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Headache From Lack Of Sleep? | Why + How To Treat It

Your migraine may be a headache from lack of sleep. Understand why and know the steps to guarantee a good night’s sleep.

RELATED: 9 Tips To Maintain High Energy Levels On A Busy Workday

In this article:

  1. Can Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches?
  2. The Connection Between Lack of REM Sleep and Pain
  3. What’s the Best Treatment for Headache from Lack of Sleep?

Headache from Lack of Sleep: Your Guide to Understanding and Treating It

Can Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches?

It’s possible to develop a headache from lack of sleep, especially chronic migraine and tension headaches.

Chronic migraine sufferers can have moderate to severe pain that can last for hours or even days. Other symptoms are nausea and vomiting.

Migraine headache is distinct from other types of headaches because it tends to affect only one side of the head. Also, sounds and lights can worsen the pain.

Tension headaches are also common. Symptoms such as throbbing pain can impact different sides of the head, including the top and the back.

What’s the link between them and sleep, however? The answers are REM sleep and a lower pain threshold.

The Connection Between Lack of REM Sleep and Pain

One of the possible reasons for headaches from lack of sleep is REM or rapid eye movement.

REM is a sleep phase characterized by the fast movement of the eyes and other changes in the body. During this period, your heartbeat and breathing are faster.

You are also likely to be dreaming, and these dreams can be vivid or detailed. REM usually occurs within 90 minutes of falling asleep.

Its duration can also increase as you move along the different stages of sleep. REM sleep isn’t just about dreaming, though.

While the body is less aware of outside stimuli, the brain is active. It is a time where the brain purges anything that shouldn’t belong there.

At the same time, it enhances your learning and memory. It also helps in regulating mood, and this is important since it’s the one that links to different types of pain, such as headache from lack of sleep.

REM sleep helps produce two feel-good chemicals or neurotransmitters called serotonin and dopamine.

Serotonin contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being, while dopamine reduces your body’s perception of pain. Serotonin, in particular, is responsible for the narrowing of the blood vessels as well.

When a person is sleep-deprived, the levels of these neurotransmitters change. So do the width of the blood vessels, and this can contribute to a migraine attack.

That’s not all. Missouri State University researchers revealed that sleep deprivation compels the body to produce certain proteins that stimulate or sustain chronic pain.

All these show why migraine sufferers can end up waking up with a headache or a migraine attack. They are prone to headaches from lack of sleep as their pain threshold drops.

What’s the Best Treatment for Headache from Lack of Sleep?

The ill-effects of a sleep-deprivation headache are serious. They can affect your mood, performance, focus, and energy.

A migraine with aura can be dangerous as well. When this occurs, you may start seeing “visions,” which are disturbances like halos or flashes of light.

It can be a sign that blood flow to the brain is weak. This may result in the death of the organ’s cells.

Usually, when you’re susceptible to a headache due to lack of sleep, you pop a pill. Some pain medicines, though, can do more harm than good.

They may lead to long-term side effects. You may feel better, but they may affect your level of energy causing you to still wake up without having a restful sleep.

To improve your good night’s sleep, consider exploring other therapies and tips like the following:

1. Exclude Other Conditions

Headaches from lack of sleep can be one of the signs and symptoms of an underlying condition. These can include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Stress
  • Sleep apnea (a sleeping disorder where a person experiences pauses and stops when breathing)
  • Caffeine withdrawal

Consistent mornings of headaches may require a more thorough examination such as a CT scan. It’s possible there’s a tumor growing and pressing on the nerves of the brain.

What is a CT scan? Also known as a computed tomography scan, it is an imaging tool that produces cross-sectional pictures of the targeted object or organ.

Excessive sleepiness and a headache after a nap may be indications of other disorders affecting the thyroid. They may also be signs and symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

As soon as you can address these diseases or conditions, you may also reduce headaches from lack of sleep.

2. Avoid Food Trigger for Migraines

Some types of food and activities can trigger migraines or make symptoms such as nausea worse. People with migraines should avoid:

  • Caffeine from sodas, teas, coffees, and energy drinks
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), additives, and preservatives
  • Chocolates
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Alcohol
  • Aged cheese
  • Cured meats and smoked fish

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3. Know Your Circadian Rhythm and Maintain a Proper Sleep Schedule

Circadian rhythm refers to your internal body clock. It tells you when you should be awake and sleep.

It may be a simple concept, but the impact on health is enormous. This system regulates your metabolism, hormone production, energy, and even the ability to deal with stress.

Your circadian rhythm is dependent on its perception of light. That’s why during daytime, your energy levels peak and taper or decline as nighttime approaches.

To help maintain your body clock, it’s best to avoid having irregular sleep patterns with these tips:

  • Know the ideal duration of your sleep. Adults usually need between seven and nine hours of sleep.
  • Plan your sleep when traveling as jet lag can also cause headaches from lack of sleep.
  • Improve bedroom conditions and make sure they’re conducive to sleep. For example, the room temperature should be enough not to wake you in the middle of the night sweating.
  • Block out lights from mobile devices and windows. Do the same with noise.
  • Relax for at least 30 minutes to an hour before you sleep.

4. Reduce Your Stress

You are more likely to feel pain when your stress levels are high. While stress may not directly cause tension or migraine headaches, you can minimize the symptoms with stress management.

Here are some techniques to try:

  • Exercise (don’t exercise when you’re about to fall asleep to avoid overstimulating the brain and the body)
  • Stress meditation and yoga
  • Relaxation music
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (especially when stress is due to mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression)
  • Bath
  • Massage and acupuncture
  • Cold or hot compress

You can also customize your stress management plan with the support of teams like LIV Health.

It’s normal for people to experience a headache after waking up but not when it becomes chronic. Worse, these headaches from lack of sleep contribute to migraines.

Fortunately, you can follow steps to avoid developing these headaches or to help reduce their symptoms. These can range from pain medicines to effective sleep habits and avoidance of migraine triggers.

How do you avoid poor sleep or prevent headache from lack of sleep? Share your tips in the comments section below.

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