Headaches are pretty awful at any time, but getting one in the A.M. is a sure-fire way to get your day off to a crappy start. Unfortunately, you aren’t the only person who struggles with these. Morning headaches are very common and they can happen for a variety of different reasons.
Sometimes headaches just happen and you don’t experience them again, but if you’re regularly getting morning head pain, there might be a specific cause—which also means there might be a way to prevent them. Here are a few potential causes:
1. You might actually suffer from migraines.
The most common time of day for migraines to surface is between 4 and 9 a.m. as per research. During that time, your body tends to produce fewer endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural painkillers, than at any other time of day, according to the National Headache Foundation. Adrenaline is also released in higher amounts during the early morning hours, the organization says, and since adrenalin impacts blood pressure and the regulation of dilation or contraction of the blood vessels, it could prompt a migraine.
Migraines are often genetic, meaning there’s not much you can do to control whether or not you get them, but you can manage them. The key is to identify your triggers—stress, poor sleep, and diet and avoid them as much as you can. If you do develop a migraine, resting, using ice, relaxing, and meditating can help. If you have really bad migraines, your doctor may also be able to prescribe medication that can help.
2. Or you might have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition that causes people to repeatedly stop breathing during their sleep, can cause you to wake up with a headache. A headache is due to lack of oxygen and increased the pressure that can develop in your head due to the condition.
Unfortunately, it can be tough to know if you have sleep apnea on your own, but if your partner complains that you snore a lot, you often feel tired even though you got enough sleep, and you’re having morning headaches, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
3. Maybe you’re going through caffeine withdrawal.
This normally happens in people who have multiple cups of coffee throughout the day. Caffeine may impact blood flow to the brain and if you don’t have as much as usual it can cause neurological side effects that are similar to withdrawal from other drugs like alcohol. A big part of that: A raging headache. And, since many people drink coffee in the morning, it can come on first thing.
To compact caffeine withdrawal headaches, we should try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon. If you’re trying to go caffeine-free but could do without the headache, wean yourself off slowly. I suggests having ¼ cup decaf with the rest regular, and gradually decreasing how much caffeine you have over time.
4. You could be grinding your teeth at night.
Grinding your teeth can cause tension in your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), which connects your lower jaw to your skull in front of your ear, and it can also cause changes in the positioning of your jaw. All this leads to tension, which can spark a headache.
If you suspect that your morning headaches are due to teeth grinding (or your dentist has flagged you as a teeth grinder), talk to your doctor about next steps.
5. You had an alcoholic beverage (or several) before bed.
While you’re more likely to have a headache the morning after a rager vs. a glass of wine with dinner, it’s possible to get an A.M. headache either way. There are compounds in alcohol that can interact negatively with neurotransmitters in your brain, causing headaches. Alcohol is also a diuretic (meaning, it causes you to pee) and many people wake up dehydrated after drinking, which can exacerbate a hangover headache.
The solution is pretty simple: Avoid drinking too much. And, if you notice that certain types of booze give you a headache more than others, even when you just have a glass, it’s probably best to take a pass on those in the future.
If you occasionally wake up to a headache, it’s probably no big deal. But if it happens regularly, talk to your doctor so you can find out what’s causing them—and fix it.