Home / Blog March 28, 2024 Updated on March 29, 2024

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9 Reasons Why Your Head Hurts When You Wake Up

Do you find yourself repeatedly reaching for the aspirin bottle in the morning? Various factors may be contributing to the unwelcome wake-up call of a morning headache. Let’s delve into what causes morning headaches, and look into treatments.

why does my head hurt when i wake up


Sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disorders can cause headaches when you wake up.

This is also true for sleep disorders with physical symptoms, such as sleep apnea and bruxism (teeth grinding).

Side effects from medication and hangovers from alcohol can cause post-nap headaches as well. 

Did you know?
When we sleep, our breathing patterns change, and some people may experience altered CO2 levels, contributing to morning headaches.

In this blog, we delve into nine possible reasons behind early morning headaches - from sleep-related issues to physical factors. Let’s shed light on the mechanisms at play and look into how you can find relief.

1. Sleep Deprivation and Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Sleep is a fundamental pillar of overall health, and when it's compromised, repercussions extend beyond mere fatigue. A telling symptom of sleep-related issues is headaches in the morning and at night

Sleep deprivation occurs when we consistently fail to get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep affects various physiological processes, including the brain’s ability to regulate pain.

Sleep deprivation also triggers an inflammatory response, elevating certain proteins that may contribute to headaches. Insufficient sleep can also influence blood vessels, causing them to dilate. This dilation, combined with changes in neurotransmitter activity, can lead to migraines or tension-type headaches, commonly experienced upon waking.

Circadian rhythm disorders disrupt the body’s internal clock, affecting the natural sleep-wake cycle. Conditions, like delayed sleep phase syndrome or shift work disorder, can result in misalignment between the body’s biological clock and external demands. As the circadian rhythm plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological functions, including hormonal release and body temperature, disruptions to this rhythm are one of the morning headache causes, as the body struggles to adapt to the transition from sleep to wakefulness.

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2. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep, can significantly contribute to morning headaches. In obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked, leading to brief pauses in breathing, which results in intermittent drops in blood oxygen levels; the repeated occurrences of oxygen desaturation during the night trigger the brain to send signals to wake the individual briefly and resume normal breathing. These interruptions in sleep can cause disruptions in the sleep cycle and contribute to morning headaches.

Sleep apnea can create an imbalance in ventilation, leading to the retention of carbon dioxide in the body. The body responds to elevated carbon dioxide levels by dilating blood vessels. This vasodilation can contribute to vascular changes and fluctuations in cerebral blood flow, factors implicated in the development of headaches.

The effort to resume breathing after apneic episodes strains the cardiovascular system, leading to increased blood pressure. This elevated blood pressure can result in higher intracranial pressure, a recognized trigger for headaches.

The combination of oxygen desaturation, changes in blood vessel dynamics, and elevated intracranial pressure creates a conducive environment for headache development, particularly in the morning.

3. Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding, clinically known as bruxism, is a condition where individuals involuntarily clench or grind their teeth, often during sleep. The repercussions of bruxism extend beyond dental concerns and can contribute to various health issues, including morning headaches.

As bruxism involves repetitive and forceful contractions of the jaw muscles, this sustained muscular activity, especially during the night, can lead to muscle tension and strain. The tension generated in the jaw muscles can radiate to adjacent areas, including the neck and head, contributing to headaches, particularly in the morning. The persistent muscle tension triggered by bruxism is a recognized contributor to tension-type headaches, which are often described as a band-like pressure around the head.

4. Muscle Strain and Tension in Neck

If you are waking up with headaches and neck pain, try to change your sleeping posture to relieve neck muscle tension. Poor sleep posture, such as sleeping with your neck at an awkward angle or using an unsupportive pillow, can contribute to muscle strain. As you sleep, your neck muscles may be subjected to prolonged stress if your head and neck are not properly supported. This stress can manifest as muscle tension, setting the stage for morning headaches.

Certain sleep-related movement disorders, such as periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) or excessive tossing and turning, can result in repeated micro-awakenings during the night. The constant movement and muscle activation can lead to neck muscle strain, which may culminate in headaches upon waking.

5. Side Effects from Medication

Side effects from medication can contribute to early morning headaches through various mechanisms. For example, diuretics (water pills), may lead to increased urination and fluid loss, potentially resulting in dehydration, which is a known cause of headaches.

Some medications used to treat high blood pressure cause fluctuations in blood pressure levels - if blood pressure drops significantly during the night and then rises upon waking (morning hypertension), it can trigger headaches.

Overuse of pain relievers or medications commonly used to treat headaches, such as triptans, can lead to medication-overuse headache, due to the waning effects of the medication taken the day before.

Hormonal medications, including birth control pills and hormone replacement therapies, may have side effects that include headaches, for hormonal fluctuations during sleep may contribute to headaches upon waking.

It’s essential for individuals experiencing persistent early morning headaches to communicate with their healthcare providers. If you suspect medication side effects, your healthcare professional can assess the medication regimen, explore alternative options, or adjust dosages to minimize adverse effects while effectively managing the underlying health condition

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6. Hangovers

Hangovers can cause early morning headaches through a combination of factors related to the consumption of alcohol and its effects on the body.

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration - the fluid loss associated with alcohol consumption can result in a headache, especially upon waking. In addition, when the body metabolizes alcohol, it produces acetaldehyde – a toxic substance – and the accumulation of acetaldehyde can contribute to hangover symptoms, including headaches.

It is crucial to remember that while alcohol can initially act as a sedative, it disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to fragmented and less restful sleep. Poor sleep quality and disturbances in sleep architecture can be associated with headaches upon waking. Moderation in alcohol consumption, staying hydrated, and paying attention to individual tolerances can help minimize the risk of hangover-related headaches. If headaches persist or become severe, seeking medical advice is recommended.

7. Migraines

If you wake up with a headache behind your eyes - the tell-tale sign of migraines - this can be another possible cause of early morning headaches. Individuals with migraines often have specific triggers, such as certain foods, stress, or hormonal changes, and exposure to triggers close to bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to early morning headaches. Migraines during sleep, known as nocturnal migraines, can extend into the early morning hours, leading to headaches upon waking.

Sleepers experiencing early morning headaches consistent with migraines should consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation. Identifying triggers, managing sleep hygiene, and exploring migraine-specific treatments can contribute to better migraine management and reduced incidence of morning headaches.

8. Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can contribute to early morning headaches through various interconnected mechanisms that involve both psychological and physiological factors. Both conditions can contribute to central sensitization, where the nervous system becomes hyperactive. This increased sensitivity to pain signals may result in heightened perception of headaches, especially in the morning.

Anxiety and depression can also heighten sensitivity to stimuli such as light and noise, and when exposed to morning light or sound, people with heightened sensitivity can experience headaches.

Depression is also associated with imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which plays a role in mood regulation. Changes in serotonin levels can trigger migraines, and individuals with depression may experience migraines that contribute to morning headaches.

Addressing depression and anxiety, whether through psychotherapy, medication, lifestyle modifications, or a combination of approaches, can be essential in managing not only the mental health aspects, but also associated physical symptoms, including morning headaches.

9. Oversleeping

Oversleeping, also known as hypersomnia, can contribute to morning headaches through several ways. While sleep is crucial for overall health, both insufficient and excessive sleep can have adverse effects on the body. Longer periods of lying down during oversleeping can contribute to sinus congestion, resulting in morning headaches, particularly if there are underlying sinus issues.

Oversleeping can also cause sleep inertia - the grogginess and cognitive impairment experienced upon waking from a long sleep. The transitional state between sleep and wakefulness during oversleeping may contribute to headaches.

Speaking of sleeping, let’s discuss how you can prepare to rest well if your head tends to hurt when you wake up.

How To Sleep With A Headache

Sleeping with a headache can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can try to help alleviate the discomfort and improve your ability to sleep:

1. Manage Pain: Take pain relief medication if appropriate and advised by your healthcare provider. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin may help reduce headache pain and make it easier to sleep.

2. Create a Comfortable Environment: Make your bedroom as conducive to sleep as possible. Ensure the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using earplugs or a white noise machine to block out any disruptive noises.

3. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation to help relax your body and mind before bedtime. These techniques can help reduce tension and alleviate headache symptoms.

4. Use a Cold Compress: Applying a cold compress or ice pack to your forehead or the base of your neck may help numb the pain and provide relief from headache symptoms.

5. Try Aromatherapy: Certain scents like lavender or peppermint may have calming and headache-relieving properties. You can use essential oils in a diffuser or try applying them to your temples or wrists before bedtime.

6. Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene: Stick to a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals close to bedtime, as these can interfere with your ability to sleep.

7. Adjust Your Sleep Position: Experiment with different sleeping positions to find one that minimizes discomfort. Some people find relief by sleeping with extra pillows to support their head and neck.

8. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can contribute to headaches, so make sure you're drinking enough water throughout the day. However, avoid drinking large amounts of fluids right before bedtime to minimize the need for nighttime bathroom trips.

9. Consider Your Mattress and Pillow: Ensure your mattress and pillow provide adequate support for your head, neck, and spine. An uncomfortable sleeping surface can exacerbate headache symptoms.

By incorporating these strategies into your bedtime routine, you can hopefully find relief from your headache and improve your ability to sleep comfortably.

Next, let’s look at some tell-tale signs that it’s time to seek medical help if you find yourself waking up with a headache.

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When To See A Doctor

If you wake up with a headache, it’s vital to pay attention to the severity, duration, and accompanying symptoms. While many headaches are benign and can be relieved with rest or over-the-counter medications, there are certain instances where you need to see a doctor:

1. Severe Pain: If your headache is extremely intense and unlike any headache you’ve experienced before, it could be a sign of a more serious condition such as a migraine, cluster headache, or even something more severe like a brain hemorrhage. Seek medical attention immediately if the pain is severe.

2. Sudden Onset: If your headache comes on suddenly and intensely, especially if it’s accompanied by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, confusion, or difficulty speaking, it could be indicative of a medical emergency like a stroke or meningitis.

3. Chronic Headaches: If you experience headaches frequently, especially if they interfere with your daily activities or if you need to take pain medication regularly to manage them, see a doctor to determine the underlying cause and explore treatment options.

4. Headaches with Neurological Symptoms: If your headache is accompanied by neurological symptoms such as weakness, numbness, vision changes, difficulty speaking, or loss of consciousness, seek medical attention immediately.

5. Headaches with Fever: If your headache is accompanied by a fever, it could be a sign of an infection such as meningitis or encephalitis, which require prompt medical evaluation and treatment.

6. Headaches after Head Injury: If your headache follows a head injury, especially if you experience symptoms like confusion, memory loss, dizziness, or vomiting, seek medical attention to rule out a concussion or other serious head injury.

7. New or Different Headaches: If you start experiencing headaches that are new or different in nature, see a doctor to rule out any underlying health issues.

8. Headaches with Risk Factors: If you have risk factors for certain conditions, such as a family history of migraines, a history of high blood pressure, or other medical conditions, discuss your headaches with a doctor to determine if further evaluation or treatment is needed.

Overall, if you’re unsure about the cause or severity of your headache, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.


Understanding the various factors contributing to early morning headaches empowers you to take proactive steps towards better sleep and overall well-being. Recognizing the root causes is the first step to relief. It’s essential to remember that individual responses vary, so finding the right approach may involve some exploration and introspection, as well as consulting a healthcare professional.