What Causes Early Morning Headache?

There are numerous reasons that cause early morning headaches. Most often they are experienced after a poor night’s sleep or while someone is experiencing stress. But, some people experience it regularly. Early morning headaches occur due to changes in the physiology of the body. The body’s level of internal pain reduction is lowered in the morning hours that cause headache. The body also makes more adrenalin at this time leading to migraine headaches.

Early morning headaches occur after you wake up at 4:00 am and are of different types, which include:

Most common amongst all the above is the migraine headache. In a study, it was observed that 1 out of 5 people with sleep apnea reported morning headaches.(1)

Sleep disorders can lead to headaches and can trigger migraine disease and are also known as its precursor.(2) It is associated with severe migraine that may become chronic. A research was done that associated sleep disturbance such as insomnia and poor sleep quality with intense headaches.(3) It is observed that 50% of people who experience headaches or migraine have insomnia.

Different Type of Early Morning Headaches

Headache can lead to dull, sharp, and throbbing pain. Amongst 150 types of headache, the most commonly occurring in the early morning include:

Causes of Early Morning Headache

There are a few common factors and conditions that may lead to an early morning headache:

  1. Insomnia

    Insomnia may cause sleep deprivation by affecting sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation can lead to morning headaches and can also trigger migraine. Insomnia leads to deficient sleep and hence a person:

    • Keeps up even while trying to fall asleep
    • Awaken during sleep
    • Has restless sleep

    Insomnia can be treated with the help of medications, psychotherapy, and a combination of medication and therapy. The treatment can lessen disturbed sleep and morning headaches.

  2. Anxiety and Depression

    Mood disorders and migraine episodes are seen frequently occurring together. The higher the migraine frequency more likely a person is seen to have a mood disorder and vice versa.

    A study was done and it was reported that people with migraine are more likely to be depressed than those and who don’t experience migraine and are more likely to have an anxiety disorder. There are mental health conditions that can lead to insomnia and can further increase the risk of morning headaches.

    If anyone suspects mental health conditions, a doctor should be consulted. It can be treated with the help of medication therapies, and combination treatment. The management of these conditions can reduce the incidence of morning headaches.

  3. Snoring and Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea leads to stopping of breathing a few times at night. It leads to headaches that last for about 30 minutes. Sleep apnea can be treated with a continuous positive airway pressure machine. Snoring can lead to disruptive sleep that can cause headaches. It can be a symptom of its own or sleep apnea.

  4. Grinding of Teeth

    Grinding and clenching of teeth are known as bruxism. It can occur at night and cause a sleep disorder known as sleep bruxism. Morning headache is often associated with bruxism but has a mixed result on whether bruxism can actually cause headache.(4) Bruxism is also linked with conditions such as sleep apnea and damaged teeth and jaw pain. Bruxism can be treated by using mouth guard, stress reduction techniques, and tongue and jaw exercises.

  5. Hangover and Alcohol

    Alcohol usage can also lead to morning headaches. Heavy drinking leads to uneven sleep and early morning headaches, such as hangovers. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the amount of alcohol that leads to hangovers varies from one person to another.(5)

  6. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

    Early morning headaches could be related to the jaw. Headache is the most common symptom of the temporomandibular joint and is also known as TMJ headache.(6) Temporomandibular joint disorder may lead to pain, stiffness, clicking the jaw, and also headaches. The treatment of temporomandibular joint disorder may include eating soft foods and avoiding hard and sticky foods, limiting jaw movement, lessening stress, and practicing jaw-stretching exercises.

  7. Medications

    Some medications interfere with sleep patterns and lead to disrupted sleep and morning headaches. It is important to speak with the doctor if you suspect that your medication is causing a morning headache.

  8. Oversleeping

    Excess sleep can also lead to a morning headache. It might occur due to the disruption of the natural circadian rhythm and neural pathways in the brain.

  9. Other Health Conditions

    Headache can be a symptom of various other health conditions including musculoskeletal problems and hypertension.

    It is important to discuss all the symptoms with a doctor and get diagnosed and treated for the cause. Early morning headaches can be treated according to the cause. It can be managed with lifestyle changes, diet management, and sleep management.

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