Do you often wake up with a pounding head? You’re not alone; thousands of people frequently experience morning headaches, and many have no idea why it happens.
But help is at hand, as there are a variety of explanations for these unpleasant symptoms, and many of them have a surprisingly simple remedy.
In this post, I’ll explain some of the most common reasons you might be waking up with a headache and offer some practical tips and solutions for tackling the problem.
Of course, the information below is no substitute for proper medical advice, so if you’re suffering from morning headaches, be sure to speak to your doctor.
The Causes of Morning Headaches
Research published by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that as many as 1 in 13 people frequently wake up with a headache, and the problem can last for months or even years.
On average, morning headaches appear to affect women more than men, and they become more prevalent after the age of 45.
But while the symptoms are similar for most sufferers, their causes can be very different.
Many things could be to blame, from sleep disorders to lifestyle habits and even certain types of medication.
Here’s a list of 8 of the most common causes of morning headaches in adults.
There’s an undeniable link between insomnia and morning headaches, but which comes first; the headache or the lack of sleep?
Current research suggests that more often than not, insomnia causes headaches, not the other way around.
In fact, insomnia is one of the most common reasons behind morning headaches, and it’s no surprise. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), up to 35% of the population experiences periods of insomnia throughout their lives.
When we miss out on the recommended 7 to 8 hours of rest per night, headache-inducing inflammation can occur. Plus, sleep deprivation also enhances the brain’s pain response, so what may feel like a slight, dull ache to a well-rested person can quickly become an unbearable splitting headache for someone with insomnia.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Insomnia
Finding the root cause of sleep deprivation is key to tackling insomnia-induced morning headaches.
Multiple underlying factors can be to blame, including stress, over-exposure to blue light, mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and several common sleep disorders. And many people’s insomnia is driven by a combination of two or more of these things.
If insomnia is causing your morning headaches, it’s likely impacting your health and happiness in other ways, too. So, the best course of action is to speak to your doctor, who can help you identify the roadblocks standing between you and a good night’s sleep.
Chronic dehydration is thought to affect up to three-quarters of the adult population, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most common causes of morning headaches.
Our bodies are made up of 55% to 65% water, and without sufficient daily intake, our physiological functions suffer.
One of the very first signs of dehydration is headache, and the pain is often accompanied by other symptoms such as dry mouth, dizziness, and fatigue.
When the body doesn’t get enough water, organs begin to shrink slightly. As the brain tissue contracts, it compresses nerves, leading to that unpleasant or downright unbearable ache many people feel upon waking.
Dehydration is at its most severe first thing in the morning, as it’s typically been several hours since we last took a drink. That’s why dehydration headaches are most common upon waking and tend to alleviate themselves throughout the day as our liquid intake increases.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Dehydration
The answer to this one is simple; drink more water! However, many people struggle to increase their water intake due to the need for more frequent bathroom visits.
But staying hydrated doesn’t have to mean chugging an extra gallon in a single sitting. Instead, simply taking regular, small sips of water throughout the day is usually all it takes to tackle chronic dehydration. And once you implement this new healthy habit into your routine, it becomes second nature.
As well as increasing your water intake, reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume can also help. These diuretic substances increase the production of urine, so, paradoxically, the more you drink, the more dehydrated you can become.
Habitual snorers are at an increased risk of morning headaches.
One study from Taiwan found that 23.5% of people who snore frequently wake up with a headache. Plus, research suggests that people who suffer from chronic headaches are more than twice as likely to identify as habitual snorers.
That’s because snoring leads to interrupted sleep. But often, people don’t realize that their loud snores are waking them (and their bedmates) up multiple times throughout the night, as they may not remember. However, this seemingly minor disruption can hugely impact sleep cycles and lead to less time spent in deeper sleep stages such as REM.
When this happens on a nightly basis, the result is chronic sleep deprivation; one of the leading causes of morning headaches in adults.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Snoring
There are many different ways to tackle a snoring problem, and if you find one that works, it could be life-changing for you and anyone you share a bed with.
But there’s often no quick fix, especially if you’ve been a chronic snorer for most of your life. That being said, plenty of strategies can work wonders in the long term, including losing excess body weight, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol intake before bed.
There are also anti-snoring dilators, nasal strips, and mouthpieces that can help, along with repetitive mouth exercises that tone the muscles to reduce snoring or even stop it entirely.
And sometimes, simply changing your position to sleep on your side rather than on your back can fix the problem.
4. Sleep Apnea
One of the most prevalent symptoms of sleep apnea is morning headaches, and just like with snoring, the cause is often down to disrupted sleep.
This obstruction makes it difficult for those with OSA to breathe normally during sleep, and sufferers typically snore as oxygen passing through the compressed airway rattles the soft palate against the tongue. This leads to disrupted sleep, one of the main causes of morning headaches in otherwise healthy individuals.
Another more serious reason behind frequent morning headaches in individuals with OSA is a lack of oxygen, as a person temporarily stops breathing during the night. Consistent oxygen deprivation has an obvious and profound impact on the brain and body, which might explain why almost 30% of OSA sufferers also have frequent morning headaches.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Sleep Apnea
If you think you might have sleep apnea, the first thing you should do is speak to your doctor, who can confirm your diagnosis and work out an effective treatment plan.
Several factors increase the severity of sleep apnea symptoms, including obesity. Obesity is one of the leading causes of OSA, and for many people, losing weight is enough to get rid of the condition for good.
Other lifestyle factors, such as alcohol and opioid-based medications, can exacerbate sleep apnea, so cutting out the booze or talking with your doctor about possibly changing your prescriptions might help.
Aside from these interventions, the most effective treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) devices are worn over the nose or mouth during sleep, emitting a continuous pressure to hold open the airway and clear the obstruction.
For more information, check out our in-depth blog posts about the different types of CPAP machines, their uses, and how they can help you manage sleep apnea.
5. Teeth Grinding/Sleep Bruxism
Grinding your teeth during sleep is known as sleep bruxism, and it’s more common than you might think.
Many people are unaware that they have sleep bruxism, but if you frequently wake up with an unexplained pounding headache in the morning, it’s worth investigating if it could be the cause.
Sleep bruxism can affect anyone at any age, but it’s more common in children and young adults. Some studies suggest that almost 50% of children grind their teeth during the night, especially when their new teeth come in.
But adults experience sleep bruxism too, and the condition can worsen during periods of high stress or tension. Certain medications can also increase the likelihood of grinding your teeth at night.
If an aching jaw and neck accompany your morning headache, or you notice teeth erosion or dental pain, then sleep bruxism is a likely cause.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Teeth Grinding
If you think you might have sleep bruxism, visit your dentist. They know the signs and symptoms to look out for and can advise you of the best treatment plan.
The most common remedy for teeth grinding during sleep is a mouth guard or dental splint, which will limit the movement of your jaw, and reduce the impact on your teeth and mouth.
While this can also help to reduce morning headaches, a mouthguard or splint isn’t a magic cure. To eliminate the problem entirely, you’ll need to find the root cause. For example, if stress is to blame, your dentist may recommend a course of cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling.
Conversely, if medication is the problem, speak to your doctor. They may suggest an alternative prescription or help you manage this unwanted side effect with additional drugs or strategies.
A migraine often starts out like a regular headache that grows more painful and debilitating over several hours.
A whopping 35 million people suffer from migraines in the United States. And according to research carried out by the American Migraine Foundation, around 50% of attacks occur in the morning between 4 am and 9 am.
There’s no single definitive reason for migraines’ prevalence during morning hours. Doctors believe it could be due to several factors, including many of the headache-inducing causes listed above.
Issues such as insomnia, teeth grinding, snoring, and sleep apnea can all trigger migraines, and the likelihood of a morning attack also increases when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Migraines
If migraines are new for you, speak with your doctor to rule out any other underlying causes.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal cure for migraines, but there are plenty of ways to reduce their prevalence and severity and manage the symptoms when they occur.
If morning migraines are affecting your life, the American Migraine Foundation recommends tweaking your sleep schedule to ensure that you go to bed at the same time each night and have at least 7 hours of quality sleep.
They also highlight the importance of lowering stress levels to reduce migraine frequency, avoiding certain foods like chocolate and artificial sweeteners, limiting exposure to bright light, and reducing time spent on devices like laptops and tablets.
Everyone knows that getting drunk leads to a sore head, but even consuming just one or two alcoholic beverages in the evening can disrupt your sleep enough to cause morning headaches.
One reason is that alcohol is a diuretic; even a small quantity can leave you dehydrated. Pair that with 7 or 8 hours overnight without water, and you’re likely to wake up with a throbbing head.
Alcohol can also disrupt your sleep pattern and lead to less time spent in the deep and restorative REM sleep stage. As a result, circadian rhythms are thrown off kilter, and the symptoms of sleep deprivation (including those pesky morning headaches) set in.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by a Hangover
Of course, the best way to avoid a hangover is to abstain from alcohol entirely. But if you like to let your hair down from time to time, there are a few things you can do to mitigate its headache-inducing effects.
Be sure to stay hydrated by alternating every alcoholic drink with a soft drink, and always take water to bed with you so that you can rehydrate as soon as you wake up.
Sugary cocktails and mixers can also exacerbate the symptoms of a hangover, so if you choose to drink, try opting for low-sugar options like vodka and soda water.
Certain pain-relieving medications, such as opioids, triptans, and NSAIDs, can cause rebound headaches.
Rebound headaches are a common side effect of both prescription and over-the-counter medications, and the onset usually begins in the early hours of the morning when the drug begins to wear off.
Other types of medication can also lead to non-rebound headaches, so check all prescription labels and speak with your doctor to be sure your medicines aren’t to blame.
Remedies For Morning Headaches Caused by Medication
If you suspect your morning headaches might be down to a medication you are currently taking, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider. It might be helpful to record your daily dosage when you take it and the time of the onset of symptoms to help them get a more accurate picture of the underlying cause.
Also, don’t forget to mention any caffeine, alcohol, other medications, vitamins, and supplements that you may be taking, as these can lead to unwanted drug interactions, which could be to blame.
There are plenty of reasons for morning headaches, but the causes listed above are among the most common.
So, if you often wake up with a sore head, hopefully, this post has helped you identify some of the potential triggers. That being said, be sure to speak to your doctor to correctly identify the problem and find a safe and effective solution.