Can lack of sleep cause headaches?

Sarah Hyland

Studying Health Sciences, Writer & Product Trainer

19 May 2022

Can lack of sleep cause headaches?

It's estimated that up to 50% of headaches are caused by lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep. A morning headache when you wake can be a result of snoring, dehydration and oversleeping. Lack of sleep also intensifies the pain sensation of headaches, with sleep improvement shown to decrease the intensity and frequency of headaches.

How lack of sleep can cause headaches?

So, let's take a look at the role lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep plays in causing headaches or making them worse:
According to the Migraine Trust, 43 million working or school days are lost a year in the UK because of headaches.(1) Many of these people may be getting less than six hours of sleep a night - it's estimated that between one-third and one-half of headaches are caused by chronic (long-term) sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality.(2)
I mention vicious circles a lot in my articles, and this is because often a situation is not simply cause and effect. Otherwise, this article would say only, 'A lack of sleep causes headaches – get more sleep!' Things can be more complicated, but rest assured there may still be easy solutions.

Lack of sleep and a snoring headache

It's a terrible irony that people are often woken from sleep by a banger of a morning headache. Snoring can play a role here, according to a Swedish study, particularly if the snoring is loud and heavy.(3) If snoring is really bad it may disturb breathing and change the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide that you take in and exhale. Snorers tend to be sleepier, with poorer concentration, than non-snorers when both are sleep-deprived.(4) This would indicate that their sleep quality is poorer and partly explain their headaches. Here are some useful tips to help with snoring.

The most common type of headache is a tension headache. Besides lack of sleep, the other most common factors that cause headaches are stress, weather changes, and hormonal changes such as periods, pregnancy and menopause.

Lack of sleep and a dehydration headache

Sometimes sleep disturbance is caused by bladder complaints such as cystitis, BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia) or a weak bladder. The temptation is to drink less water so that you don't have to get up so much in the middle of the night to pee; however, dehydration is a very common cause of headaches. Is it worth avoiding that glass of water before bed? Then sleeping badly before waking with a dry mouth and sore head? Try drinking lots of water during the day (so that your body is plump and juicy) well before you go to bed. Avoid bladder irritants such as alcohol and coffee in the evening.

An oversleeping headache?

Sometimes headaches are associated with oversleeping, but this can be because sleep quality is poor rather than because it was for too long.(5) I would suspect that dehydration may play a role in this scenario too. Sometimes low mood or depression can play a role in headaches that seem to be caused by oversleeping.

Lack of sleep intensifies the pain of a headache

Parts of the brain that are affected by sleep deprivation are also responsible for pain perception.(6) Therefore, lack of sleep has the potential to make us feel more pain and discomfort whether a headache or back pain.

The cure - Sleep can relieve a headache.

A good night's sleep has been clinically shown to decrease the intensity and frequency of headaches.(7) Therefore, even if your sleep problem has existed for a long time, and you have tried lots of things to improve matters, it is still worth the effort - keep trying. Breaking any viscious circle in just one place can be enough to disrupt its effect. A small new habit such as a walk first thing in the morning, no coffee after noon, or no alcohol for a week could have a really positive impact.

How to fix the lack of sleep that causes headaches

  • Try keeping a note of when you have a headache and how long your sleep is and whether it was a good and restful night. Note any other signs and symptoms that may be preventing good sleep or aggravating headaches, such as alcohol or caffeine use.
  • Enjoy going to bed on time. If you are aiming for eight hours of sleep a night, go to bed an hour earlier to allow for a relaxing lead-in time to sleep. Give yourself a bit of me-time that isn't locking up, brushing teeth or putting dogs out.
  • Spend more time in daylight - outside (not through a window). Real light from the sun, especially first thing in the morning, is an important circadian (body clock) rhythm regulator that can help signal the body to stay awake during the day and sleep at night.
  • Try a herbal sleep remedy such as Dormeasan Sleep if you are having trouble getting to sleep or find you wake in the night.
  • If your thoughts are racing or you are getting flashes of emotional negativity that seem to run on a loop, a flower remedy such as Night Essence may help.
  • Try our 6 day personalised sleep program here for more tips and advice on getting a restful night's sleep.
  • Check out more A.Vogel blogs if you would like some information and easy tips that may help reduce anxiety that is keeping you aware.

 Another headache conundrum is that many headaches are MOHs (medication-overuse headaches) because taking too much, or the wrong medicine, actually makes headaches more frequent! It's always a good idea to mention frequent headaches to your doctor, who may be able to offersome suggestions and sensible advice on medication.

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Herbal sleep remedy containing organically grown valerian root and hops. Fresh herb tincture.
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Did you know?

The wrong sleep position can not only negatively impact the quality of your sleep, it can also have an impact your posture, your joints, your digestion and even your face by making wrinkles worse!

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