Headache Due to Lack of Sleep

Headache Due to Lack of Sleep

Do you often wake up with a headache even if you have slept for enough hours? Do you get a headache in the evening that is only resolved if you go to sleep? Or do you wake up in the middle of the night with a headache?

Sleep and headaches are intricately linked with each other. A good night’s sleep is essential for healthy living. During sleep, the body repairs itself so that it can function optimally. Disturbances in the regular sleep patterns can cause inattentiveness during the day and increase incessant headaches. It has been reported that 16 to 20 % of the Indian population has experienced a migraine headache.

Getting enough sleep is an important part of staying healthy. As you sleep, your body repairs itself so that your brain and body can function optimally when you’re awake.

Link between sleep and headaches

Multiple studies have linked the lack of sleep with headaches. A study published in 2011, in The Journal of Pain suggested that the disruption in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep caused excruciatingly painful headaches that did not resolve easily and lasted for a while. REM sleep is essential for regulating mood and memory consolidation. The researchers found that not getting enough sleep causes the body to produce a protein that reduces the body’s threshold of perceiving pain and hence caused the painful headaches.

The Hypothalamus controls sleep also plays an important role in the mechanism of headaches. A study published in 2017 in Therapeutic advances in Neurological Disorders also linked the lack of sleep with tension headaches.

Moreover, the intricate link between headaches and sleep is further emphasised by the fact that the medication often prescribed for headaches regulates serotonin levels that are a chemical messenger that deals with the pain and control pathways and mood regulation.

How much should you sleep?

Insomnia can make it difficult to fall asleep or can cause you to wake up early and not be able to fall back asleep. Anything less than seven hours of sleep is considered short for most healthy adults, who need seven to nine hours of sleep each night for good health.

Here’s how much sleep a person needs at each age:

  • newborn to 3 months: 14 to 17 Hours of sleep needed
  • 4 to 11 months:12 to 15 Hours of sleep needed
  • 1 to 2 years:11 to 14Hours of sleep needed
  • 3 to 5 years:10 to 13Hours of sleep needed
  • 6 to 13 years:9 to 11 Hours of sleep needed
  • 14 to 17 years:8 to 10 Hours of sleep needed
  • 18 to 64 years:7 to 9 Hours of sleep needed
  • 65 or more years:7 to 8 Hours of sleep needed

Other conditions that may cause lack of sleep include:

  • snoring
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sleep apnea
  • tooth grinding
  • jet lag
  • using the wrong pillow

Just as there is evidence that a lack of sleep can contribute to headaches, too much sleep can also cause headaches.

Migraine vs. tension

Migraine headaches can cause significant and sometimes disabling headache pain. Symptoms include:

  • pain usually on just one side of the head
  • pain that lasts hours to days
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Tension headaches tend to cause mild to moderate pain across the top, sides, and back of the head, and aren’t usually worsened by light or sound.

Research suggests that other types of headaches, such as cluster, hemicrania continua, and hypnic headaches, can occur during sleep. But future studies are needed to understand if they are linked to a lack of sleep like migraine and tension headaches.

Types of headaches:

There are different kinds of headaches that are linked with a lack of or disturbance in sleep.

  • Tension headache and Migraine headache are often tiggered due to a lack of sleep.
  • Wake up headache is experienced when you don’t get enough sleep and wake up experiencing a dull ache in the temple region of the forehead.
  • Hypnic headaches that account for 0.07 to 0.35% of types of headaches and cluster headaches are other types of headaches that one can experience during sleep. However, more evidence is required to directly link it to the lack of sleep.

How can you know if your headache is sleep related?

Not all headaches are caused due to disturbance or lack of sleep, and hence all headaches cannot be treated in the same manner. To know whether your headaches have been caused due a sleep issue, your sleep specialist would suggest you to keep a sleep and headache diary, where you record the onset of headache and number of hours of sleep to allow them to diagnose your condition.

Good sleep hygiene

One of the easiest ways to prevent headaches is to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. Here are 10 tips to maintain good sleep hygiene:

  1. Regular exercise can help you get a good night’s sleep. But exercising too close to bedtime can keep you up at night. Try to exercise at least three hours before bed.
  2. Eat lightly at night. This can help you avoid indigestion or an unexpected energy rush that will keep you up.
  3. Sleep on a schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day can help your body get enough sleep and wake up feeling more rested.
  4. Make sure you get enough light during the day. A lack of light can make you feel more tired and can interrupt your wake-sleep cycle.
  5. Avoid stimulating substances like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. These can keep you awake at night and ruin your sleep.
  6. Make your bedroom optimal for sleeping by keeping it dark, cool (but not cold), quiet, and comfortable.
  7. Remove anything from your bedroom that might interrupt your sleep or make you stressed before bed. This includes electronics like TVs, work materials, and computers. Keep your bedroom activities limited to sleep and sex.
  8. Create a bedtime routine. Getting into a good pre-sleep routine can help relax you for a good night’s sleep. Avoid any electronic screens a few hours before bed. Instead, read a book, meditate, or take a bath.
  9. Go to sleep when you’re tired instead of forcing yourself to sleep. It’s worth waiting an extra 30 minutes or an hour to hit the bed if you’re not yet tired at your usual bedtime. Going to bed and not falling asleep can lead to stress and frustration.

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Do’s and Don’ts for healthy sleep to prevent headaches.

If you suffer from sleep related headaches, undergoing some simple behavioural changes in your sleep pattern will help you attain restful sleep and consequently reduce headaches. These changes include:

  • Establishing a sleep wake routine
  • Getting between 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other substances that impair sleep
  • Reducing screen time close to bed time

Bottom Line

Enough evidence indicated that sleep and headaches are linked to each other, and hence one must take utmost effort to achieve good quality, restful and enough sleep, in order to avoid sleep related headaches.

Scientists have found a clear link between a lack of sleep and migraine and tension headaches. It appears that a lack of sleep reduces the body’s pain threshold, making it more prone to headaches.

However, different medications, home treatments, and good sleep hygiene can help prevent and treat these headaches. Talk to your doctor to see which treatments might be most effective for you.

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