Why Do I Wake Up with a Headache Every Morning?

What Causes Morning Headache?

Chronic headaches can be caused by overuse of alcohol, some OTC medications, caffeine, or dehydration. Less easy to fix are morning headaches caused by migraine disorders or sleep apnea, but they are still treatable.
Chronic headaches can be caused by overuse of alcohol, some OTC medications, caffeine, or dehydration. Less easy to fix are morning headaches caused by migraine disorders or sleep apnea, but they are still treatable.

A headache in the morning can be part of a primary headache syndrome or can be a symptom of other conditions. 

Common causes of morning headaches include: 

What Are Symptoms of Morning Headache?

A morning headache may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the cause. 

Other symptoms of sleep apnea include: 

  • Loud snoring
  • Fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Restless sleep
  • Awakening with choking, gasping, or smothering
  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Frequently waking to urinate
  • Awakening unrested, groggy
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems

Other symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lowered motivation or energy
  • Increased errors or accidents

Other symptoms of circadian rhythm sleep disorders include:

  • Extreme daytime sleepiness
  • Insomnia (see above)
  • Tiredness
  • Decreased alertness
  • Problems with memory and decision-making

Other symptoms of sleep-related bruxism (tooth grinding) include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Clicking in the temporomandibular joint
  • Damage to teeth and dental work
  • Temperature sensitivity in the teeth
  • Need for dental restorations 
  • Tooth wear on tooth surfaces that contact from grinding

Other symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) include:

  • Dull pain on one side of the face, near the ear
  • Pain may also affect the ear, jaw, or back of the neck
  • Pain is typically constant, but may come and go
  • Pain is usually worse with jaw movement
  • Heating a clicking or popping sound or have a “crunchy feeling” in the joint when opening and closing the mouth

Other symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially when moving 
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up phlegm (mucus)

Other symptoms of hangover include:

Other symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:

  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased alertness
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased contentedness
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling fuzzy/not clearheaded
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea

Other symptoms of obesity-hypoventilation syndrome include:

  • Daytime sleepiness 
  • Loud snoring
  • Choking during sleep
  • Snorting
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired concentration and memory

Other symptoms of migraine include:

  • Prodrome: symptoms 24 to 48 hours before a migraine headache comes on such as increased yawning, a feeling of euphoria, depression, irritability, food cravings, constipation, and neck stiffness
  • Aura: flashing lights or bright spots, zigzag lines, changes in vision, or numbness or tingling in the fingers of one hand, lips, tongue, or lower face
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and noise

How Is Morning Headache Diagnosed?

A doctor will perform a physical exam and ask for a detailed patient history to try to determine the possible cause of morning headaches. Depending on the suspected cause of the morning headaches, different tests may be indicated, such as: 

  • Sleep study (polysomnogram)
  • Home monitoring devices that monitor breathing, oxygen saturation, position, and heart rate
  • Sleep diary to track when and how long you sleep
  • Hormone tests
  • Daily sleep log
  • Record of activity and movement with a monitor or motion detector, generally worn on the wrist throughout the day and night (actigraphy)
  • X-ray of the jaw (to diagnose TMJ)
  • Spirometry (to check for COPD)
  • Blood test for a genetic problem called “antitrypsin deficiency” that can cause COPD
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (“ECG”) 
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan 
  • Pulmonary function tests

What Is the Treatment for Morning Headache?

Treatment for morning headaches depends on the cause. 

Treatment for sleep apnea includes: 

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) 
  • Adjusting sleep position (to stay off the back) 
  • Weight loss
  • Avoiding alcohol and other sedatives 
  • Dental devices 
  • Surgery

Treatment for insomnia includes: 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)
  • Sleep education 
  • Sleep restriction or sleep compression  
  • Stimulus control 
  • Sleep hygiene 
  • Relaxation exercises 
  • Sleep medications, both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription

Treatment for circadian rhythm disorder includes: 

  • Light therapy
  • Light restriction (dark therapy)
  • Chronotherapy
  • Sleep deprivation/phase advance
  • Medicines to help you fall asleep or to help you stay awake
  • Healthy lifestyle changes including steps to improve your sleep habits

Treatment for temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) includes:

  • Avoid things that trigger TMJ pain 
  • Jaw exercises
  • Medicines to relieve pain and relax the muscles 
  • Devices: “bite plates” or “occlusal splints”

Treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes:

  • Not smoking
  • Medicines including steroids
  • Oxygen
  • Pulmonary rehab 
  • Surgery and endobronchial valves

Treatment for hangover includes:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Getting adequate vitamins
  • Treatment for alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) usually includes:
  • Counseling
  • Medications
  • Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Treatment for caffeine withdrawal includes:

  • Gradual reduction in caffeine intake 

Treatment for medication overuse headache includes:

  • Discontinuation of the medication that is causing the headache
  • Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor

Treatment for obesity-hypoventilation syndrome includes:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) 
  • Weight loss 
  • Lifestyle modifications 
  • Medications
  • Tracheostomy 
  • Bariatric Surgery

Treatment for migraine includes: