Morning Headaches: The Symptom You Shouldn’t Be Ignoring

18th December 2018

Read time is about 4 mins

Morning Headaches: The Symptom You Shouldn’t Be Ignoring

Waking up with a headache is a surefire way to feel like you’ve started the day on the wrong foot. A variety of reasons could account for morning headaches, but we tend to point our fingers at the common culprits like teeth grinding or having consumed too much alcohol the night before. Did you know that an underlying sleep disorder could actually be behind them? In fact, up to 50% of people who wake up with morning headaches likely have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a condition that goes wildly undiagnosed.

Keep reading to learn more about the connection between sleep disorders and morning headaches.

WHY DO THEY HAPPEN?

People with sleep disorders are often afflicted with morning headaches because of the strain the repeated disruptive episodes put on the body. When you sleep, your throat muscles and tongue relax, which can impair your breathing. This causes your blood oxygen levels to lower and carbon dioxide levels to rise. The surplus of carbon dioxide triggers the blood vessels in the brain to dilate, as they try to get more oxygen. This dilation is what can lead to headaches.

IS IT FROM SLEEP APNEA, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

A variety of different things, or a combination of them, could be causing your headaches. How do you know if they’re caused by a sleep disorder? If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, it could be a sign that sleep apnea is to blame:

  • If you have a morning headache more than 15 times a month. If it happens only on occasion, it could be caused by jaw-clenching, sinus pressure or muscle tension. If it’s happening more often that that, then it’s more likely a symptom of a larger problem.
  • If the pressure is bilateral, meaning there is equal pressure from either side. Morning headaches caused by sleep apnea are more often associated with an even, pressing pain in both temples, rather than a pulsing sensation.
  • If the headache resolves within 4 hours of waking up. If your headache persists throughout the day, it’s less likely that a sleep disorder is the cause. Headaches due to sleep apnea tend to ease within 45 minutes, and at the longest will last a few hours.   

WHEN SHOULD I SEE MY DOCTOR?

Don’t continue being plagued by morning headaches! Changes in severity, frequency and patterns with headaches are signs that you should go to your doctor. Since the pain level associated with morning headaches tends to be “only” mild to moderate, many individuals will take a painkiller and forget about it. Instead of brushing them aside, consider seeking professional advice; your doctor can help you determine and treat the cause, not just the symptom. Commonly, a sleep study will be used to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea, for which there are a variety of effective treatments available.

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