Waking up with a headache can be a sign of various things, including dehydration, migraine, sleep apnea, or bruxism, which is when someone grinds or clenches their teeth during sleep.

Many people with migraine experience headaches that begin in the early hours of the morning. However, if a person has never had migraine headaches before, there may be another cause.

In this article, learn some causes of early morning headaches, how to manage them, and when to seek help.

A man waking up with a headache. He is sat in bed and clutching his face due to the pain.Share on Pinterest
PeopleImages/Getty Images

Sleep apnea is when breathing temporarily stops for short periods during sleep. People with sleep apnea often experience morning headaches.

They may also:

  • snore loudly
  • make snorting or gasping sounds while sleeping
  • wake frequently
  • feel sleepy in the daytime
  • experience mood changes

Treatment

Mild sleep apnea may not require treatment, but if a person keeps having headaches that could be related to this condition, they may want to try the following:

  • sleeping on their side, instead of on their back
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • stopping smoking
  • avoiding alcohol, especially before bed
  • avoiding sleeping pills, unless a doctor recommends them

If the person’s sleep apnea symptoms are severe, a doctor may recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This involves wearing a mask that is attached to an air pumping device during sleep. The machine pumps air into the mask, and this helps keep the person’s airways open.

Sleep apnea can sometimes be a symptom of another condition, such as heart disease or high blood pressure. If an individual consults with a doctor about sleep apnea, the doctor may also test for these and other conditions.

Headaches are a symptom of dehydration. If a person goes to sleep thirsty or has not had enough to drink the day before, they may become mildly dehydrated overnight. This could result in a morning headache when they wake up.

Other symptoms of dehydration include:

  • thirst
  • a dry mouth or lips
  • dark yellow urine
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded

Treatment

Having enough to drink throughout the day and evening may prevent dehydration upon waking up. A person can try:

  • having drinks with each meal
  • taking a bottle of water to work
  • keeping fresh water next to their bed to drink during the night
  • drinking a full glass of water after waking up

People may also want to try a low-sugar electrolyte drink when they wake up.

Headache disorders are a group of conditions that include migraine and cluster headaches. According to the American Migraine Foundation, early morning is the most common time for migraine episodes to occur.

If a person occasionally wakes up with moderate-to-severe head pain, as well as nausea or sensitivity to light, they may be experiencing a migraine episode.

Treatment

There is no cure for migraine, but doctors can prescribe medications, such as triptans, that stop the progression of the attack. Taking the medication as soon as a person wakes up with a headache can reduce the symptoms.

Sleeping too much or too little is a common migraine trigger. Individuals can try to adopt healthy sleep habits, such as:

  • going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends
  • avoiding using screens in the hours before bed
  • creating a relaxing bedtime routine
  • reserving the bedroom for sleep and sex

There are many other potential migraine triggers, too, including dehydration. Identifying migraine triggers may help some people reduce the episodes.

Many individuals with migraine also have insomnia, which may require additional support.

Learn more about waking up with migraine headaches.

Bruxism is a tension-related disorder that can cause a person to grind or clench their teeth, either in their sleep or while awake. They may not realize that they are doing it.

Sleep bruxism is a specific type of sleep-related movement disorder, where a person grinds or clenches their teeth during the night. Early morning headaches are a potential symptom.

Alongside a dull headache, a person with bruxism may have:

  • unexplained flattened, chipped, or fractured teeth
  • tenderness or pain in their jaw or face
  • fatigued jaw muscles
  • difficulty opening and closing their jaw completely
  • unexplained ear pain
  • tooth sensitivity and pain
  • unexplained damage to the inside of their cheek
  • sleep pattern disruption

Treatment

Treatment options for bruxism include:

  • using a mouthguard at night
  • seeking treatment for anxiety and stress
  • establishing good sleeping habits
  • limiting or avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs

Some researchers have looked at drug treatments and Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections for bruxism, but there is not enough evidence to prove these work.

If bruxism stems from a neurological condition, a doctor may offer bruxism treatment that is specific to the person’s condition.

Alcohol consumption may result in a hangover, which can include a headache the next day. A person with a hangover may feel nauseous, thirsty, and tired. They may also experience an upset stomach, sweating, irritability, or sensitivity to light.

Certain medications may also result in morning headaches. For example, if an individual overuses over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as ibuprofen, they may experience a medication overuse headache.

Treatment

If morning headaches could be related to alcohol use, people can take OTC pain medications, such as acetaminophen. It also helps individuals to stay hydrated and rest until the effects wear off.

While there are many claims about hangover cures online, none are proven to work. The only sure way to stop hangovers is to reduce alcohol consumption.

If this is difficult, a person may want to consider seeking support. A doctor can refer someone to services that specialize in this area.

For headaches that may be related to a medication, it is vital for individuals to speak with a doctor about whether this symptom could be a side effect. They may be able to suggest alternatives or suggest dose changes.

Both depression and anxiety can cause a person to experience physical symptoms, including headaches. They can also cause sleep disturbances, which may make headaches more likely in the morning.

In addition to headaches, depression may cause:

  • persistent feelings of emptiness, numbness, or sadness
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • wanting to eat more or less than usual
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • low sex drive
  • slow speech or movements

Anxiety can cause:

  • frequently feeling alert or “on edge”
  • frequent worrying
  • racing thoughts
  • restlessness
  • muscle tension
  • fast pulse or breathing
  • sweating

Treatment

The treatment for depression or anxiety typically involves talk therapy. People may also want to try medications, such as antidepressants, as well as coping strategies, such as relaxation techniques.

However, it is worth noting that antidepressants can cause side effects, including insomnia, headaches, and worsened anxiety. These side effects often wear off in a few weeks, but they can sometimes continue.

Learn more about the links between anxiety and sleep here.

Other health conditions may exert pressure on pain-sensitive nerve endings around a person’s head, resulting in a secondary headache. Conditions that can trigger secondary headaches include:

Learn about the early symptoms of a brain tumor here.

Morning headaches may go away with some simple lifestyle changes, but if they do not, it is best for the person to speak with a doctor. This is especially important if they are over 50, are a child, or have a history of serious conditions, such as cancer.

Seek immediate medical help if any of the following occur:

  • a severe headache with neck stiffness, fever, nausea, or vomiting
  • a headache after a head injury, even if it does not begin immediately after the injury
  • a headache with confusion, weakness, double vision, or loss of consciousness
  • sudden changes in pattern or severity of headaches
  • a headache with numbness, weakness, inability to raise the arms, or facial drooping
  • a headache with seizures or shortness of breath

There are several different types of headaches. Learn more about them here.

Waking up with a headache can be a sign of many common conditions. People may be able to reduce the impact of these conditions by making changes themselves. For example, they may find that relaxation techniques reduce teeth grinding or anxiety.

In other cases, home remedies may not be enough. For example, a person with bruxism will need a mouthguard to protect their teeth and jaw joint from damage.

Anyone who experiences frequent or severe morning headaches should consider speaking to a doctor. Treating the underlying cause may help prevent the headaches.