Waking Up With a Headache Explained

    Waking Up With a Headache Explained
    Published 21 November 2019
    Fact Checked
    Eugenia Tikhonovich, MD
    Reviewed by Eugenia Tikhonovich, MD, Obstetrician-Gynecologist, Medical Consultant
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    Headaches in the morning can get your day off to a rough start. Are they normal, or should you be concerned if you wake up with a headache? We explain everything you need to know about waking up with a headache, why it happens, and how to prevent it. 

    Morning headaches: overview and ache types

    Most people who have experienced the uncomfortable symptoms of a headache know how challenging it can be to carry on with your regular routine. Waking up with a headache can make it especially hard for you to get on with your day. 

    There are a few different types of morning headaches, each with their own symptoms:

    • Tension headaches are caused by tight, contracted muscles around the head, neck, face, or shoulders. Both physical and emotional factors can influence muscle tension.
    • Cluster headaches are especially painful and can occur in the middle of the night. You may feel pain behind one of your eyes or to one side of your head.

    Unilateral headaches are when pain is on one side of the head, while bilateral headaches cause pain on both sides of the head. Morning headaches may also cause you to experience sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound (phonophobia), which can aggravate your headache symptoms.

    If you’re waking up with headaches in the middle of the night, this could be something called a hypnic headache. Hypnic headaches are less common than morning headaches, but they can still be disruptive to your health and routines. For treating this uncommon type of headache, it’s advisable to carefully evaluate the underlying causes behind it. Speak with your doctor or a sleep specialist if you repeatedly wake up with headaches in the middle of the night.

    Why do I wake up with a headache — uncovering the answer to this question is the first step towards improving your quality of life. Waking up with a headache can happen to anyone, but it’s especially common amongst people who struggle with sleeping well. 

    Possible causes for waking up with a headache

    If you have a headache when waking up, there are a few possible causes, including a lack of sleep, dehydration, or even the wrong pillow. Learn about the possible causes to see if you can relate. 


    If you’re chronically stressed at home or at work, this can create a buildup of physical tension in your body. 

    It’s also not uncommon for morning headaches to pop up on the weekend after a busy week at work. When your stress hormones drop, your brain produces a neurotransmitter that sends signals to your body to constrict and dilate your blood vessels, which can cause headaches.

    Wrong pillow

    If you wake up with tension headaches in the morning, it could be because you’re using the wrong pillow. When you sleep, it’s a good idea to have your neck in a neutral position that’s in line with your spine. 

    In general, soft or thin pillows will help keep your neck in a neutral alignment with your spine if you sleep mostly on your back or belly. For people who sleep primarily on their sides, a firmer and larger pillow will offer better neck support.

    Grinding teeth

    Bruxism, or grinding your teeth at night, is a fairly common condition, and it’s often caused by stress. Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw causes tension in your jaw, which can give you a headache after waking up. 

    If you think you’re grinding your teeth at night, speak with your dentist who can fit you with a mouthguard.


    Although there isn’t research to prove that dehydration causes headaches, some specialists believe that if you’re not getting enough fluids during the day, you may experience headaches as a symptom of dehydration. Your body loses some water while you sleep, so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages, like water, throughout the day. 

    Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of dehydration because it makes you urinate more. Alcohol also causes your blood vessels to expand, which can cause headaches. If you woke up with a headache after a night of drinking, your hangover headache is caused by the shift in your blood alcohol concentration levels returning to normal. 

    Dehydration can also cause dryness in your mouth or nose, which can lead to snoring that might disrupt your sleep. 

    Irregular sleep

    Insomnia is one of the most common causes of waking up with a headache. Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or waking up many times throughout the night. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea can also disturb your sleep if left untreated.

    Oversleeping can also cause morning headaches. Try not to exceed eight hours of sleep per night if you’re experiencing headaches after sleeping. For most people, seven or eight hours of sleep is ideal for a good night’s rest.


    Muscles are often stiff in the morning, and when the muscles around your head, neck, or shoulders are tight, the restricted blood flow can sometimes cause headaches.

    PMS can also decrease your sleep quality, which can cause you to wake up with a headache and affect your mood. Morning headaches are also common during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. In this case, you may find that you’re waking up with a headache and nausea.

    Tips for leaving morning headaches behind

    If you frequently have a headache after waking up, these steps might help you prevent it from happening in the future: 

    • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an adequate daily fluid intake for a woman is about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters).
    • Decrease stress by exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet, and making time for social activities with close friends and family.
    • Improve your sleep routine. Try creating good sleep habits before you go to bed to help you get a good night’s rest. Make your bed and bedroom as comfortable as possible, and relax your body and mind by reading, meditating, or taking a warm shower before bed. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

    If you’ve tried these tips and you’re still experiencing a headache every morning, you may want to speak with your doctor about other tests or treatment options. 

    Wrapping up on waking up with headaches

    Morning headaches are a nuisance, and in many cases, there are easy lifestyle changes you can make to avoid them. If you have a headache every morning, speak with your doctor about your symptoms. They can perform tests or prescribe medications to help with headaches and improve your quality of sleep.

    History of updates

    Current version (21 November 2019)
    Reviewed by Eugenia Tikhonovich, MD, Obstetrician-Gynecologist, Medical Consultant
    Published (21 November 2019)

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