Waking Up with Headaches? Know the Possible Causes

Fact Checked Medically reviewed by Tanja Premru-Sršen


Waking up with a morning headache and head pain can ruin one’s day and an early morning awakening headache can put a damper on everything you are looking forward to doing during that day.

There are several possible causes of your head hurting when you wake up in the morning due to morning headaches, and there are some steps you can take to prevent those chronic headaches.

Keep reading to find out more about early morning headaches, the causes of morning headaches, and how to treat morning headaches and head pain.

Possible Causes for Waking Up with Headaches

Several things could be behind your morning headaches, that cause your head to throb right after you open your eyes.

Some of the most common causes of morning headaches include and some of the triggers that can lead to waking up with headaches include:


Migraine headaches and tension headaches affect about one in ten adults worldwide, and everyone who has ever had migraine attacks will agree that they are extremely annoying and very painful.

Waking up with migraine attacks or severe headaches will bring some painful gloom to your day. Along with head pain, other signs that you are experiencing a migraine include:

  • The vision becomes blurry and affected by the pain.
  • Eyes feel heavy and hard to open and keep open.
  • The body becomes extremely sensitive to light, sounds, or strong smells.
  • Feeling sick, nauseous.
  • Loss of appetite.

The migraine symptoms often tend to last from four hours to seventy-two hours.

For most people, the most common time of the day for a migraine to happen is in the early morning, and many people report that they tend to just wake up with a painful migraine without any warning.

However, the tricky part is that migraines are complicated and unpredictable, and they are different for everyone. One person can also experience several different types and patterns of migraines.

In some cases, people report experiencing light flashes, lines in the vision, and other visual disturbances before, during, or after their migraine. This occurrence is called an aura.

Women are three times more likely to have a migraine than men. While migraines are common, tension headaches are an option too. These headaches are often connected to depression and anxiety.

If you have a migraine that wakes you in the morning and gets in the way of your enjoyment and personal life and career, there is no sense in just withstanding the pain; a doctor’s visit is in order.

A professional healthcare provider is going to provide appropriate medical advice, as well as treatments, including over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Sleep Apnea and Other Sleep Disorders

According to peer-reviewed studies, people that suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) make up about two to nine percent of adults.

Obstructive sleep apnea causes obstructed or completely stopped breathing during sleep, and morning headaches are one of the common symptoms of sleep disorder.

Unfortunately, the cause of sleep apnea-induced early morning headaches is not known yet. However, the uncomfortable and painful morning headaches are often attributed to loud snoring, another common symptom of sleep apnea.

Many choose to treat sleep apnea by using a CPAP machine, which can reduce or even completely eliminate your morning headaches, as well as other OSA symptoms.

There are other sleep disorders and headache disorders that can affect sleep, and there are some sleep disorders that can be the causes of early morning headaches.

Some of those sleep disorders that can induce a morning headache include insomnia, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.

Treatment for sleep disorders will depend on the nature of the sleep disorder.

Grinding your teeth

Uncontrollably teeth grinding or clenching your teeth during your sleep is also known as sleep bruxism, and a morning headache is commonly associated with sleep bruxism, as well as poor sleep and other sleep disturbances.

Several studies have shown that headaches linked to sleep bruxism and poor sleep can often stem from a disorder in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) in your jaw.

Most people report that a morning headache that occurs due to teeth grinding generally tends to be a tension type headache, and feel dull near the temples, especially in the early morning hours.

Teeth grinding, or sleep bruxism, is also linked to other sleep conditions like sleep apnea, and it can also cause jaw pain and damaged teeth. Treatment for grinding your teeth in your sleep can involve:

  • Using a mouthguard
  • Learning and practicing different stress relief techniques
  • Doing tongue and jaw exercises

Abusing substances, like alcohol or drugs

Using different substances, such as alcohol abuse and drug abuse, can lead to a hangover, which can lead to sleep disruption and a throbbing hangover headache the next morning.

Heavy drinking and abusing drugs have a very high association with morning headaches and hangover headaches.

When drinking and using drugs, your sleep is likely to be disrupted, and you are likely to wake up earlier than you normally would.

Alcohol also increases the loss of fluids and urination, leading to mild dehydration causing headaches. Alcohol can also be a trigger for migraines, cluster headaches, and sleep disturbances.

Lack of Sleep and Oversleeping

Getting too much sleep, as well as not getting enough sleep, can be the factor that contributes to waking up with a headache or experiencing cluster headaches.

Nightly sleep is a delicate balance, and getting too much or too little sleep can cause some issues in your daily life.

For adults, seven to eight hours per night is recommended to avoid sleep deprivation or oversleeping, as well as headache pain the next morning.

In the majority of cases, getting less than that will make you tired, and getting more than that will get you groggy and sluggish.

Sleep Loss and Insomnia

Sleep deprivation during the night can cause headaches in the morning, which means that people that struggle with insomnia have a high risk of experiencing and dealing with morning headaches.

People that struggle with insomnia sleeping disorder experience difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep, which leads to not getting sufficient sleep, leaving you feeling unrested or sluggish during the day and morning head pain.

Insomnia is also very likely to leave you with a throbbing headache the next morning.

Depression And Anxiety

Depression and anxiety, as well as other mood disorders, are often comorbid mental disorders, and they can lead to many uncomfortable symptoms, morning headaches and excessive daytime sleepiness included.

Several peer-reviewed studies have found a link between suffering from anxiety and/or depression and suffering from morning headaches.

Many experts suggest using morning headaches as one of the warning signs that you are suffering from depression and/or anxiety.

Medication Overuse Headaches

Overusing medication can lead to waking up with a headache, which is often called medication overuse headache, which often tends to happen in the early morning.

In addition, the body might end up building a tolerance to certain medications after those medications have been used for a longer period of time.

Some people might experience this kind of headache once they stop using the following medications:

  • Ergotamine (Ergomar)
  • Sumatriptan (Zomig, Imitrex)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Pain medications and painkillers (Percocet)
  • Opiate analgesics, such as hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Treatment for Morning Headaches

If you have occasional headaches that pass by lunchtime and do not come back again, there is no need to speak to your healthcare provider, as the issue is not ongoing.

However, if you have frequent or chronic morning headaches that you seem to wake up with or trigger during your sleep, they probably interfere with your daily life and make you miserable.

In this case, the best possible route to take is to talk to your healthcare provider about what might be the cause behind your morning headaches that are bugging you and ruining your day.

If your symptoms are ongoing and you are seeking treatment from your healthcare provider, consider keeping a sleep diary to track your symptoms and sleep habits to have the more detailed and correct information to share with your doctor.

Your professional healthcare provider is going to be able to help you identify the exact trigger of your morning headaches and develop a treatment plan that will help you get rid of them.

In addition to treatment specific to your trigger prescribed by your healthcare provider, some small lifestyle changes can help you improve your sleep hygiene.

Some of them include:

Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Do your best to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

Your brain and your body will love the routine, and it will benefit the quality of your nightly sleep.

Practice a Relaxing Routine Before Bed

Winding down at the end of the day signals will give your body clear signals that the time for sleep has come, which will make it easier to relax and fall asleep.

A relaxing routine before bed can also be your “me-time” that you will look forward to during busy and stressful days. Try taking a warm bath, reading, or meditation before going to bed.

Stay away from the blue screen at least an hour before going to bed.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption During the Day

Even though they sound great, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine just before bedtime might be the reason why you are up late or why you are having trouble sleeping.

However, if you need a warm, relaxing drink in your bedtime routine, a better option is tea with no caffeine.

Stick to A Regular Workout Routine

Try to exercise daily or every other day, but make sure to do so at least several hours before bedtime.

Exercising right before your bedtime might keep you awake longer, and it might disrupt your sleep quality.


Waking up with a headache is an issue that many people deal with on a daily basis.

Morning headaches can be caused by several different causes and factors, some of which are mild and not serious, and some of which are serious and require medical attention and professional medical advice.

With good sleep hygiene and treatment for the issues causing your morning headaches, they can be reduced or even eliminated.

However, if morning headaches interfere with your normal life, the best possible route to take is to talk to your healthcare provider to determine the right treatment plan.