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Why Do I Wake Up With a Headache?

Unhappy girl in a bedroom

When your alarm clock is replaced by morning headache pain, getting to the root of your discomfort is essential to preventing further sleep sabotage.

In all fairness, people are naturally vulnerable to headaches during the early hours of the morning.

According to the National Headache Foundation, the body often produces less natural painkillers, like endorphins and enkephalins, between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Dr. Suneetha Budampati, MD, who specialises in neuropathic pain at the National Pain & Spine Centres in Arlington, VA, confirmed that during that time, the body increases the production of adrenaline and cortisol levels, which can cause reduced blood sugar levels and higher than normal blood pressure, and can contribute to morning headaches.

Just because the sun rises doesn't mean you're going to feel pain, though.

Morning headaches are often the result of underlying health problems (think diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, and depression) or bad habits — we've included examples below to help you understand your achy, foggy a.m. brain.

Muscle Strain

No matter how much pillow fluffing you do, sleeping on your neck wrong just happens from time to time.

But, if you're experiencing consistent pain and headaches due to structural abnormalities within the neck and spine (take pinched nerves or arthritis, for example), Dr. Budampati suggests talking to your doctor about Botox, epidural steroids, or cortisone injections that target muscle tightness and spasms, as well as exploring prescribed pain medication options.

Teeth Grinding

It's common for stress to manifest itself as teeth grinding. This may seem like a minor price to pay for that high-demand job or unavoidable family drama, but not if it's messing with your sleep and delivering one doozy of a headache.

If that's the case, Dr. Budampati recommends seeing your dentist for night guards or nerve-blocking injections to help ease that achy discomfort you're experiencing in the temporomandibular joint of your jaw bone — which in return is causing that headache.

Sleep Apnea

It's no wonder morning headaches can be the result of sleep apnea — the disorder can cause people to stop breathing for short periods during the night that usually lasts between 10 and 30 seconds.

Harvard Health Publishing reports that in severe cases, apneas can occur many hundreds of times in a night. Snoring and high blood pressure can be signs of sleep apnea, but in order to be properly diagnosed, one must agree to a formal study at a professional sleep centre.


After nine hours of shut-eye, it's normal to feel dehydrated. To keep headaches at bay, make sure you're prepping for the morning after by drinking the recommended eight eight-ounce glasses of water throughout each day.

Hydrating in the morning (headache or not) can also boost your metabolism and brain function.

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Image Source: Getty / elenaleonova
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