Whether they’re there when you wake up in the morning or disturb your sleep and cause you to wake up early, these morning headaches are clearly not the best way to being your day. You’ll be surprised to know they’re very common and may occur due to variety of conditions. Some primary headache disorders, such as cluster headaches and migraines, frequently result in morning headaches. These headaches also occur with other conditions, ranging from caffeine withdrawal or medicine overuse, to teeth grinding, to sleep disorders. Severe lung disease, brain tumors and low blood sugar are less common causes. The exact cause will be determined by your doctor and will recommend proper treatment.
Caffeine Withdrawal and Medication Overuse May Be the Culprits
When you use medications on a regular basis, or in increasing amounts to treat your headaches, morning headaches may ensue. These medication-induced-headaches, also known as medication-overuse headaches, are due to effects of medication wearing off while a person is still in sleep, causing a sort of drug withdrawal reaction.
Caffeine withdrawal is also a similar phenomenon. People whose caffeine intake is excessive may develop morning headaches as their caffeine levels drop down in early morning. In fact, caffeine withdrawal may also contribute to medication-induced headaches, as caffeine is a vital component of many headaches medications. Some examples include OTC pain relievers containing acetaminophen or aspirin plus caffeine (Vanquish, Anacin, Excerdrin Extra Strength) and prescription headache medicines with acetaminophen, butalbital and caffeine (Zebutal, Fioriet).
Primary Headache Disorders is the most Common Cause
Recurrent headaches that are not due to some disease are known as primary headache disorders. Migraine attacks can occur anytime, but most of them happen in early morning or during the night. In a study involving 2,197 people with migraines published in the April 1998 issue of “Headache” found that 49 percent of migraines may occur between 4 am and 9 am. Migraine attacks may cause throbbing pain on one side or maybe both the sides of the head, associated with vomiting or nausea and is worsened by exposure to light. Many of these attacks are preceded by an aura-some neurologic symptoms, such as seeing zig zag or flashing lights.
Cluster headache episodes are characterized by stabbing pain felt right behind one eye, which can last for 20-200 minutes. They are often associated with nasal congestion or discharge, and eyelid drooping or tearing on the same side. Cluster headaches an occur one or many times in a day, but most of them occur at midnight or in early morning.
Sleep Disorders mostly result in Morning Headaches
Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), which is characterized by repeating breathing pauses during sleep, also results in morning headaches. In a study involving 246 individuals with OSAS reported in the May2015 issue of “The Journal of Headache and Pain” it was found that 24 percent of these individuals had moderate to severe morning headaches. In few other studies, around 78 percent of people suffering from OSAS experienced morning headaches. In these headaches, individuals felt uncomfortable pressure on both sides of their head, quite similar to tension headaches. How OSAS triggers these morning headaches is still not clear, but possible explanations include high carbon dioxide levels or low oxygen levels in the blood, or break in sleep due to partial awakening during episodes of paused breathing. Mostly, people with OSAS are obese and have many other symptoms, such as snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Many other sleep disorders- such as periodic limb movement during sleep, insomnia, sleep paralysis and sleep walking—may also be associated with morning headaches. Mostly, disrupted sleep due to these disorders is responsible for morning headaches.
Serious Medical Conditions Are Uncommon Causes
Brain tumors can also cause morning headaches, as lying down, even for a short duration can lead to pressure buildup within the skull. This high intracranial pressure can cause vomiting and nausea as well. In people with brain tumors, some neurologic symptoms such as seizures, numbness, or weakness are generally present by the time headache develops.
Low blood sugar levels can also cause morning headaches. This is more likely to occur in diabetics receive large amount of evening doses of insulin, and cannot take enough sugar to counterbalance insulin’s sugar-lowering effects. Other hypoglycemia symptoms include sweating and confusion.
All those who have severe lung disease, for example advanced chronic pulmonary disease (COPD), can also experience these morning headaches. This is mainly due to higher carbon dioxide levels in the body during sleep, which increases blood flow to the brain. Severe COPD may also cause disruption of sleep, contributing to morning headaches.
Sinus Infections and Bruxism Are Sometimes the Source
Sinus infections may also cause morning headaches, which are often worse when one is lying down. This can lead to severe morning headaches, although sinus headaches can even occur at other times of the day as well. Nasal discharge and congestion, as well as intense cough are other symptoms that suggest presence of sinus infection.
Bruxism (grinding of the teeth), during sleep can also cause morning headaches. Most of these headaches are located close to the temporomandibular joints which connects both the lower and upper jaws. These headaches are also associated with many other symptoms, such as excessive wearing down of the teeth or jaw locking.
What’s the Best Time to seek Medical Attention?
If you’re experiencing morning headaches on almost regular basis, don’t delay and immediately see your doctor to determine the exact cause. Don’t take excessive doses of pain medications, as this approach can make your morning headaches worse. If you feel sleepy when you experience morning headaches, see your doctor immediately as this may be the signal of another sleep disorder or OSAS. Similarly, prompt medical attention is necessary if you experience morning headaches with neurological symptoms, take insulin for diabetes or have severe lung disease. Seek prompt medical attention if you experience a sudden headache that is accompanied by new neurologic symptoms, such as numbness, weakness, deceased level of consciousness or confusion and is very severe.