Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Michael Brockbank
Many people are plagued with headaches in the morning. However, it’s often difficult to determine just what exactly is causing the pain. It could be anything from simply being tired to more severe health complications.
Overall, morning headaches affect nearly 8% of the population. These have varying degrees of severity as well as direct causes. The truth is, there is no one absolute way to prevent morning headaches from happening. [note]JAMA Internal Medicine – https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/216451[/note]
The trick is to reduce the number of causes by understanding yourself and how you sleep.
13 Causes of Morning Headaches
It’s quite an inconvenience to wake up in the morning to your head throbbing. It can offset the tone of your day and cause a ripple effect of negativity for several hours.
Let’s take a look at 13 causes behind morning headaches and see if we can determine which is affecting you.
Migraines affect about 9% of the population in the United States. And the majority of these sufferers are women. It’s one of the most common forms of headaches and are often incredibly intense. [note]Womens Health – https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/migraine[/note]
The problem with migraines is that they are caused by a myriad of issues, most of which are in this list. As migraines often happen after 4am, it’s one of the biggest culprits to how people feel when waking up.
If you’re constantly suffering from migraines, it’s probably a good idea to see your doctor.
2. Poor Air Quality
Air quality plays a major role in how we live our lives. This is especially true if you live in a densely populated area. Between pollution and pollen, the elements in the air can be very disruptive.
You don’t necessarily need to have asthma to have an adverse reaction to things in the air. In fact, it’s found that poor air quality impacts headaches in general. [note]Migraine Again – https://migraineagain.com/migraine-and-headaches-worsened-by-poor-air-quality/[/note]
It’s safe to assume that your morning headaches may have to do with what your body takes into the lungs while sleeping.
3. Poor Bed Quality
Who hasn’t slept on a poor bed at least once in their life? The comfort, or lack of, that you feel at night can have a direct effect on morning headaches.
It’s possible that you may even have an unsupportive pillow, which leads to several complications at night. [note]Physio Works – https://physioworks.com.au/FAQRetrieve.aspx?ID=31087[/note]
The mattress, pillow and even temperature of the room can all disrupt sleep patterns and lead to various pains including morning headaches.
4. Alcohol Use
Millions of people feel the brunt of a hangover the next morning after binge drinking. This is usually caused by excessive alcohol and severe dehydration. However, consuming too much isn’t the only way to experience morning headaches.
In reality, drinking alcohol can lead to a headache up to 16 hours afterwards. Between dehydration, chemical composition and current level of stress, it’s possible for alcohol to cause your morning discomfort. [note]Live Strong – https://www.livestrong.com/article/545813-why-do-you-get-a-headache-after-drinking-alcohol/[/note]
I used to get these often after drinking…even in moderation. Since I started loading up on water before a party, I haven’t had a hangover in quite some time.
5. Something You Ate, Or Didn’t
Certain things you eat at night can lead to morning headaches. In some cases, this is caused by an allergic reaction or indigestion. However, some people are directly affected by certain foods that cause headaches. [note]Web MD – https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraine-smart-17/migraine-trigger-foods[/note]
I suggest using the fitness tracking app, MyFitnessPal. It will help you keep an eye on what you eat and find out if the foods you consume are causing morning headaches.
Something else you should consider is how a lack of food can also lead to headaches. For instance, fasting is a major problem for people. This is also why I don’t suggest doing it for losing weight.
Too much can go wrong.
Withdrawal symptoms from things like caffeine can also result in morning headaches.
Depression does a number on the human body. It can elevate blood pressure, enhance stress, cause digestive disorders and lead to headaches and migraines. It also complicates sleeping and eating patterns, which can directly make morning headaches even worse. [note]Everyday Health – https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/major-depression/treating-headaches-and-pain-from-depression/[/note]
Depression is nothing to take lightly. And I’m not merely talking about suicide prevention and the feeling of hopelessness. This mental disorder will contribute to a wide array of internal issues including brain and other organ damage.
It’s one of the emotions that will affect both body and mind in profound ways.
If you’re depressed, please, seek a therapist or someone who can help.
7. Lack of Sleep
For many people, a simple lack of sleep can lead to morning headaches. And I am one of them. If my sleep is disrupted in the middle of the night or I have less than four hours of rest, the pain is quite real.
A lot of this has to do with how the body produces proteins and hormones. In a study, it’s determined how sleep deprivation can lead to pain in rats thanks to certain arousal proteins. [note]Web MD – https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20100624/lack-of-sleep-triggers-migraine-proteins#1[/note]
What our little rodent friends tell us is not getting enough solid rest drives morning headaches in many people. And although I’m not a rat, I can attest to how I feel if I don’t get enough shut-eye.
8. Severe Muscle Strain
Muscle strain can go along with poor bed quality. After all, it’s often a direct result due to bad pillows or uncomfortable mattresses. In this case, tension in the neck leads to headaches. [note]Brigham Health Hub – https://brighamhealthhub.org/spine/that-headache-may-be-a-pain-in-the-neck[/note]
Of course, a bad pillow isn’t the only cause of this kind of pain. In fact, you can get tension headaches from being stressed or having bad posture.
Depending on the circumstance, tension headaches are easy to alleviate. You could simply pop a few aspirin or have a neck massage. Unfortunately, these are only stop-gaps and treatments. You’ll need to investigate a bit deeper if you want a permanent morning headache cure.
9. Certain Types of Medication
If you’re on specific kinds of medication, you may suffer morning headaches often. And the list of what can affect you is quite long. They can range from aspirin itself all the way to birth control pills. [note]Web MD – https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/medication-headaches#1[/note]
Everyone has a unique physiology. Although we are all humans, there are slight differences in our genetic makeup that react differently to chemical compositions. This is why some people are allergic to penicillin while others are not.
If you’re having trouble with any kind of medication, seek medical advice from a real doctor. He or she may prescribe something that you’re less likely to reject.
10. Anxiety Attacks
Anxiety is problematic for a lot of people. It can affect stress levels, alter blood pressure, cause a myriad of mental disorders and result in waking up with headaches every morning.
Unfortunately, the link between headaches and anxiety is somewhat unclear. However, preliminary data suggests there is often a correlation between the two. [note]Web MD – https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-headaches-link#1[/note]
It’s safe to assume, though, that any component that affects the chemistry of the brain may also impact headaches in general.
11. Sleep Apnea
Millions of people are affected by sleep apnea. This is when your body frequently stops breathing in the middle of the night. The loss of oxygen contributes to morning headaches. [note]WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea[/note]
I suffer from a form of this to the point of gasping for air because I am suffocating. However, I’ve done this less since losing 70 pounds.
Many people treat sleep apnea by using a CPAP machine. This is a unit that enables breathing during the night by increasing air pressure in your throat.
In other words, it helps you breathe better.
12. Teeth Grinding
Bruxism, or incessant teeth grinding, is often a cause of morning headaches. This is when you unconsciously grind your teeth together in the middle of the night. The end result is a clenched jaw, tooth breaks and migraines from muscle tension. [note]S4S Dental Laboratory – https://www.s4sdental.com/teeth-clenching-grinding-migraines-headaches/[/note]
Teeth grinding has a myriad of other complications that go with it aside from dental. This includes things like muscle toning in the face, atypical facial pain and popping jaw joints.
Luckily, there are various treatments and therapies available for those who suffer from bruxism.
If you suspect you’re a tooth-grinder, consult your dentist.
13. Various Health Issues
One of the hardest elements to diagnose for morning headaches are those of various medical conditions. This is because various health issues can lead to pains like migraines.
For instance, things like tumors in the brain, stroke, high blood pressure and head trauma can all lead to morning headaches.
If nothing on the list fits your specific situation, you may want to consider talking to your doctor and getting a checkup. Waking up with headaches every morning may be the symptom of something far worse.
Process of Elimination
Unfortunately, trying to know exactly what is causing your morning headaches may take a bit of time. This is because so many unrelated variables are at work. The best you can do is try to eliminate as many as possible or perhaps consult your physician.
It may be something as easy as cutting out a certain type of food at night, or something more drastic in the event of a stroke.