Article Thumbnail

How the Heck Am I Waking Up With a Headache?

You might have a whole medical condition you’re not aware of, or you might just not be getting enough sleep

Maybe the human body is a miracle of scientific wonder, but I feel like we’ve got some serious design flaws. Sleep is the biggest one for me. Like, we have to be totally unconscious for a third of our total day, and when we return to consciousness, we sometimes still feel like trash? 

Waking up in the morning with a headache is one of the most common examples of this. If alcohol isn’t a factor, your mind might immediately jump to “brain tumor” when morning after morning greets you with a headache, but that’s rarely the actual cause. Obviously, there’s always a chance you do indeed have a brain tumor, but it’s more likely something far less scary. 

Among the most common reasons for headaches at any time of day is not getting enough sleep. Whether you’re getting less than usual or have been running on four hours of sleep for the last several years, it’s possible that it’s just now catching up to you in the form of a headache. Morning headaches, in particular, have been linked to insomnia, which itself might have a variety of causes. Stress and depression can lead to insomnia headaches, but stress and depression can cause headaches on their own as well. In either case, it’s worth talking to your doctor or a mental health professional if you suspect this might be the case. 

In the event you’re sleeping just fine, though, the headaches might be the result of issues you aren’t aware of, like teeth-grinding or sleep apnea. Surprisingly, it’s suspected that 85 to 90 percent of people with sleep apnea don’t know they have it. Ten percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 suffer from sleep apnea, with that number jumping to 17 percent for men over 50. Morning headaches are one of the most common symptoms. If you snore, wake regularly in the middle of the night or have other sleep-apnea symptoms, it’s time to see a doctor. 

Though teeth-grinding can be linked to more complicated issues like stress, the grinding itself and the headaches (and sore jaw) that can come with it is relatively simple to solve. Rather than seeing a doctor, though, consult with your dentist. They’ll likely prescribe you a mouthguard. 

According to Self, caffeine withdrawals are also common culprits of morning headaches. For those who consume caffeine throughout the entire day, going several hours without it at night can produce symptoms. Monitoring your caffeine intake and experimenting with consuming less should help you deduce if this is the problem. Unfortunately, if this is the cause, the main solution is to consume less caffeine. 

Lastly, you might have morning headaches simply because you… have headaches. Migraines are another one of those cruel bodily design flaws with little explanation, and some people experience them regularly for no good reason. If you’ve checked every other possibility off your list, you might just be someone who experiences migraines at night, and therefore, wakes up in pain in the morning. (But again, this, too, can be linked back to stress and insomnia — i.e., morning headaches might just be part of a tangled mess of smaller issues that need sorting out.) 

In almost all of these scenarios, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get enough sleep. I’m sure you hear it all the time, but make sure you’re also consuming enough water, too. Dehydration is a trigger in a third of people who experience migraines. Whatever the exact cause, there’s no real harm in at least covering your bases, sleep- and water-wise. But if you find that you’re waking up to a headache with unusual regularity, it’s definitely something you should be bringing up with your doctor, who will have a much better idea of the design flaw that’s causing your head to pound as soon as you open your eyes to a new day.