When you have a headache, you may try to sleep it off. The irony is, there are certain conditions which can make you more prone to waking with a headache.
Some types of headache can be linked to sleep disorders. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea, which is often undiagnosed. Snoring and excessive fatigue are two of the symptoms of this disorder, as are morning headaches.
Headaches and Sleep Apnea
People with obstructive sleep apnea awake frequently throughout the night. These arousals are a result of the upper airways becoming blocked, resulting in breathing difficulties. The brain responds to the fall in oxygen levels by prompting the body to awake for air. This can happen many times every hour.
When there are disruptions to breathing, the brain doesn’t receive the oxygen it needs. Instead, the brain receives increased levels of carbon dioxide.
The excess levels of carbon dioxide inflate the arteries in the brain, increasing the flow of blood — causing morning headaches. Normal breathing patterns will return once again in the morning when you are fully awake. As breathing normalizes, the levels of carbon dioxide in the arteries will fall and the pressure which causes the headaches will ease.
Most sleep apnea-related headaches will pass within a few hours after waking, without the need to take any pain relief medication. The headaches tend to be just that, aches rather than the sharp pain you can experience with migraines.
Headaches attributed to sleep apnea will not come back during the day and do not usually lead to additional issues such as nausea, dizziness, or changes to your vision.
Here’s a good study that looks at the link between obstructive sleep apnea and morning headaches: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7016602/
People who suffer from migraines are also more likely to suffer with a sleep disorder. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder to be experienced with such severe headaches. Indeed, those who suffer with chronic migraines, where they have a migraine at least 15 days of every month, can have twice the rate of insomnia compared to those who experience headaches less often.
Similar to sleep apnea, people with insomnia will have daytime fatigue and have problems with concentration and motivation. You struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep with insomnia, and it can be caused by factors such as chronic pain, stress and anxiety. However, there is also an increased risk of insomnia for migraine sufferers because they may sleep off their headache during the day, making it harder to sleep again at night.
Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is another condition which can lead to waking with a headache. This will usually be a dull ache, which could also be in the jaw. Stress and anxiety are triggers of bruxism, which most often sees people grinding their teeth in the night as they sleep. Many people will not even realize they grind their teeth overnight and will not automatically associate this issue with their headaches. A doctor or dentist may be the first to recognize the signs that you are grinding your teeth.
Headaches Associated With Sleep
There are three primary types of headache that are linked to sleep. These are:
- Wake-up headaches – people can be more prone to headaches when they wake as they have missed the optimal time to take pain relief if the headache comes on overnight. The effects of any previously taken pain relief will also most likely have worn off.
- Hypnic headaches – these are headaches which are frequent but only come on as you sleep, lasting up to four hours. Since hypnic headaches can wake you from your sleep, they are also referred to as ‘alarm clock’ headaches.
- Cluster headaches – These can be particularly painful and strike not long after falling asleep. They can last for up to three hours, with the worst of the impact affecting one eye, either in, around or behind the eye.
Reducing Morning Headaches
For those diagnosed with sleep apnea, one of the main treatments is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This involves a device to supply air through a mask worn as you sleep, in order to prevent the collapse of the upper airways.
CPAP helps reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea and helps you return to improved nights of uninterrupted sleep. Without the interruptions to breathing caused by blocked airways, there is not an increase in the levels of carbon dioxide which cause headaches in the morning when you awake.
CPAP puts an end to the morning headaches!
By working with your doctor, you can get a diagnosis regarding the cause of these headaches. Once the cause is established, an effective treatment plan can be recommended.
SleepQuest can help! Our sleep specialist will help you get the at-home testing you need to determine if you have sleep apnea, then discuss the results with you. Your body requires a good night’s sleep every night, to recharge body processes — and to help you live longer. Your overall quality of life will improve greatly, with no more morning headaches!