If you find yourself frequently waking up with headaches in the morning, you are not alone. 1 in 13 adult South Africans regularly suffers from morning headaches.

Morning headaches can occur for a variety of reasons. You may experience one once in a while after a poor night’s sleep or during periods of extreme stress, or maybe you get them regularly.

10 causes of morning headaches

Why do you wake up with a headache? 

Early morning headaches may be the result of a change in your body’s physiology. In the early morning hours, your body’s ability to reduce pain may be lowered. Also, your body may release more adrenaline during this time, leading to migraine attacks. The cause of these headaches may be unconscious activities you perform while sleeping, or an underlying medical condition or something you ingested before going to bed.

10 possible causes of morning headaches 

  1. Insomnia or sleep loss 

Insomnia can affect your sleep patterns and lead to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep is a common cause of morning headaches and can trigger migraines. 

  1. Grinding your teeth 

Sleep bruxism, or teeth grinding/clenching during sleep, can cause you to wake up with a headache. Causes of bruxism during sleep include an irregularly shaped jaw, stress and anxiety, sleep disorders, alcohol consumption and coffee. 

  1. Tension 

Early morning headaches may be the result of strained muscles in your neck. Pillows are supposed to help you maintain a sleeping position that properly supports your neck and spine. 

  1. Circadian Rhythm Disorder 

Circadian rhythms are biological cycles of approximately 24 hours. This disorder develops when your body is misaligned with the standard sleep-wake rhythms in a 24-hour cycle. Because of this mismatch, you may get insufficient sleep, which can trigger a headache when you wake up. 

  1. Over sleeping 

Too much sleep, especially on a regular basis, is thought to cause a disruption of the natural circadian rhythm and neural pathways in the brain. Avoid this by regulating the time you go to sleep and wake up. 

  1. Alcohol and hangovers 

Drinking heavily can result in restless sleep, dehydration and other toxic effects on the body. These and other symptoms are referred to as hangovers. 

  1. Sleep disorders (Sleep apnea or snoring) 

With sleep apnea, you occasionally stop breathing during the night, causing your brain to not receive enough oxygen and the increased carbon monoxide concentration causes the blood vessels in your head to dilate. Snoring can be a separate sleep disorder or a symptom of sleep apnea, but both cause interrupted sleep that can trigger headaches. 

  1. Depression or anxiety 

Mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, and migraine episodes frequently occur together, and having one indicates a higher risk for having the other. There are strong links between tension headaches and mental health disorders. 

  1. Medication 

Some medications can disrupt sleep patterns, such as beta-blockers which are known to cause vivid dreams and sometimes even nightmares. Also, some medications, such as benzodiazepines, used to treat sleep disorders can trigger or worsen headaches. Medication overuse headaches (MOH) such as taking pain medications too often to relieve your headaches, can actually make your headaches worse. This can happen with both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pain relievers. 

  1. Other health conditions 

You may experience early morning headaches because of another health condition. Headaches can be a symptom of a variety of conditions and may not be caused by your sleep patterns at all. Conditions that cause chronic morning headaches include hypertension and musculoskeletal diseases (conditions that can affect your muscles, bones, and joints) such as tendinitis and fibromyalgia.

Treatment for morning headaches 

  • Sleep well – maintain a healthy sleep schedule and sleep environment
  • Exercise – regular exercise can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks
  • Eat well – maintain a healthy diet and adequate hydration
  • Keep a diary – keep a headache diary of date, severity, and probable causes of your headaches. This will help your doctor diagnose the cause of your headaches
  • Stress management – practice meditation, yoga, journaling, or whatever practice helps calm you and lower stress levels in your life
  • Get help – once you know what the cause of your headaches is, whether it be a mental health disorder, muscle tension, medications or an underlying health condition, you can get advice and assistance from medical health professions


Morning headaches can interfere with your daily activities and quality of life. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and treat these headaches, especially if you have an underlying condition that can be managed. The Back Clinic specialises in identifying the root cause of the pain and a team of therapists customize a treatment plan for each patient. Contact them on 0630975603 or at info@thebackclinic.co.za

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