There is a reason why a headache is so conveniently used as an excuse to escape unfavorable circumstances, challenges or unpleasant conversations. It is one of the most commonly experienced physical discomforts. And waking up to the discomfort caused by a head ache, has the potential to ruin one’s entire day. The intensity of such pain increases as the day progresses.
There are an array of reasons responsible for an early morning headache. It is commonly associated with sleep disorders.
Morning headache can be a consequence of disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
According to a Swedish study, 5 % of the population bears the consequences of morning headaches. (1)
During early morning hours, the painkillers naturally produced by the body namely endorphins (2)) and enkephalins (3) are produced less in comparison to other times of the day and the human body produces adrenalin in more quantity.
A rare primary headache disorder named hypnic headache, occurs at night and wakes the patients between 1 and 3 am regularly. This is why, it is known as “alarm clock headache”. While it may appear interesting to people as readers, the sufferers know the real plight of going through pain every night.
It headache starts suddenly and can last from ,15 min. to 6 hours, although typically it is about 30-60 minutes. (4)
This blog aims at throwing light on a very important aspect of a headache- the causes. The treat planning and it’s application is dependent on the reason behind the problem.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which our throat muscles collapse, thereby pausing breathing, or the breathing becomes shallow during sleep. These pauses can last for a few seconds to some minutes and can happen many times a night.
In this condition, people snore loudly, make snorting or gasping sounds while sleeping, and may wake frequently. This disrupted sleep usually leads to early morning headaches and frequent mood changes.
Sometimes sleep apnea can be because of other health issues like heart disease or high blood pressure.
Mostly sleep apnea patients do not require treatment or medication. However, in case of severity doctors can advise CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask to wear.
This machine has a pump that controls the airflow and this helps to keep airways open. In the 2009 study, sleep apnea patients stopped having morning headaches when they used CPAP. (5)
Sleep and headaches are interlinked. Sometimes due to lack of sleep, we suffer from headache and on contrary headache makes it difficult to have sound sleep.
Besides, both insomnia (lack of sleep) and sleepiness, can be cause headaches. It is because the circadian rhythm gets disturbed with both insomnia and excessive sleep which further leads to morning headaches (add excessive sleep blog).
It is typically followed by sleepiness in the late morning, low energy, and loss of appetite, irritability or depressed mood.
Insomnia is the most common complaint among patients with frequent headaches. It can be correlated also to depression, anxiety, and lack of activeness. Depressed people mostly complain about chronic headaches. (6)
Beware, insomnia can never be cured by sleeping pills, in fact, in the long run, they can make the condition worse. However, doctors can be prescribed these pills for short term relaxation.
However, relaxation techniques can help us to get back to sleep like abdominal breathing*, progressive muscle relaxation**, mindfulness meditation. (7)
There are hundreds of people suffering from depression. A study conducted by the National Network of Depression Centers observed that one among five individuals will be affected by depression during their lifetime. (8)
However, depression is the main cause of mental disability among individuals 15-44 years old.
Depression and anxiety can also cause early morning headaches. In the 2004 study, it is observed that there is a strong connection between depression or anxiety and early morning headaches. (9)
This further observed morning headaches are more common among women than in men and people between 45 -64 years old. (10)
In the treatment of depression and anxiety, a doctor may prescribe anti-depressant medication. Besides, individualized counseling, psychotherapy, and rehabilitation can be very effective.
Late-night parties with a little or too much drink, many adults suffer from a severe headache at the time of wakeup. We name it “HANGOVER”.
It happens after drinking, when alcohol-containing blood drops back to normal we start to feel symptoms like the sensation of severe pain, throbbing, pounding, or nausea. Drinking alcohol may trigger migraine-type headaches in some people (11)
Another study of the National Library of Medicine reported that the most frequent adverse effects were dizziness, headache, and nausea which were sever among more than 10% of the patients. (12)
Medicinally, alcohol is a direct vasodilator, and among some individuals, vasodilation or enlargement of blood vessels by a drug may cause a headache.
It leads to the excretion of salt, vitamins, and minerals from the body through urine. Excessively, it can cause dehydration or chemical imbalances in the body which further triggers a headache.
Besides headache, we may feel excessive tiredness, heavy thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, lack of sleep, rapid heartbeat.
To get relief from morning headache due to hangover follow the below instruction:
- Have lemon or tomato juice. It is a source of fructose and helps the body to process faster.
- Intake of food or fluids containing minerals and salt to offer relief from dehydration because of alcohol consumption.
- Drink coffee after waking up. It will provide relief from chronic headaches and reduces the duration of pain.
- If still headache remains then take ibuprofen it is mild for the stomach than aspirin and provides pain relief.
Morning headaches can also be caused by grinding of teeth at night (Bruxism). It is a pain in the joint and its surrounding muscles that connects our jaw to the skull.
It is a tension related disorder, in which a person grinds or clench their teeth either in sleep or awake unintentionally. (13)
According to the Bruxism Association in the UK, people who excessively grind their teeth 3 or more times a day, are likely to experience headaches.
It affects around 8-10% of the population and is most common in 25 to 44-year olds. However, it can affect both children and adults. (14)
To reduce clenching and grinding must follow these steps:
- Practice good sleep with limited physical and mental activity before bed.
- Mouth guards like occlusal splint help to relieve the strain from the jaw.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and coffee consumption before bed
- Recent studies have reviewed that BOTOX as a treatment option for bruxism showed positive results like reduces the forces and strength of the activity and relief from the severity of headaches. (15)
- Try meditation, managing stress, and relaxing your muscles.
Migraine is the most prevalent cause of early headaches. It may cause severe pain like throbbing or pulsing sensation usually on one side of the head.
Accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and loud sound makes the case worse and unbearable.
These attacks sit for hours to days and sometimes the pain becomes severe and disturbs our daily routine. The 2015 report of the American Migraine Foundation concluded that at least 36 million Americans get a migraine, and it can be more as many people do not go for treatment from the specialist. (16)
Moreover, women are more vulnerable to headaches and 60% of migraines in women are associated with mensuration. (17)
It is observed that these early headaches affect 13 million women in America, including Serena Williams the tennis champion who also suffered from menstrual migraines. (18)
To get rid of early morning migraine try these tips
- For instant relief: a cold pack, ice pack, cold water shower may help in relieving the pain.
- Bright and flicking lights can make the pain worse. So, dim off the lights and try to have a nap
- Practice relaxation, do yoga. Yoga is also a stress reliever exercise. Stretching and meditation can also give relief
- A few minutes massage on neck and temples can help ease a tension headache, which may result from stress.
Severe headaches that last and recur can be scary. In such a case there will be a serious problem such as a brain tumor.
Be sure that not every headache is the cause of a brain tumor. Nearly 90,000 people in the US are diagnosed with a brain tumor annually. (19)
No doubt, headaches are very common among people but if you are experiencing w new headache or different patterns are there or become frequent, then must consult a doctor for a regular checkup.
It doesn’t mean a tumor but to be on the safe side have a consultation. In consultation, doctors try to find out the signs of a brain tumor, like depression, trouble staying focused, nausea, personality changes, problems in speech or language, seizures, changing headaches, and vision problems.
Early morning headaches can be caused by strained neck muscles. The reason for the same can be an inappropriate sleeping position or the pillows used to ease the sleeping posture.
Sleeping pillows are used to maintain the sleeping position that supports our neck and spine.
With soft pillows, the sleeping posture may not be perfect to hold the neck and spine properly. So a pillow should be neither too soft nor too hard that may give a too significant angle for our body.