Early morning headaches can be caused by disturbed sleep, mood disorders and more: Tips on how to prevent them
Morning headaches can be of many different types like migraines, tension headaches, headaches caused due to medication overuse
Waking up with a headache can seem like one of the worst ways to begin your day. However, if you have this problem, you are definitely not alone. Morning headaches are very common and can occur due to a variety of causes, ranging from disrupted sleep to underlying health conditions.
The pain can be dull or sharp and can last for a few minutes to about an hour. Morning headaches can be of many different types like migraines, tension headaches, headaches caused due to medication overuse, cluster headaches and hypnic headache (headaches that wake people up). Experts say that between 4 and 8 am, the human body produces fewer endorphins and enkephalins (the natural painkillers of the body) and larger amounts of adrenaline (the fight or flight hormone). This may lead to the contraction of blood vessels and, in turn, headaches.
Here are some other common causes of early morning headaches that you need to know:
1. Disturbed sleep
Sleep cycle disturbances (too little or even too much sleep) and insomnia are the most common causes of early morning headaches and migraines. Shift work and conditions like sleep apnea could also lead to sleep disturbances and make the person prone to early morning headaches.
Experts suggest that sleep has a dual cause and effect relationship with headaches. Excessive sleepiness may be a premonition of migraine or may also occur due to this type of headache. On the other hand, taking proper sleep can help reduce headaches.
The exact nature of this relationship is not yet known but a disturbance in the circadian rhythm is suggested to be one possible cause.
2. Overuse of medications and alcohol
A study conducted in the USA showed that excessive alcohol consumption (more than 6 units per day) is indicated to be the trigger for early morning headaches.
Similarly, those who use medications for anxiety and depression tend to experience morning headaches commonly.
As per the American Migraine Foundation, most over-the-counter narcotic pain medications wear off within four to eight hours, especially if a person is overusing them. As a result, such people experience migraine headaches early in the morning while they are still asleep.
3. Depression, anxiety and bruxism
If you get frequent headaches in the morning, it could be due to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. In a 2004 study including about 19,000 people, anxiety and depression were indicated to be comorbid conditions for chronic morning headaches.
Experts say that this is because those with depression and anxiety often end up with insomnia and disrupted sleep.
Additionally, those who tend to grind their teeth (bruxism) during sleeping may also end up experiencing headaches in the morning. This is because teeth grinding causes tension in the jaw. Those who grind their teeth while asleep also tend to snore or have sleep apnea, leading to disturbed sleep and hence morning headaches.
Preventing morning headaches
The following are some ways to prevent morning headaches:
- Maintain a proper sleep-wake schedule.
- Sleep in a quiet, dark room and avoid looking at a phone, tablet or television right before going to bed.
- Do not consume alcohol, caffeine or nicotine right before going to bed.
- Maintain a healthy diet and work out regularly.
- Use mouth guards to manage bruxism.
- Talk to a doctor to deal with depression and anxiety. Practising relaxation techniques may also help calm your mind.
- Avoid overuse of medications. Always take medicines as prescribed by the doctor.
Persistent headaches may occur due to serious underlying health conditions like high blood pressure, trauma and tumours. If the headache is severe, started after an injury or is accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath vision problems and loss of consciousness, make sure to contact your doctor at the earliest.
For more information, read our article on Headaches.
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