Morning Headaches: Causes and Treatments

Waking up with a pounding head can leave you feeling panicked, irritable, and desperate for relief. Understanding the causes and exploring effective treatments for morning headaches is crucial for finding much-needed respite and regaining control over your mornings.

In this article, we will delve into the various factors or medical conditions that contribute to morning headaches and shed light on the potential underlying causes, so you can prevent or treat them if necessary.

What Are Some Different Types of Early Morning Headaches?

Headaches in the morning may wake you up after 4 a.m., or they may be there when you awaken. Morning headaches typically cause headache pain that may be subtle, severe, or throbbing. You might also have the headache for an hour or less, or you might have it for several days.

About 150 different forms of headaches are classified by the International Headache Society.

The following are examples of early-morning headaches:

Migraine headaches

A migraine is a headache that often affects one side of the head and can be extremely painful, throbbing, or pulsating. It frequently comes with high sensitivity to light and sound, as well as nausea and vomiting, and can turn into chronic migraine. 

The pain from a migraine attack can be so intense that it interferes with your regular activities and can persist for hours or even days.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are intense headaches that cause severe pain on one side of the head, often around the eye or temple. They are described as one of the most painful types of headaches. 

Symptoms may include red, watery, and swollen eyes, a congested or runny nose, and facial sweating on the same side as the headache. 

These headaches occur in clusters, lasting between 15 minutes and three hours and can reoccur over days, weeks, or months. 

Hypnic headaches

A hypnic headache is a rare type of headache that occurs exclusively during sleep, usually waking you up from your sleep. These headaches are typically mild to moderate in intensity and are described as throbbing or pulsating. 

They tend to affect both sides of the head and may be accompanied by symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and mild sweating. 

Hypnic headaches usually last for 15 minutes to a few hours and can happen repeatedly throughout the night. While the exact cause of hypnic headaches is unknown, they can often be managed with medication or lifestyle adjustments. 

Tension Headaches

A tension-type headache (TTH) is one of the most common types of headaches that many people experience. They are often described as a dull, aching pain that feels like a tight band around your head or pressure on your forehead or temples. Tension headaches are typically caused by muscle tension or stress, and they can be triggered by factors like poor posture, anxiety, or emotional stress. The pain is usually mild to moderate and not accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or sensitivity to light or sound. Tension headaches can last from a few hours to several days, and they can significantly affect your daily activities. Managing tension headaches often involves stress reduction techniques, over-the-counter pain relievers, and lifestyle adjustments. If you frequently experience tension headaches, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Causes of Morning Headaches

Morning headaches, or even chronic headaches, can stem from a variety of causes, including:

1. Depression and anxiety

Having one increases your likelihood of developing the other, and recent studies suggest that mood disorders and migraine episodes usually occur simultaneously.

For instance, the likelihood of a person having mood disorders increases with the frequency of their migraine attacks, and vice versa.

According to one study, migraine sufferers have a 2.5-fold increased risk of depression and a 2- to 5-fold increased risk of anxiety disorders compared to the general population.

Insomnia, which is common among people with mental health issues, is a known risk factor for waking up with a headache.

Consult your physician if you have concerns about your mental health. Talk therapy, medication, or a mix of the two is often effective in treating these disorders. Taking care of these issues can help you wake up with fewer headaches.

2. Bruxism

Bruxism is another name for teeth grinding or clenching. Sleep bruxism, a sleep disorder, can cause this to happen at night. Bruxism is frequently linked to morning headaches and is one of the most common symptoms that lead patients to get an official diagnosis from a physician. In many cases, bruxism-related headaches may also be caused by a problem with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Bruxism headaches are often dull and can be felt near your temples. Together with other bruxism symptoms like lack of sleep, jaw and teeth pain, or even sleep apnea, your morning headaches can be a warning sign for teeth grinding or clenching. Treatment options include using mouth guards, relaxation exercises, and jaw and tongue exercises.

3. Sleep apnea or snoring

Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, can contribute to morning headaches. When you have sleep apnea, the airflow to your brain gets temporarily interrupted, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels. These low oxygen levels can trigger headaches upon waking up. Morning headaches caused by sleep apnea are typically described as dull or throbbing and are often located on both sides of the head. Along with the headache, other symptoms such as loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, and restless sleep may also be present. If you suspect that sleep apnea is causing your morning headaches, it’s crucial to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment options. Effective management of sleep apnea, such as using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, can help alleviate morning headaches and improve overall sleep quality.

4. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

Your jaw may be the cause of headaches, which frequently occur in the morning. One of the most often reported signs of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease is a headache. TMJ disorders (TMJD) Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can play a role in causing head, neck, and facial pain. The TMJ is the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull, and when it becomes dysfunctional or inflamed, it can lead to discomfort in various areas. TMJ disorders often result from factors like teeth grinding, jaw clenching, arthritis, or injury to the jaw joint. The pain associated with TMJ disorders can manifest as aching or throbbing sensations in the jaw, temples, or around the ears. This pain can radiate to the neck, shoulders, and even the face, causing discomfort in those areas as well. Additionally, TMJ disorders may contribute to headaches, including tension headaches. Other symptoms may include difficulty or discomfort while chewing, clicking or popping sounds in the jaw, and limited jaw movement. Seeking a healthcare professional’s evaluation is important to accurately diagnose TMJ disorders and determine appropriate treatment options, which may include lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, or the use of oral appliances to alleviate the pain and manage the condition effectively. Additional therapy frequently involves:
  • Consuming soft foods and avoiding sticky or hard foods.
  • Exercising jaw-stretching techniques.
  • Keeping jaw movement to a minimum.
  • Lowering the stress.

5. Sleeping too much

Sleeping too much can actually contribute to morning headaches in some individuals. Although it may seem counterintuitive, excessive sleep can disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and lead to headaches upon waking. 

When you oversleep, it can result in an imbalance in your body’s neurotransmitters and hormone levels, potentially triggering a headache. Additionally, prolonged periods of sleep can cause changes in blood flow and circulation, leading to increased pressure in the head and the subsequent onset of a headache. 

It’s important to maintain a consistent and balanced sleep schedule, aiming for the recommended amount of sleep for your age and individual needs. If you find that you consistently experience morning headaches after sleeping too much, it may be beneficial to consult a healthcare professional to explore potential underlying causes and develop strategies to regulate your sleep patterns and reduce headache frequency.


Oversleeping may be a sign of depression or a hidden medical issue. Talk to a doctor about any issues you may be having keeping to a regular sleep routine.

6. Strained muscles

Your neck’s tight muscles could be the cause of your morning headaches. In order to relieve this type of morning headache, you might need to reevaluate your sleeping posture and the pillows you use.

Your neck and spine should be appropriately supported while you sleep, which is what pillows are designed to assist you do. It could take a little trial and error to find the perfect pillow. Your head and neck should be supported by your pillow in a position that is similar to when you are standing.

Soft pillows might not support your neck and spine adequately, while hard pillows might tilt your body at an uncomfortably high angle. Try to swap out your pillow as often as necessary to maintain the proper sleeping position.

7. A hangover

Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to the dreaded morning headache known as a hangover. When you consume alcohol, it can lead to dehydration and cause blood vessels in the brain to expand or dilate, which can trigger headaches. Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, increasing urine production and further depleting your body of fluids and electrolytes, exacerbating the dehydration. Moreover, alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to poor quality sleep or even insomnia, both of which can contribute to headache symptoms.

To treat a hangover headache, it’s important to focus on rehydrating your body. Drinking plenty of water or rehydration solutions can help replenish the lost fluids and alleviate the headache. Consuming a light meal rich in nutrients can also aid in restoring electrolyte balance. Pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin may provide temporary relief, but it’s crucial to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

Preventing hangover headaches involves practicing moderation in alcohol consumption. Alternating alcoholic beverages with water, consuming food while drinking, and pacing yourself can help minimize the impact on your body. It’s also advisable to avoid consuming alcohol on an empty stomach, as this can worsen the effects of alcohol on your system. Getting sufficient sleep and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a balanced diet, can also contribute to reducing the likelihood and severity of hangover headaches.

Remember, the best way to prevent a hangover headache is to drink responsibly and in moderation. If you consistently experience severe or frequent headaches after consuming alcohol, it may be wise to reconsider your drinking habits and seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

8. Insomnia

Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, can contribute to morning headaches. When you experience chronic or recurrent insomnia, it disrupts your sleep patterns and can lead to various symptoms, including headaches upon waking. There are several reasons why insomnia can trigger morning headaches.

Firstly, inadequate sleep or poor sleep quality can disrupt the natural balance of neurotransmitters and hormones in your body, potentially causing headaches. Additionally, the lack of sleep can result in increased muscle tension, particularly in the neck and shoulder areas, which can contribute to headache pain.

To prevent morning headaches caused by insomnia, it’s important to focus on improving your sleep habits and addressing any underlying issues that may be causing the insomnia. Here are some tips that may help:

1. Establish a regular sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends, to regulate your body’s internal clock.

2. Create a sleep-friendly environment: Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. Use comfortable pillows and a supportive mattress to promote better sleep.

3. Practice good sleep hygiene: Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime, such as using electronic devices or consuming caffeine or nicotine. Instead, engage in relaxing activities, like reading a book or taking a warm bath, to prepare your body for sleep.

4. Implement a bedtime routine: Develop a consistent routine before bed to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. This could include activities like meditation, light stretching, or listening to calming music.

5. Manage stress: Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as practicing relaxation techniques, journaling, or engaging in regular exercise. High levels of stress can contribute to insomnia and headaches.

6. Avoid napping: If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try to avoid daytime napping to ensure you’re tired enough to sleep when bedtime arrives.

7. Seek professional help: If your insomnia persists or significantly impacts your daily life, consider consulting a healthcare professional who specializes in sleep medicine. They can help identify underlying causes and develop a personalized treatment plan.

Remember, everyone’s sleep needs are different, so it’s essential to find a routine and approach that works best for you. By prioritizing good sleep hygiene and addressing insomnia, you can improve the quality of your sleep and reduce the likelihood of morning headaches.

9. Some medications

Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can potentially contribute to morning headaches, particularly when misused or overused. One of the main culprits is a phenomenon known as rebound headaches, also called medication overuse headaches. Rebound headaches occur when you use pain relief medications too frequently or for an extended period, leading to a worsening of headaches over time.

Certain medications, such as opioids or barbiturates, have a higher likelihood of causing rebound headaches. Even over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, if used excessively, can contribute to this rebound headache cycle. Additionally, medications that affect sleep patterns, such as sedatives or sleep aids, can disrupt your sleep architecture and potentially lead to morning headaches.

To manage medications and avoid morning headaches, here are some strategies to consider:

1. Follow recommended dosage guidelines: Always adhere to the recommended dosage and frequency provided by your healthcare professional or as indicated on the medication packaging. Avoid exceeding the recommended limits, even if you experience persistent pain.

2. Limit the use of pain relief medications: Use pain relief medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, sparingly and only when necessary. Avoid relying on them as a daily preventive measure for headaches.

3. Discuss alternative options with your healthcare professional: If you find that you’re frequently relying on pain relief medications, it may be beneficial to explore alternative treatment options with your healthcare professional. They can help identify underlying causes of your headaches and develop a more comprehensive treatment plan.

4. Consider preventive measures: Rather than relying solely on pain relief medications, discuss preventive strategies with your healthcare professional. These may include lifestyle modifications, stress management techniques, physical therapy, or other non-medication approaches to manage and reduce the frequency of your headaches.

5. Gradually reduce medication usage: If you suspect that your headaches are being triggered or worsened by medication overuse, work with your healthcare professional to develop a tapering plan to gradually reduce your reliance on these medications. This approach can help avoid sudden withdrawal symptoms and minimize the risk of rebound headaches.

6. Seek guidance from a healthcare professional: If you’re experiencing persistent morning headaches or are concerned about the role of medications in causing them, consult with your healthcare professional. They can assess your specific situation, review your medication regimen, and provide guidance on managing your medications effectively.

Remember, it’s essential to work closely with a healthcare professional when managing medications to prevent morning headaches. They can provide individualized advice and guidance based on your specific needs and help you find the right balance between medication usage and headache management strategies.

Treatment for Bruxism Linked to Morning Headaches

Headaches related to a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or bruxism, will require medical treatment from your doctor to help ease your morning headaches. You might use medications, devices such as a mouthguard, CPAP machine, or even psychotherapy. In particular, many studies show that using a CPAP machine appears to be a very good treatment for a lot of sleep disorders. Additional treatments will depend on other causes of your headaches. Some treatments might include:

Regular Visits to Dentists

  1. Patient History and Symptoms: The dentist will begin by discussing the patient’s medical and dental history, lifestyle factors, and any symptoms they’ve been experiencing. This discussion could include sleep patterns, daytime tiredness, facial pain, or morning headaches.
  2. Physical Examination: The dentist will perform a comprehensive examination of the patient’s mouth, jaw, face, and neck. This examination includes checking the teeth for signs of wear or damage caused by grinding, examining the jaw for signs of misalignment or discomfort, and assessing the facial muscles for tension or tenderness.
  3. X-rays or Imaging: Depending on the initial assessment, the dentist may recommend dental X-rays or other imaging tests to get a clearer picture of the teeth and jaw structure. This will help identify any underlying issues that may be contributing to the bruxism.
  4. Treatment Discussion: Based on the patient’s symptoms and the findings from the physical examination and any imaging, the dentist will discuss the most suitable treatment options. This could include dental appliances like night guards or occlusal splints, lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, or in some cases, more intensive treatments like Botox or dental correction procedures.
  5. Follow-Up and Recall: After initiating a treatment plan, regular follow-ups are crucial. These appointments allow the dentist to monitor the patient’s progress, make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan, and assess the effectiveness of the treatments. The frequency of these follow-ups will depend on the individual’s condition, but typically, patients with bruxism might be asked to revisit every 3-6 months.
  6. Patient Education: Throughout the visit, the dentist will provide education on bruxism and associated headaches, explaining the causes, potential triggers, and prevention strategies. The aim is to empower the patient to manage their condition effectively and understand when to seek additional medical attention.
Remember, effective treatment of bruxism and related headaches is a team effort involving the patient, dentist, and sometimes other medical professionals, and regular check-ups play a critical role in this process.

Night Guards, Splints, NTI or OTC

The choice of dental appliance for managing bruxism and associated headaches is crucial, with several options available. The differences lie in their design, material, customization, effectiveness, and cost.
  1. Night Guards: These are often the first line of defense against bruxism and resulting morning headaches. Custom-made night guards are fabricated based on a dental impression of the patient’s teeth, providing a precise fit. They create a physical barrier between the upper and lower teeth, reducing the wear and tear caused by grinding and clenching.
  2. Occlusal Splints: Like night guards, occlusal splints are custom-made for the individual and are designed to fit over the upper or lower teeth. However, they are typically made from a harder, more durable material than night guards. Their design not only prevents tooth grinding but also guides the jaw into a neutral position, reducing the strain on the jaw muscles.
  3. NTI-TSS (Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System): Unlike traditional night guards and occlusal splints that cover all the teeth, the NTI-TSS device fits over the front teeth only. It prevents the molars from contacting, thereby reducing the force of the clenching. It can be particularly useful in preventing tension headaches caused by intense jaw clenching.
  4. Over-The-Counter Boil and Bite Devices: These are widely available at drugstores or online and are often the cheapest option. They are made from a thermoplastic material that softens in hot water and molds to the shape of the user’s teeth when bitten into. While a counter pain reliever can offer some protection against tooth wear, they lack the precision fit and durability of custom-made appliances.

Therapy and Relaxation Techniques

Stress is a primary trigger for both bruxism and tension-type headaches. As such, effective stress management and reduction techniques are crucial components to improve mental health conditions. This is where relaxation techniques and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) come into play.

Relaxation Techniques: These methods aim to reduce muscle tension and promote a state of calm, which can alleviate both bruxism and the resulting headaches. Examples include:

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): This involves sequentially tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. It can be particularly useful for individuals who grind their teeth due to muscle tension.
  2. Deep Breathing Exercises: These techniques encourage slow, deep breaths, which can help reduce tension and promote relaxation. This may lessen the urge to clench or grind the teeth.
  3. Mindfulness and Meditation: By fostering a greater awareness of the present moment and promoting a state of relaxation, mindfulness and meditation can help individuals better manage stress, potentially reducing bruxism and associated headaches.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes making lifestyle adjustments will help you stop having morning headaches, especially if you suffer from migraines.

The following lifestyle choices are advised by the American Migraine Foundation to aid in headache management. The acronym SEEDS serves as a reminder of them, which means:

S – Sleep. Maintain a restful environment and sleep regimen.

E—Exercise. Physical activity helps lessen migraine attacks’ frequency and severity.

E – Eat. Maintain a balanced diet and get enough water.

D—Diary. Keep track of the date, intensity, and likely causes of your headaches in a headache journal. This will assist your physician in determining the origin of your headaches.

S—Stress. Try writing, yoga, meditation, or any other activity that makes you feel calmer and reduces stress in your life.

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