7 Causes of Headache While Sleeping

Experiencing headaches while sleeping can be the start of a very frustrating journey since a good sleep quality is tantamount to being healthy and being able to perform well during the day. The reasons can range from drinking too much alcohol just before bedtime or being overly stressed out. The first step is to recognize the triggers that cause the headaches and subsequently avoiding them. If you continue to experience them even after avoiding the stressors, consult your doctor for a full evaluation.

Causes of Headache While Sleeping

1. Sleep Apnea

This common cause of headaches is when normal breathing patterns are interrupted while asleep. After the person falls into deep sleep, there is a change to the airway which partially obstructs air moving into and out of the body. The person may awake partly as he or she gulps for air. Sleep apnea increases headaches either during the night or felt upon awakening. Sleep apnea is quite common in obese people.

2. Hypoglycemia

This condition occurs when the glucose (sugar) levels in the blood are lower than normal. Hypoglycemia will cause headaches at night accompanied by night sweats. You can counteract the hypoglycemia by eating a small snack just before bedtime. This snack should be light but balanced to regulate your blood sugar levels. Do not resort to sweets or processed foods as your night-time snack because you will experience a spike in blood sugar levels with a resulting low glucose level as your body tries to regulate it.

3. Sleep Position

Sleeping in an awkward position or using an inappropriate pillow can also cause headache at night.

4. Tension and Stress

Some people experience headache while sleeping at the end of a long and stressful day. If you are on the go the entire day without giving your body a chance to rest and recover, tension headaches may arise. Stress in the form of worry and tiredness can also cause a lack of sleep which will cause more headaches. If you manage your stress build-up during the day, you can minimize your night time headaches.

5. Sinus Headaches

The pain in this type of headache is centered around the front of the face–the forehead and nose. This may be triggered by a sinus infection or being allergic to dust mites in your pillows or your other bedclothes.

6. Migraine Headaches at Night

You could be exposing yourself to your trigger at night. Investigate your night-time activities to see what triggers your migraines. It could be the chemicals in the room air freshener or a type of food you're consuming before bedtime. The best mode of attack is to keep a record of every food you consume before bedtime and even the environment you spend time in before you retire for the night. Recognizing your trigger will allow you to avoid it and minimize your chances of a headache at night.

7. Hypnic Headache

This type of headache occurs while sleeping and is also referred to as "alarm clock" headaches because they occur at the same time every night. Causes range from changes in small vessels in the cerebrovascular system to previous head injuries. This type of headache is more common in people over the age of 50.

How to Relieve Headache While Sleeping

1. Hypnic Headache

A medicine called lithium carbonate is prescribed by your doctor. 300 mg of this medicine is taken at bedtime. Be aware of all the side effects and the special precautions associated with this medicine. Other types of medication that may be prescribed are:

  • a calcium channel blocker
  • caffeine
  • topiramate (Topamax®)
  • anti-inflammatories, like indomethacin (Indocin®)
  • melatonin that controls your sleep cycles

2. Sinus Headache

Consult your doctor to check if your sinus problems are allergic in nature or due to an infection. Once the sinus problems are sorted out, the headaches should resolve. If your headaches while sleeping are caused by poor sleeping position, experiment with different pillows and try to sleep in a good position.

3. Stress Headaches

Manage the stress during the day. Exercise regularly and take up activities like yoga or meditation. Schedule some time to relax.

Other People's Experiences on Night-Time Headache

"I experience headache while sleeping which, wakes me up from my sleep. The pain is so bad that I cannot move. I have to lie there in bed waiting for the pain to pass. Thereafter I usually fall right back to sleep. These incidents have been happening for over a year now. My doctor has requested an MRI scan which did not definitively show anything. My doctor doesn't seem to be very concerned at all. At this point I am just enduring my pain."

"My doctor suggested a CT scan but nothing concrete was found to be causing the pain. My headaches occur during the day as well but mostly at night while I'm sleeping. I have taken every migraine tablet available but find that the Topamax is best for relieving the pain. I have had these types of headaches for a few years now."

"I have been getting headaches while sleeping for a while now. These headaches interfere with the quality of sleep I get and I am constantly tired. I have often woken up in tears because the pain is so unbearable. I have been prescribed some medication which allowed me to sleep the night through without any headaches but the side effects are unbearable. I am going to visit my doctor again to change my prescription to something I can bear."

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