Headaches and Sleep: Can You Get a Headache Sleeping Too Much?

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

A headache is a head, face, or neck pain that can be mild to severe. No one likes headaches, so waking up feeling sore can really affect your morning negatively. It may feel even worse if you don’t know why it’s happening.

Headaches are a common problem with different causes, one of which is sleep. Statistics say that over 50 percent of the adult population experiences headaches, and one out of every 13 people wakes up with a headache. The relationship between sleep and headache is complex; however, the connection between sleep habits and lifestyle is often not considered.

Why do you have a headache when you wake up?

When we fall asleep, our body is in a state of relaxation. The brain releases chemicals that make you sleep while performing regulatory processes around your body. Waking up every morning with a headache could be related to different causes. You may have a headache:

  • If you were really tired, stressed, dehydrated, or hungry before falling asleep
  • If you drank a lot of alcohol the previous night
  • If you have an underlying medical condition
  • If you didn’t get enough sleep
  • If you slept too much

Additionally, migraine headaches can be caused by a decrease in serotonin levels. Various things can cause a decrease in serotonin levels, including the amount and the quality of sleep.

If you’re wondering, “Why do I have a migraine when I wake up?” it could be because you have poor sleeping habits.

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Headache from lack of sleep

If you experience headaches when you wake up, it could be related to a lack of sleep. Good-quality sleep is important for overall health, and if you’re getting too little sleep over time, it can cause headaches due to increasing stress levels in the body.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased headache frequency, duration, and intensity.

In one study, 43.2 percent of adults with severe headaches reported that their headaches worsened when they did not get enough sleep.

How do headaches when we wake up happen? Usually when we sleep, our brain begins to recharge and repair itself after a long day. This process is disrupted without enough sleep, causing our brains to become overworked and stressed, leading to headaches.

The following are types of headaches from lack of sleep:

  • Tension headaches: The most common type of headache from lack of sleep is called a tension headache. Tension headaches are described as a band-like feeling around the head that may be accompanied by tenderness in the neck and shoulder muscles. Tension headaches can be mild or severe. They are usually not accompanied by nausea or vomiting but may be associated with sensitivity to light or sound.
  • Migraine headaches: Migraines are characterized by throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head and may also include sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, and increased thirst.
  • Other types of headaches that result from lack of sleep are cluster headaches (when you get a wake-up headache behind your eyes) and hypnic headaches.
A man waking up with a headache from lack of sleep

Headache from sleeping too much

Sleeping too much can result from many factors, including alcohol, recreational drugs, or certain medications. In some cases, people who sleep too much have a sleep disorder called hypersomnia. With that information, you may ask yourself, “What else could be happening if I get a headache when I sleep too much?” Well, developing this kind of headache often occurs because of the following:

  • Increased serotonin levels: An increase in serotonin affects your natural sleep–wake pattern. This means your brain has a set time to be asleep and awake. Oversleeping could disrupt this pattern because you are asleep when your brain is awake and active.
  • Mental illness: Oversleeping can be related to illnesses like anxiety and depression. Think of it as a side effect. It also has direct ties to tension and migraine headaches. People with depression tend to sleep more, leading to headaches when they wake up.

Other reasons for waking up every morning with a headache

While sleep habits are the major reason for waking up with a headache, the following are some other common causes of headaches that occur in the morning.

Dehydration: When you’re dehydrated, your blood vessels constrict, which increases pressure inside your skull. That pressure can cause a headache. Dehydration can cause your brain to shrink slightly, which makes it more difficult for blood to circulate normally and deliver oxygen to nerve cells.

Sleep apnea: One of the most common causes of headaches associated with sleeping is sleep apnea. This occurs when you stop breathing while asleep and start again with a loud snort or gasp. It’s usually caused by the soft tissue in your throat collapsing and blocking your airway.

This blocks your breathing for a few seconds until you wake up enough to clear the blockage by coughing or swallowing, allowing you to breathe normally again.

If this frequently happens during sleep, it can cause fatigue during the day and trigger headaches because of lower oxygen levels in the brain. People with sleep apnea often experience:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent headaches upon waking

Anxiety: Anxiety can make you feel like something is wrong with you physically, even when that’s not true. The feeling of stress in your body can cause tension headaches.

Stress: Stress can cause headaches in some people, especially if you’re worrying about something specific. If you frequently get headaches when you feel stressed out, try to find ways to reduce your stress levels. Some things to try include:

  • Taking a short walk
  • Doing deep-breathing exercises
  • Meditating
  • Journaling

Hormonal changes: These are changes related to puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Hormonal changes can cause headaches in people of any gender. These headaches tend to go away after hormone levels stabilize.

A glass of water next to the bed as a way to prevent waking up every morning with a headache

Poor diet habits: Poor eating habits can contribute to headaches because they affect blood sugar levels, which in turn affect your levels of serotonin — a chemical involved in regulating sleep cycles and moods — in the brain.

Medication side effects: If you’re taking prescription drugs for another condition, such as high blood pressure or depression, you could be experiencing side effects from those medications. Some common drugs that cause headaches include antihistamines, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications such as beta blockers.

How to prevent headaches in the morning

Many people wake up with a headache regularly, and it is not something they can control. These headaches can be very annoying, especially if they are recurring. To avoid this problem, try some of these lifestyle tips:

  • Get enough sleep: Always try to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily. Sleeping properly gives your body time to rest and regenerate. This way, you will feel much better in the morning, and there is less need for painkillers when you’re up. If you can’t sleep because of problems with breathing or other issues, try using a pillow that supports your neck properly. This will help reduce tension in your muscles and allow them to relax more easily.
  • Limit your caffeine intake: Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel tired later on. It can also cause dehydration and constrict your blood vessels, which results in headaches. Try to replace caffeinated beverages with more water-rich foods to prevent dehydration, like:
    - Fruits — watermelon, strawberries, pineapples, plums, peaches, etc.
    - Vegetables — celery, cucumber, zucchini, lettuce, watercress, etc.
  • Limit your alcohol intake: Reducing your alcohol intake can help you prevent headaches. Even mild alcohol consumption can cause dehydration, which leads to headaches.
  • Stretch your neck muscles before bedtime: Stretching will help relax the muscles in your head, neck, and shoulders, which are prone to tension and stress, whether you’re sleeping or sitting at a desk or computer all day long.

Conclusion

Can I get a headache when I wake up because of my sleep patterns? Yes, you can. Sleep deprivation and oversleeping are both proven to cause headaches. If you’re looking to stop waking up every morning with a headache, the best thing you can do is try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. That way, you’re reducing your chances of experiencing headaches by making sure that your sleep habits stay consistent on any given day.

If you’ve tried it all and you feel there is more to your headaches, it would be best to consult your doctor. They can find any underlying medical disorder and help you develop a proper treatment plan.

January 9, 2023