychological, can have real, physical effects. If you’re waking up in the morning with headaches, I recommend deep breathing exercises or meditation before bed, as well as a quick ten-minute meditation in the morning. This will help reset your thoughts and keep any daily stresses at bay,” she says. Check out these 11 ways to stop a headache before it starts.
Consider your blood pressure
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Not all high blood pressure causes headaches, and most people never know they have high blood pressure or hypertension until they are seen for other symptoms unrelated to their blood pressure, explains Melva E. Pinn-Bingham, MD, a radiation oncologist at Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in Ahoskie, NC. “However, a very high or elevated blood pressure known as ‘malignant high blood pressure’ or ‘hypertensive crisis/emergency’ has been linked to causing severe headaches and even vision problems such as blurry or double vision. It is important to seek immediate medical attention for this condition.”
Coping with untreated depression
Dr. Pinn-Bingham says cluster, migraine, or even tension-type headaches typically cause you to wake up with a headache. “One of the more common reasons for such headaches is depression,” she says. “To reduce the likelihood of getting these early morning headaches, it is important to get a good night sleep, follow your physician’s recommendations for treatment and support of depression and of course lifestyle changes. I always counsel on the importance of quitting smoking, reducing overall stress in your life and limiting alcohol intake.”
Grinding your teeth
Clenching, grinding, and gnashing your teeth at night can trigger head pain, says Ronald Rosenthal, DDS, MEd, FAGD, a dentist in Norfolk, Va. “This causes tremendous stress to the chewing muscles. And, when muscles are over-stressed, they can go into a painful spasm.” Consider a mouth guard. According to an article in the New York Times, custom mouth guards from a dental professional may require up to three visits for a mold, fitting and readjustments. “These guards (usually $350 to $1,000) are custom fitted and can last many years. As well as preventing damage from teeth grinding, studies have shown that consistent use of a custom mouth guard over several months or more can ultimately break the grinding habit,” the article sites. Further, over-the-counter mouth guards (about $20) can be purchased, too. Here are 13 more surprising things that could trigger headaches.
It may be sleep apnea
Experts believe some morning headaches are related to specific activities of sleep. “Sleep apnea—unhealthy breaks in breathing during the night—can cause morning headaches related to high carbon dioxide levels,” explains Jonathan Cabin, MD, director, The Migraine Institute in Beverly Hills, California. Once a sleep apnea diagnosis is made, he says, medical and surgical interventions can help, as can lifestyle changes like weight loss.
Surprisingly, caffeine withdrawal can also cause morning headaches, says Dr. Cabin. “Large amounts of caffeine throughout the day and into the evening can cause caffeine-withdrawal headaches in the early morning. Cutting down on caffeine consumption, especially later in the day, can help with these types of headaches,” he recommends. Check out these 32 everyday habits that can reduce your risk of headaches.
Seek medical attention for severe headaches
Dr. Cabin cautions that headaches that actually wake people from sleep in the middle of the night can be a sign of more serious, underlying disease. “If you find you are being woken up by headaches at unusual times, it is important to be checked by your doctor,” he advises. “And any extreme headache—especially with neurological changes like confusion or muscle weakness—could be a sign of a serious or even life-threatening condition and requires emergency medical attention.” Make sure you know the 16 signs your headache could be something way worse.