Why Do I Wake Up With a Headache?

Waking up with a headache is undoubtedly the worst way to start the day. It could be caused by something minor such as not getting enough sleep or being dehydrated. Morning headaches can pop up for no good reason too, which can be a little shocking if you do not typically experience headaches. There are various types of headaches and knowing how to differentiate these can help you treat the underlying cause.  

Waking up after a nap with a headache could be a tension headache, caused by neck and jaw muscles being strained

Is Waking Up With a Headache Common? 

The Archives of Internal Medicine says one in thirteen people in the general population suffers morning headaches. Almost 19,000 people were surveyed and the results found that waking with a headache was mostly associated with sleep disorders. Chronic morning headaches could be an indicator of depression and anxiety.   

Different Types of Headaches

To pinpoint the underlying cause of your headaches, it may help to identify the type of headache you're experiencing. A few common types include: 

  • Migraine
  • Cluster headache
  • Hypnic headache
  • Tension headache
  • Paroxysmal hemicrania
  • Medication overuse headache

I Wake Up With a Headache After I Nap, But Not in the Mornings. What Does That Mean?

Waking up after a nap with a headache could be a tension headache, caused by neck and jaw muscles being strained. Repetitive strain injury could be another explanation or you slept in an odd position. If you experience an infrequent headache after napping, you may simply be dehydrated, have been grinding your teeth, have drunk a little too much caffeine, or your allergies are flaring up. If you experience chronic headaches, talk to your doctor as there could be an underlying health concern. 

Understanding the Connection Between Stress, Sleep, and Headaches

Migraine headaches are a common symptom of poor sleep quality. High stress is associated with a greater risk of experiencing headaches while the converse is true of low stress. Maintaining your stress levels can lower the risk of chronic headaches. Stress is a major symptom of sleep disorders because being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep all night keeps your mind racing and feeling fearful of not having energy the following day.      

A lack of sleep triggered by stress creates a potent situation to experience chronic headaches. Lying awake at night feeling stressed about not sleeping keeps you awake, your stress and sleep disorder feed each other, keeping you in a stressful and sleep deprived loop.

How to Sleep Better During Times of Stress 

  • Find the source of your stress, ask for help at work or home if you are feeling overwhelmed
  • Be kind to yourself, you are just one person and can only do so much, take a break if you need it
  • Eat healthy food, get fresh air, and drink water every day- nourishing your body and mind will lessen stress
  • Walking in fresh air or exercising at the gym (or home) are great stress-busting activities 
  • Ensure you sleep in a dark, quiet room, no electronics in the bedroom
  • Upgrade to a more comfortable, pressure-relieving mattress if it is time, your sleep space is your sanctuary, make it comfortable, cozy, and a place of respite   

Why Do I Wake Up With a Headache?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Morning headaches are one of the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes you to stop breathing for a few seconds intermittently during sleep. The uvula (soft palate tissue), tonsils, and tongue can block the airways, blood oxygen levels plummet and you may gasp for air as you sleep. You may not fully wake up during these episodes but they disturb your quality of sleep enough to cause exhaustion and headaches the following day. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious medical condition but can be treated, talk to your doctor if you think you have OSA to design an appropriate treatment plan.   


If you are unable to fall asleep within a reasonable timeframe or wake up many times during the night, you may be experiencing insomnia. While some bouts of insomnia pop up due to a sudden stressful event, spicy meal causing heartburn, or excitement for an upcoming celebration. In these instances, a night or two of bad sleep will sort itself out without the need for treatment. The odd night of poor sleep may not do you any long-term harm. 

If you are suffering chronic insomnia and daytime headaches, an underlying medical condition could be responsible. Talk to your doctor as soon as you can, some diagnostic tests may be in order. In many cases, stress is the leading cause of insomnia. Learn to de-stress with meditation, exercise, walking in the fresh air, or listening to calming music.    

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a crawling sensation in the legs that is primarily felt when trying to sleep at night. In some instances, a lack of vitamin D, iron, or other vitamin deficiency could be the cause. Studies show a correlation between RLS and migraines


Bruxism is otherwise known as grinding your teeth at night. Forcefully clenching your jaw during sleep puts enormous strain on your jaw muscles that could create a tension headache upon waking. Apart from a nasty headache, you could be damaging your teeth by wearing them down from grinding. Sometimes an overabundance of sugar in the diet can be the cause. In other instances, stress can be the trigger. If you are experiencing chronic headaches upon waking with a sensitive jaw, check with your dentist for signs of grinding your teeth at night.        

Exploding Head Syndrome  

Exploding head syndrome sounds awful and a sudden occurrence can make some people fearful of having a brain tumor. But, that sudden loud bang you hear between your ears is generally nothing to be concerned about. Some people equate the sound to the crack of a whip, or a gunshot in their head. It typically occurs when drifting off to sleep as you transition from wakefulness to sleep. It is similar to a sudden jerk of one of your extremities when falling asleep. If you experience exploding head syndrome that is accompanied by cluster headaches, hypnic headaches, chronic headaches, or severe migraine headaches, talk to your doctor to establish the underlying cause.  

Can You Get a Headache From Sleeping too Much?

Sleeping more than 9 hours per day could be a sign of depression. A healthy adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleeping more than 9 hours per day can make you feel groggy, irritable, and leave you with a slight headache due to hunger or thrust upon waking. Oversleeping is beneficial when healing from surgery or illness recovery.   

Common Remedies to Headaches After Waking up 

Waking up with a headache could be down to many reasons, a lack of sleep from obstructive sleep apnea, sleep disorders, illness, or stress. Usually, a headache upon waking can be relieved by eating a nutritious breakfast and drinking water. Hunger and thirst are major triggers of early in the morning headaches.   

When to Seek Professional Guidance for Headaches After Waking up

  • Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing chronic headaches 
  • If your headache is accompanied by numbness in the extremities or a bout of chronic insomnia 
  • If chronic headaches are hereditary 
  • If you feel off, always trust your instincts when it comes to your health, if you are having bad migraines and you feel like something is not right, have it looked at immediately, too often people wait for the issue to resolve on its own and only seek help when it is too late, seek help immediately if you feel something is wrong    


The American Migraine Foundation has a wealth of resources to help you establish the cause of your headaches and gain relief. They can also help you find a doctor in your area. Headaches after sleeping is an unpleasant way to live, it deprives you of living life to the fullest and steals precious restorative sleep from your night. Poor sleep leads to a host of negative health and emotional issues. A good night’s sleep and a headache-free day can be achieved by talking to your doctor, eating well, and managing stress.   

Why Do I Wake Up From a Nap Feeling Sick? 

Sleep inertia is the feeling of grogginess upon waking. It happens when you wake up suddenly from a nap where you were sleeping quite deeply. It typically occurs if you nap for more than one hour. For optimal nap time aim to nap for 20-30 minutes. This is an ideal amount of nap time to boost energy, creativity, and learning.    

Why Do I Wake up With a Headache?

Waking up with a headache is unpleasant but can be easily explained by waking up hungry or thirsty. Early in the morning, your pain threshold is not at its highest upon waking so may exacerbate the pain of a headache. Sleep disorders could also be a culprit as lack of restorative sleep disturbs your body’s abilities to replenish energy.   

Why Do I Take a Nap and Wake Up With a Headache? 

A headache after a nap could be down to the position you slept in or how your head was resting on the pillow, causing a tension headache. Do some light stretching to ease your muscles. You may be experiencing a headache after a nap from hunger or thirst so be sure to eat some nutritious food and hydrate. 

Why Do I Feel Nauseous After Sleeping? 

Waking up with nausea could be the result of too much stomach acid. If you eat a large meal before bed or spicy food, you could wake up with acid reflux. If you are waking up with chronic nausea every day talk to your doctor to rule out the underlying cause. Take an antacid for instant relief.   

Can Stress and Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches?

People with sleep disorders can suffer from headaches due to a chronic lack of sleep. Being in a constant state of stress and dis-ease is not the ideal condition for experiencing restorative sleep. Find ways to destress with meditation, exercise, keeping hydrated, and eating well. Nourishing your body and mind are vital components of a healthy night’s sleep.