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Headaches During The Night

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 10 Mar 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Headaches Migraines Cluster Tension

With statistics already citing that we don't get enough sleep in terms of quantity it's even more frustrating when the quality of sleep is affected by headaches. You may find that headaches are waking you up at night or that you're suffering from them just prior to sleeping.

One of the more obvious causes of nighttime headaches is alcohol consumption, so if you find this is a trigger, it is suggested that you limit consumption or avoid those specific alcoholic drinks that seem to trigger headaches more often.

Cluster Headaches and Sleep Apnea

Cluster headaches are intense piercing headaches that are typically of short duration; some people find that their cluster headaches occur specifically at night. Individuals who suffer from cluster headaches may also suffer from sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is temporarily interrupted while a person is sleeping. When a person has sleep apnea, a change in the airway occurs which then temporarily stops breathing. A person will gasp for breath and it is often an individual's partner who alerts them to the problem.

To compound the problem, most people with sleep apnea are unaware of their condition, and so don't ever seek treatment for the problem. Sleep apnea tends to intensify cluster headaches and may, in particular, prompt nighttime ones. What this means for you, is that if you are awakening at night with a cluster headache or find that you experience a cluster episode upon awakening, it may be worthwhile speaking to your doctor about the chance that you have sleep apnea.

Night Headaches and Hypoglycaemia

Hypoglycaemia is a term used to refer to blood sugar that is too low to sustain normal body functioning. If hypoglycaemia attacks while you are sleeping, you may find that you experience night sweats and a painful headache. A light balanced snack prior to bedtime, such as whole-wheat crackers with cheese, will help to keep your blood sugar more stable while you sleep and prevent nighttime occurrence of hypoglycaemia.

Stress and Tension Headaches

For some people, nighttime is the culmination of a stressful day spent on the go, without time taken out to relax and look after themselves. Tension headaches are a common type of headache and are often triggered by various stresses stemming from work, school or personal life. Exhaustion and worry can trigger a headache while you sleep and this lack of sleep then triggers more headaches, leading to a vicious cycle. If you're able to find ways to manage stress, you may find your nighttime headaches improve and you can get the rest that your body needs.

Nighttime Migraines

If you're finding that you experience migraines at night, it is possible that exposure to a trigger is occurring shortly before you sleep. Check your bedroom for chemicals that may be contributing, such as air fresheners, for example. It may be that a food you consume before bed is causing the migraine or perhaps even an additive contained within the food. Keep a headache diary and make a note of what foods and environments you are exposed to prior to sleeping and see if you can pinpoint and then reduce or eliminate the trigger.

Get a Good Night's Sleep

There are various things you can do to help prevent headaches and promote a good night's sleep. Some options are:

  • Be aware of what you eat before sleeping - although hunger and low blood sugar can prompt headaches, eating too much food, particularly if it's a known migraine trigger, can also cause headaches, not to mention stomach problems.

  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and avoid large amounts of water at night - you want to ensure that you prevent dehydration consistently, as dehydration can trigger headaches. Rather than loading up on water before bed, which may leave you needing the toilet in the middle of the night, try to maintain hydration evenly during the day.

  • Ensure you get enough sleep - quality is obviously important but four hours of quality sleep, for example, is simply not enough for most people. Ironically, some people make time for everything but sleep and this can leave them with headaches. If you're the type to use a planner, then pencil in your eight hours each night.

  • Exercise - cardiovascular exercise right before bed may keep you awake but done earlier in the day, it can relieve stress and improve circulation, preventing painful nighttime headaches later on.

  • Medications -depending on precisely what is causing your headaches, your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent nighttime headaches as well as treat those that do occur.

Nighttime headaches are very rarely due to serious conditions but if you do find yourself waking up with an extremely severe headache, you may need to see a doctor immediately on the remote possibility that you are suffering from a brain tumour.

Your sleep is important for maintaining clear and alert daily functioning so resolve to see your doctor to discuss your nighttime headaches and be sure to allot enough time each night for adequate rest. Ultimately, better headache-free sleep means a better day.

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[Add a Comment]
I have started walking with a headache about an hour after falling asleep.This happens at night or if I am sleeping during the day. The headache is severe when I wake but literally lasts all of about 5 minutes once I am awake. Should I be concerned?
Alleycat - 10-Mar-17 @ 1:48 AM
Jj - Your Question:
I currently get woken up nightly about an hour or so after I had fallen asleep. The headaches I experience last for around 15 minutes but occur 3 to 4 times during the night. They are so extreme it is almost unbearable. The headaches are located on the right side of my head and usually starts with pain like pressure behind my right eye then quickly spreads to the entire right side of my head from the base of my neck all the way behind my eyesocket sending throbbing pains through my temple. This has been happening for the last three weeks every single night. During the bouts of pain I experience extreme Blurriness in my right eye along with watering of the same eye. Sometimes I break out in night sweats during the migraine and feel nauseous. The only thing that seems to help is putting a warm washcloth on the spot that is pulsating until it subsides. I have tried over-the-counter pain relievers and nothing works even Excedrin Migraine. I can't take much more of it please help me what is going on?????????

Our Response:
I'm afraid we cannot offer a diagnosis - you would need to be checked over by your GP, especially if your headaches are 'extreme'.
HeadacheExpert - 21-Jun-16 @ 10:13 AM
I currently get woken up nightly about an hour or so after I had fallen asleep. The headaches I experience last for around 15 minutes but occur 3 to 4 times during the night . They are so extreme it is almost unbearable. The headaches are located on the right side of my head and usually starts with pain like pressure behind my right eye then quickly spreads to the entire right side of my head from the base of my neck all the way behind my eyesocket sending throbbing pains through my temple . This has been happening for the last three weeks every single night . During the bouts of pain I experience extreme Blurriness in my right eye along with watering of the same eye . Sometimes I break out in night sweats during the migraine and feel nauseous. The only thing that seems to help is putting a warm washcloth on the spot that is pulsating until it subsides . I have tried over-the-counter pain relievers and nothing works even Excedrin Migraine... I can't take much more of it please help me what is going on?????????
Jj - 20-Jun-16 @ 4:04 AM
Esmer - Your Question:
I've been waking up at the same time for a few days now around 3 with a massive headache even my eyes hurt when I wake up. What's wrong?

Our Response:
Unfortunately, we cannot offer our personal opinion as your headaches could be due to a number of causes. If you are concerned and your headaches persist you should visit your GP.
HeadacheExpert - 28-Apr-16 @ 11:10 AM
I've been waking up at the same time for a few days now around 3 with a massive headache even my eyes hurt when I wake up. What's wrong?
Esmer - 27-Apr-16 @ 9:09 AM
@nk - my doc told me teeth grinding is often caused by stress. I used to be a tooth-grinder, don't do it so often now, but glad you are managing to control yours.
AJ - 31-Mar-16 @ 1:36 PM
Hi I get headaches at least 3 or 4 time a night and i wake up with pain. Went to dentist after a very long time and he asked me if I grind my teeth. I told him I did not know. No dentist had asked me that and that was 3 weeks ago. I have been conscious not to hold my teeth too close together before falling asleep.. You know what, my head ache is gone. It’s been 3 weeks. I also noticed that I grind my teeth during the day as well but because I am so busy at work and family don’t notice it as much as night time. Thanks doc. nk
nk - 30-Mar-16 @ 3:28 PM
I wake up every morning with headache and blocking nose I have told my doctor and giving me some spry don't help;(
Zabi - 14-Mar-16 @ 11:36 PM
Taz - Your Question:
Okay, maybe this will help at least one person.I never used to get headaches-I'm now 61 & retired-I've be using Invisalign for about a year so I do clench to help them along and I have allergies(including celiac decease).Just within the last 2 months I would either go to bed with a headache or I would wake up with one in the middle of the night or have one when I woke up in the morning.I hate taking any pills but I was really starting to worry.I told my Mom (88) and she was having the same problem.So, great! Another genetic weakness! Maybe, but it can be corrected.Just up your drinking and I don't mean alcohol, that will make it worse.Water will help this.Just as they say to drink 8 glasses a day, early though and just a half a glass before bed.You might also need a 100 calorie snack before bedtime.This helps keep your blood sugar level.I'm not a doctor, just hope that I could help.

Our Response:
Many thanks for your comments and helpful advice. Many ordinary headaches can be caused by de-hydration alone, so yes, you're right, drinking water is always good advice.
HeadacheExpert - 29-Feb-16 @ 9:52 AM
Okay, maybe this will help at least one person.I never used to get headaches-I'm now 61 & retired-I've be using Invisalign for about a year so I do clench to help them along and I have allergies(including celiac decease).Just within the last 2 months I would either go to bed with a headache or I would wake up with one in the middle of the night or have one when I woke up in the morning.I hate taking any pills but I was really starting to worry.I told my Mom (88) and she was having the same problem.So, great! Another genetic weakness! Maybe, but it can be corrected.Just up your drinking and I don't mean alcohol, that will make it worse.Water will help this.Just as they say to drink 8 glasses a day, early though and just a half a glass before bed.You might also need a 100 calorie snack before bedtime.This helps keep your blood sugar level.I'm not a doctor, just hope that I could help.
Taz - 28-Feb-16 @ 12:53 AM
Neicey- Your Question:
For the past couple weeks my boyfriend has been suffering from a really bad headache it started on the right temple and has now moved to the left Aswell and the whole back of his head this headache starts just before he goes to sleep and doesn't end till morning recently even if he falls asleep after awhile he will be awaken by this head ache he's been taking meds from the doctor that do not seem to be making it any better he can't sleep and his lack of sleep is starting to affect him day to day and bringing on daytime headaches what do we do

Our Response:
If he has had the headache for a couple of weeks, since being prescribed medication via his GP, then he would need to follow this up with his GP.
HeadacheExpert - 13-Jan-16 @ 2:09 PM
For the past couple weeks my boyfriend has been suffering from a really bad headache it started on the right temple and has now moved to the left Aswell and the whole back of his head this headache starts just before he goes to sleep and doesn't end till morning recently even if he falls asleep after awhile he will be awaken by this head ache he's been taking meds from the doctor that do not seem to be making it any better he can't sleep and his lack of sleep is starting to affect him day to day and bringing on daytime headaches what do we do
Neicey - 13-Jan-16 @ 7:53 AM
laurie - Your Question:
In the past 2 months I have awaken with headaches in the middle of the night usually between 1am and 4:30 am the pain is awful I try to take migraine meds and use ice pacs on both top front of my head and back of the neck. Have purchased new pillows, have husband awake me if he hears me snore. Not sure if it could be a sinus issue as I sleep with the ceiling fan on too. I am 53 and in pretty good health although was just placed on meds (metformin) for diabetes. Its not all that high but the beginning. I am trying to diet and look for less sugar products. My dad passed from a brain tumor my sister had a brain tumor in her early 20's and I had an MRI done 8 years ago and was clean. Should I ask for another MRI and what else can I do? I find not having enough sleep during the night is taking a toll on me. Do you have suggestions.thanks

Our Response:
I'm afraid we cannot give medical advice, you will really need to visit your GP regarding this.
HeadacheExpert - 27-Aug-15 @ 11:01 AM
In the past 2 months I have awaken with headaches in the middle of the night usually between 1am and 4:30 am the pain is awful I try to take migraine meds and use ice pacs on both topfront of my head and back of the neck. Have purchased new pillows, have husband awake me if he hears me snore. Not sure if it could be a sinus issue as I sleep with the ceiling fan on too. I am 53 and in pretty good health although was just placed on meds (metformin) for diabetes. Its not all that high but the beginning. I am trying to diet and look for less sugar products.My dad passed from a brain tumor my sister had a brain tumor in her early 20's and I had an MRI done 8 years ago and was clean. Should I ask for another MRI and what else can I do? I find not having enough sleep during the night is taking a toll on me. Do you have suggestions.... thanks
laurie - 26-Aug-15 @ 12:18 PM
I am awakened by severe headache pain in the middle of the night about once a week - sometimes severe enough to make me vomit.But if I get up or sit up straight, the pain goes away in about 20 minutes.Then if I lay back down, it comes back.I've had an MRI - no problems showed up.Any suggestions for prevention or treatment?I've tried to track my eating, exercise, and lifestyle patterns, and cannot find any trigger.This has been going on for more than 5 years.
dena - 28-Sep-12 @ 3:51 PM
I have head aches when I wake up I want to know whyfeels like my head wants To fall off.
tut - 21-Sep-12 @ 3:37 PM
Food allergies can be a common trigger of nighttime migraines. If you've been to the doctor and there doesn't seem to be an obvious medical cause, try looking at your diet, then reading and experimenting with the foods you eat. All too often, simply removing one or two things can alleviate the migraine problem. Your diet might be more restricted, but you'll feel better.
Penny - 7-Jun-12 @ 2:09 PM
I thought to comment as I have always woken in the middle of the night with severe headaches, and for me it was diagnosed as overheating in some instance, but another was from clenching my teeth - more so during the dreaming stages of sleep. Now I love to dream! But it usually meant that I had slept longer than I required and would spend the day feeling groggy. I am not a morning person so adjusting my sleep was difficult. I have a Germanic background and an orthodontist suggested that from my bone structure I have a strong jaw and this influenced my strong clenching (others may grind, fortunately I don't). I find myself during the day clenching whilst concentrating so I know it is happening. I am having a professional night guard made up for sleeping and I hope this will help - others I know have had success with them.I hope this helps anyone else also experiencing night headaches!
Kel - 28-Jan-12 @ 6:05 AM
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