Waking up with a headache can be a terrible way to start the day, and it may cause you to feel sluggish, irritable, and debilitated. Early morning headaches can be caused by any number of factors, such as drinking alcohol the night before, bruxism (grinding teeth), and sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea. Identifying the root cause of your morning headaches can empower you to make healthy lifestyle changes that eliminate your head pain and encourage you to seek treatment for related sleep disorders.
If you’ve been asking yourself why do I wake up with a headache every morning? read on to find out the potential causes of morning headaches and how you can determine whether they are being caused by a sleep disorder.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterized by difficulty in falling or staying asleep. Sleep deprivation can cause an insomnia headache that may not be relieved until you are able to get quality sleep; however, insomnia can become a chronic disorder that requires professional treatment before it can be fully resolved.
In one study, researchers found that the prevalence of insomnia among people with tension headaches was 13.2 percent versus 5.8 percent among people without headaches. If you are having difficulty sleeping at night, it’s possible your early morning headaches are actually insomnia headaches.
Early Morning Headaches from Alcohol Use
One-third of people with migraine headaches report alcohol as the trigger behind their headaches. Alcohol may cause morning headaches for a number of reasons.
First, alcohol is a diuretic that can lead to dehydration during the night and induce a morning headache. Second, some alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, contain tannins that interfere with brain neurotransmitters like serotonin that are involved in the development of headaches. Third, alcohol can lead to frequent sleep disturbances throughout the night such as nightmares, insomnia, and strong urges to urinate.
Start taking note of whether your early morning headaches occur after you drank alcohol the previous night. If so, you may want to reduce the amount you drink or drink alcohol earlier in the day to prevent it from causing headaches. Some people may wish to stop drinking alcohol altogether.
Early Morning Headaches From Medications
Early morning headaches are a common side effect of several prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines:
- Opioids (painkillers like oxycodone and codeine)
- Sleeping pills
- Medicines that contain caffeine
If you are taking any medications or medicines, read the labels to confirm whether they list headaches as a potential side effect. Then, talk to your doctor about your options for alternative medicines or treatments that won’t cause early morning headaches.
Early Morning Headaches From Bruxism
Bruxism is the act of grinding or clenching the teeth and commonly occurs at night when the person is sleeping. Bruxism may be caused by any one of several factors, including stress, anxiety, smoking, sleep apnea, excessive caffeine and alcohol use.
Early morning headaches caused by bruxism are typically felt around the temples and may be accompanied by earaches and sinus pain. Bruxism is typically diagnosed by a dentist, but if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, you may want to consult with a sleep doctor first to rule out sleep disorders.
Sleep Apnea Headaches
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by frequent pauses in breathing throughout the night. In people with sleep apnea, intermittent breathing causes oxygen levels to drop and for air to become trapped in the lungs. Carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs, is released into the bloodstream and dilates blood vessels in and around the head to trigger a sleep apnea headache.
Sleep apnea headaches can occur regularly in people with sleep apnea and are typically felt on both sides of the head. Another study reported that more than 20 percent of patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) experience early morning headaches.
Fortunately, a sleep apnea headache usually resolves on its own within a few hours of the person waking up and beginning to breathe normally again. However, it’s important to note that, when left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of serious health conditions, including diabetes, stroke, heart problems, and high blood pressure.
If you think sleep apnea may be your answer to why do I wake up with a headache every morning? then your next best step is to get an accurate diagnosis. Take our assessment now to find out if you may be suffering from sleep apnea.
This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.