Morning Headache Causes: Why Do I Wake Up With a Headache?

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A morning headache is a headache that occurs just after waking up. A headache describes when a person experiences a throbbing, constant pain in their head or face. Morning headaches are common, with around 50 percent of adults experiencing this problem. More than a dozen issues can cause morning headaches, including sleep disorders, medications, serious health conditions, and more. Some people experience morning headaches occasionally, while others experience them more frequently.

Morning headaches are typically more uncomfortable than dangerous, but sometimes, the reason for the headache is severe. Most treatments for these types of headaches involve healthy lifestyle changes. A headache will usually go away on its own or after you take medicine. If your morning headaches go on for days and no medication helps, you should see a doctor.

1. Circadian Rhythm Disorders

A circadian rhythm disorder is a common cause of morning headaches. The disorder means that your body's natural sleep-wake rhythm is out of sync. There are a few different types of circadian rhythm disorders, but all of them result in symptoms like difficulty falling or staying asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, and concentration problems. People with circadian rhythm disorders often have difficulty waking up in the morning and can feel groggy and disoriented. A circadian rhythm disorder is a serious medical condition and should be treated by a doctor. If you don't treat the circadian rhythm disorder, it can lead to other health problems because you are probably not getting enough sleep.

2. Medications or Supplements

Medications and supplements can cause morning headaches. People who take medicine for blood pressure, anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions are often at risk of developing morning headaches. Some sleep aids and antihistamines can lead to morning headaches. If you take new medications or supplements, pay attention to whether or not you start getting morning headaches. If you do, talk to your doctor about whether you should continue taking the new medication. If medications or supplements are causing your morning headaches, the problem should go away once you stop using the medicine. Supplements like vitamin C, D, B, and C can cause morning headaches if you take too much.

Bottle of Medications On the Bedside Table Illustration

3. Snoring

Snoring causes morning headaches by vibrating the skull and disrupting the sleep cycle. Snoring is often a sign that you are not getting enough oxygen at night. When you snore, your body is trying to get more air by breathing through your mouth. If you snore, consult with a doctor who can help you find out why you're snoring and provide you with the best solutions. In some cases, snoring may be due to a sleep disorder known as sleep apnea.

4. Bruxism or Teeth Grinding

Bruxism or teeth grinding is another common culprit behind morning headaches. When you grind your teeth, you create tension in the jaw muscles and skull. The tension buildup can lead to pain in the temples and behind the eyes. If you are experiencing morning headaches and think that bruxism or teeth grinding may be the cause, see a dentist for a proper diagnosis. The two most common treatments for bruxism are mouth guards and therapy. Your morning headaches should stop after you start wearing a mouthguard.

5. Migraine

A migraine is the most common type of headache. An “aura,” which can be visual, sensory, or emotional often precedes migraines. People with migraines often have intense pain on one side of the head. They may also experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can cause morning headaches if you experience an aura before the migraine. If you think you may have a migraine, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. There are many medications available to help treat migraines.

6. Sleep Loss and Insomnia

Sleep loss and insomnia are two of the most common causes of morning headaches.  When you don't get enough sleep, your body can't function properly, leading to problems like morning headaches. Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia can result from factors such as stress, anxiety, and noise. Sleep loss and insomnia often lead to morning headaches that could go on for days. The best way to treat sleep loss and insomnia depends on what's causing them. Medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes are the most common solutions that could help manage insomnia and sleep loss. Your morning headaches should go away quickly once you get enough sleep.

7. Tension

Tension is a cause of morning headaches. Tension headaches in the morning are often due to poor sleep posture, but they can result from stress and anxiety as well. If your sleep posture causes tension in the head and neck muscles, you're likely to wake up with a morning headache. Tension headaches typically cause pain in the temples and forehead. The best way to treat tension headaches is to find the cause and address it. If you're stressed, try relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. A better mattress and pillow should help with poor sleep posture. Your morning headaches should go away once the tension is relieved.

cat calming stressed woman illustration

8. Hangover

A hangover from consuming too much alcohol the night before can lead to a morning headache. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes you to expel more fluid than you take in. This can lead to dehydration, which may cause morning headaches. The irritant effects of alcohol on the stomach and intestines can also cause hangovers. Symptoms of a hangover include headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, thirst, and fatigue. The best way to avoid a hangover is to drink in moderation and eat before and while drinking. If you have a hangover, drink plenty of fluids, take ibuprofen for the headache, and rest. Your morning headache should go away soon after.

9. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that may trigger morning headaches.  Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing periodically during sleep, which can spur a morning headache. When you have sleep apnea, your brain is not getting enough oxygen. The lack of oxygen can cause headaches, fatigue, and irritability. Sleep apnea is often diagnosed after undergoing a sleep study. The best way to treat sleep apnea is with a CPAP or BiPAP machine. These machines deliver pressurized air through a mask to keep your airways open. Your morning headaches should cease after using a CPAP or BiPAP machine.

illustration of a woman sleeping with CPAP mask on

10. Oversleeping

Oversleeping may prompt morning headaches. Oversleeping can cause fatigue, which can lead to morning headaches. Excessive sleeping can also cause neck pain and stiffness, leading to tension headaches. The best way to avoid oversleeping is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Oversleeping is defined as sleeping for longer than 9 hours if you are a healthy adult. If you oversleep, try not to stay up for longer than usual, or you could disrupt your sleep schedule. Your morning headaches should go away once you get back on a regular sleep schedule.

11. Tumor

A tumor can be a more rare source of morning headaches. Tumors can cause morning headaches by pressing on the nerves and blood vessels in the head. A tumor can also generate inflammation, which can lead to headaches. Tumors are usually benign, but some may be cancerous. If you think you may have a tumor, it's best to talk to your doctor immediately. Doctors will perform evaluations and tests to tell if a tumor is behind your morning headaches. If that's the case, your morning headaches should end once the tumor is removed.

12. Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can both result in morning headaches. Anxiety can cause tension headaches, while depression can cause migraines. Depression and anxiety are common mental health conditions that affect millions of people. If you think you may have depression or anxiety, it's best to talk to a doctor or mental healthcare professional. There are many treatments available for both conditions. Morning headaches should go away once you treat depression or anxiety.

Illustration of a woman having anxiety attack while in crowd

13. Diet

A poor diet can cause morning headaches because you're not getting enough nutrients. Vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium are important for preventing headaches. A lack of these nutrients can lead to tension headaches. If you eat unhealthy food or skip meals, you may experience morning headaches that go on for the rest of the day. The best way to prevent this is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you're not getting enough nutrients from your diet, you may consider taking a multivitamin. Your morning headaches should go away once you start eating better.

14. Allergens

Allergens are a potential morning headache trigger. Allergens can cause sinus headaches, which happen when there’s inflammation in the sinuses. Allergens like pollen, dust, and pet dander can lead to inflammation. The best way to treat sinus headaches is with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and aspirin. You can try nasal sprays or decongestants to help relieve the inflammation. If you think allergens are causing your morning headaches, try avoiding what you're allergic to as much as possible. You should ‌tested for allergies if you believe this is the reason behind your headaches. The morning headaches should go away with better allergy management.

How to Treat Morning Headaches

How you treat morning headaches depends on the cause. You must first identify what's causing a morning headache to treat it. Getting adequate sleep, drinking enough water, and eating a healthy diet are the quickest ways to treat a morning headache. See a doctor if your headaches are due to a tumor, teeth grinding, or sleep disorder. Morning headaches can happen to anyone, and they don't always show a more serious health condition. Most times, these headaches are a temporary issue. You should see a doctor if the pain goes on for days and stops you from performing your daily activities.

What are the Tips for Getting Better Sleep to Get Rid of Morning Headaches?

Tips for better sleep mostly consist of lifestyle changes the individual can practice on their own. The tips for getting better sleep to get rid of morning headaches are listed below.

  • Get enough sleep: Most people need around eight hours of sleep a night.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help regulate your body's natural sleep rhythm.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed: Caffeine can keep you awake, while alcohol can disrupt your sleep.
  • Avoid working or using electronic devices before bed: The light from screens can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.

  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed: Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help you relax and fall asleep.

  • Use a pillow that supports your neck properly: This will help reduce tension in your neck and improve your sleep quality.

Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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