Why you wake up with a headache?

Eu Natural
January 18, 2021
Fact checked
Dr. Stephanie Nichols, ND

Do you ever find yourself waking up with a pounding headache and are clueless to the cause? 

Well, if so, you’re not on your own! 

Waking up with a sore head is something many people experience, and when it happens regularly, it can have a negative knock-on effect in other areas of your life. 

Even if you only experience it on the odd occasion, it’s still not the nicest way to start your day. 

In this article, we’ll explore the different causes of morning headaches and how you can help prevent them in the future.

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What are the different types of headaches?

headache

A headache is simply the umbrella term for a pain felt in the head and, sometimes, face. 

There are many different types of headaches, including:

  • Migraines
  • Tension headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Exertional headaches 

Headaches are categorized by ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ headaches.

A primary headache refers to pain that is caused by overactivity of pain-sensitive features in the head. Secondary headaches refer to a headache caused by another condition or, in some cases, disease.

Whether a primary or secondary headache, either one of them isn’t pleasant to experience.

While over the counter pain relief can temporarily help the pain, it’s best to identify the source of what is causing the headache if you want to prevent them from happening again and again.

What are morning headaches?

clock

Headaches can occur any time of the day, can be frequent, or every so often. 

However, as the name suggests, morning headaches occur in the morning and are usually already in effect as we wake up. 

Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint the cause if perhaps you had one alcoholic drink too many the night before. However, often you’ll be baffled as to why you’ve woken up with a sore head.

There are many reasons as to what could be causing your morning headache, and once you’ve identified this, you can take action to hopefully put an end to them.

Bonus: Download This 7-Day Headache Reset that will show you how to tackle your worst migraine symptoms quickly.

Common causes of morning headaches include:

Insomnia and oversleeping

girl with pillow

Sleep disorders can refer to both insomnia and oversleeping and can have a negative impact on our health, so we must build better sleep habits.

We tend to associate insomnia with having trouble falling asleep. But it can also refer to waking up throughout the night or waking up very early in the morning. 

No matter which of the three you struggle with (if not all), as you’ll have had a poor sleep, you’ll likely find the morning an unpleasant experience as you wake up feeling groggy and often with a headache. Unfortunately, symptoms can worsen throughout the day leading to fatigue, low concentration, and irritability, just to name a few.

While medication is one option, if you prefer a natural approach, there are some other things you can first try to battle insomnia.

  • Limit napping
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Refrain from having caffeine from the early afternoon
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Avoid looking at screens at least an hour before going to bed 
  • Stick to a sleeping schedule, meaning going to bed at the same time each night
  • Eat dinner earlier and steer clear of eating a large meal at least an hour before going to bed

While losing sleep can cause an early morning headache, so can oversleeping. This is because of the effect oversleeping has on the serotonin in our body. Serotonin is a hormone that helps stabilize our mood and everyday body functions such as bowel movements. An imbalance of serotonin is linked to sleeping disorders, including oversleeping. 

You can use the points to help battle insomnia above to also help prevent you from oversleeping. 

Some other things you can try are:

  • Refrain from hitting the snooze button
  • Keep the same sleep and waking up schedule on weekdays and weekends
  • Improve your morning habits

While we all have days where we oversleep or feel tired throughout the day, this could be a symptom of a sleeping disorder such as hypersomnia. Hypersomnia refers to continuous excessive daytime sleepiness, and in this case, it may be necessary that you seek professional treatment.

Dehydration

water

One of the most common causes of morning headaches is dehydration. 

It makes sense that after several hours of sleep, your body requires some replenishment. You may also find yourself waking up hungry too! 

It’s a fine balance of drinking enough water to ensure you wake up headache free but also not to need to wake up throughout the night to use the bathroom. 

If you’re unable to drink water before going to sleep, make sure to keep a glass of water next to your bed to drink as soon as you wake up.

You’ll find that once your body begins to hydrate itself,  that morning glass of water will soon keep your headaches at bay. 

It’s essential to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well as morning and night. Not drinking enough water makes us susceptible to headaches any time of day, not just first thing in the morning. If you are drinking reverse osmosis water, make sure to add in electrolytes as these are an important component of keeping us hydrated.

A lack of water can also affect our concentration levels and even trick our body into thinking it’s hungry. Don’t underestimate the power that drinking enough water can have on the body! 

Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea 1

The term ‘sleep apnea’ refers to a medical condition when your breathing stops and starts as you sleep. There are two types, central sleep apnea and the more common condition obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea can include:

  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Snoring loudly
  • Making gasping or choking sounds

As a result of this interrupted sleep, it’s likely to affect how you feel the following day.

Alongside morning headaches, you may feel irritable, have mood swings, and feel very tired.

Unfortunately, there is little you can do throughout the day to prevent sleep apnea, as this condition occurs when your airways become too narrow as you sleep.

However, in some cases, obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to obesity as fat deposits in the upper respiratory tract narrow the airway.

Therefore losing weight and getting to a healthy BMI may help reduce symptoms of this sleep disorder. With central sleep apnea, where the signal from your brain to your lungs is disrupted, there are less modifiable lifestyle factors that you can change to improve the condition. 

If you have concerns that you have sleep apnea, you must seek medical healthcare advice as it can be severe if left untreated.

Anxiety and Depression

anxiety and depression faces

Headaches are just one common symptom that people with anxiety and depression experience. 

However, some people also report that headaches are the cause of their anxiety and depression.

Whichever way round, it’s vital to get some professional support as anxiety and depression can have a detrimental effect on your health.

If you suffer from recurring headaches that you believe are linked to anxiety and depression, speak with a medical healthcare professional that will come up with a treatment plan to help ease headache symptoms.

Hangovers

hangover

If you’ve had a few too many alcoholic drinks the night before, you’ll know about it in the morning. Aside from an interrupted night's sleep, in the morning, typically, your head will be pounding, and you’ll be gasping for water. A sign that the body is dehydrated.

Unfortunately, reach suggests that the after-effects of alcohol consumption only worsen as we get older.

As we age, our metabolism slows down, and this can affect the body in multiple ways. When it comes to alcohol, the older we get, the longer it takes our body to get rid of the alcohol from our bloodstream.

An easy answer for reducing hangover headaches would be to drink less, but sometimes we may experience hangovers even after just one glass of wine. 

If you’re not willing the give up your evening tipple, there are a couple of things that can help:

  • Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink
  • Keep a glass of water by your bed to drink if you wake up in the night
  • Make sure you’ve eaten before drinking alcohol; this will help slow down how quickly your body absorbs alcohol
  • Stop drinking at least a couple of hours before going to sleep to give your body time to process the alcohol

Sometimes the above will help prevent a headache, but if not, they’ll undoubtedly reduce its intensity!

Caffeine

caffeine

If you’re a lover of caffeine and have multiple cups of coffee or tea a day, then this isn’t going to be good news for you. All that caffeine could be the cause of those pesky morning headaches. 

Wake up later on the weekends and have missed your 7 am coffee? You might feel a headache setting in. Your body can work like a clock, and if you have your daily cup of coffee even an hour later than usual, you may start feeling withdrawal. 

Unfortunately, drinking multiple cups of coffee a day can also be the cause of migraines. So even if you stick to sipping the beverage at the same time each day, you may still find yourself getting headaches if you have multiple cups.

If you’re thinking of giving up coffee altogether, withdrawal symptoms cease after around seven days, so the habit is certainly possible to kick! 

However, if the thought of giving up that comforting hot drink sends a shudder down your spine, then keep yourself as hydrated as possible to try and keep these headaches at bay. 

Medication

medication

While medication is there to help treat or cure conditions, sometimes headaches can unfortunately be a side effect.

Headaches can occur if you’re overusing your medication. When taking medication, always follow the dosage guidelines you have been given and do not go over this dose unless your doctor has approved it. 

In some cases, consistent, long term use of medication that is already being used to treat migraines can cause rebound headaches.

It’s a vicious cycle of taking medication to prevent migraines, developing a headache, using paracetamol for pain relief, and so on, so forth.

Rebound headaches tend to halt once you stop using the medication, but of course, this doesn’t solve the problem of your migraines.

In this case, it’s best to speak with a medical healthcare professional to help you overcome rebound headaches.

Tumor 

tumor

It’s not uncommon to jump to the conclusion that a headache is a sign of something more sinister, like a brain tumor. 

While it can be the case, it’s also the most unlikely reason. Statistically, the average person has a less than 1% chance of developing a brain tumor in their lifetime. 

That said, if you do have a genuine concern or you cannot link your headache to any of the other possible causes above, do speak with a medical healthcare professional. 

How can I treat a headache? 

In some cases, such as with alcohol, lots of water, and a good night's sleep means you’ll wake up the next day feeling right as rain. Unless you’ve had more than a few too many or are a bit older and experience the dread two-day hangover.

However, if the cause is any of the others mentioned above, your morning headaches may be on-going until you sort out the root of the problem. 

In this case, it’s best to speak with a medical health care professional who can prescribe a treatment plan. 

Alongside your treatment plan, it can be beneficial to keep a headache diary; this will help identify headache patterns and any potential triggers.

Wrapping up 

Headaches are a pain, both literally and metaphorically. If you find yourself consistently waking up with them, it’s not going to put you in the best mood for the day. You’ll likely be more irritable, and it can be hard to prevent this from harming both personal relationships and professionals.

Therefore, it’s essential to take action as soon as possible. 

It’s easy to take pain relief, but it’s not a long term solution, and consistent use can be harmful to the body.

Different treatments will be recommended for various causes, so it’s essential to identify the root of the problem. Once you recognize the cause, you can take the recommended action to hopefully prevent those bothersome headaches from recurring. 

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