Headache after taking a nap

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Written By Dr. Marcus Yu Bin Pai

MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

Waking up with a headache can signify several things, including dehydration, migraines, sleep apnea, or bruxism, which is when someone grinds or clenches their teeth during sleep. Many people with migraines experience headaches starting in the morning’s early hours.

However, if a person has never had a migraine, there may be another cause.

Discover some possible causes of morning headaches, how to manage them, and when to seek help.

What are the symptoms?

headache when waking up causes

These are well-known pain in the head area and even in the neck in some situations, which may be a “simple” headache or a migraine. Each person acquires different intensity, and certain cases must be treated urgently.

Why are there so many cases of morning headaches? Why are headaches worse when waking up in the morning for many?

The pain we experience in the morning is horrible, and we’ve already woken up in a bad mood. The problem is that, in some instances, the pain persists throughout the day and anyone in this situation ends up with no way out and desperate for medical help.

There is no exact answer or why these pains appear early, at a time when we should wake up relaxed. However, there are ways to avoid and seek improvement in your condition.

Is it possible to prevent it?

headache from a nap

Yes. We have evidence that leads to pain and some forms of prevention. The best thing to do when the occurrence gets out of control is to seek medical advice and certain medications recommended by him.

Let’s look at some problems present in us that this unrestrained pain can cause when we wake up and how we should proceed in the face of them:

  • Inflammation of the nasal passages: In these cases, it is necessary to treat the allergy or infection that causes sinus swelling to reduce symptoms.
  • Sleep apnea: Since the brain does not receive oxygen in these seconds when we wake up, the head hurts. The apnea signs are dull dark circles under the eyes and excessive tiredness.
  • Sleep disorders: Try to change habits and sleep as long as necessary (at least 8 “regular” hours). Stress, everyday worries, or anxiety can modify the quality of sleep. Many go to bed very late and get up too early, which impacts the quality of sleep.
  • Negative emotions and nightmares: Work on mental issues and avoid certain types of content that we consume from the media, which are not suitable for us.
  • Muscle tension: If we are in an incorrect posture and suffer from nightmares or insomnia, among others, the neck and shoulder muscles become tense, put pressure on the skull, and cause headaches. It is necessary to use a suitable pillow and mattress not only to rest better but also to fully support the spine and, especially, the cervical spine.
  • Excessive medication: Overuse of pain relievers causes the opposite effect. This means that the same drugs cause pain in the morning.
  • Dehydration: When we don’t drink enough water, the blood vessels located in the head contract to balance the levels of fluids that exist in the body. This makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the blood and causes a headache.
  • Excessive chewing force — try to chew more calmly and pleasantly.
  • Bruxism – the act of grinding your teeth while you sleep — seek treatment.

Other causes may include the following:


Headaches are a symptom of dehydration. If a person goes to sleep thirsty or hasn’t drunk enough the day before, they may become mildly dehydrated during the night. This can result in a morning headache upon waking up.

Other symptoms of dehydration include thirst, dry mouth or lips, dark yellow urine, and dizziness.

Dehydration can cause headaches through various mechanisms:

  1. Increased Fatigue and Reduced Alertness: Mild dehydration can lead to increased tiredness, reduced alertness and concentration, and impaired performance capacity, which can contribute to headaches (Maughan, 2003).
  2. Symptoms in Athletes: In young athletes, dehydration can cause symptoms like dry mouth, dizziness, cramps, and headaches, which are key signs of dehydration (Casa & Yeargin, 2005).
  3. Decreased Blood Supply to the Brain: Dehydration can lead to headaches due to reduced glucose supply to the brain and hypotension, which causes decreased blood flow to the brain (Daniel et al., 2021).
  4. Hypercalcemia: Severe dehydration can lead to hypercalcemia, which can exacerbate both dehydration and hypercalcemia, leading to symptoms like headache, nausea, dizziness, and profound weakness (Kc et al., 2022).
  5. Migraines and Tension-type Headache: Dehydration seems to be a significant nutritional factor precipitating migraine and tension-type headaches (Holzhammer & Wöber, 2006). Also, dehydration and sodium deficit may trigger migraines, as intravenous fluids with electrolytes are commonly used in emergency rooms for migraine treatment (Stanton, 2004).

Treatment options

Drinking enough throughout the day and night can prevent dehydration when you wake up. A person may try to:

  • Drink water during each meal
  • Bring a bottle of water to work
  • Keep fresh water next to the bed to drink during the night
  • Drink a full glass of water after waking up

A low-sugar electrolyte drink in the morning (such as coconut water, yogurt, and watermelon, for example) may also be helpful.

When to see a doctor

Morning headaches may go away with a few simple lifestyle changes, but if they don’t, the person should talk to a doctor. This is especially important if the person is over 50 years old, a child, or has a history of serious illnesses like cancer.

Seek immediate medical help if:

  • one has a severe headache with stiff neck, fever, nausea, or vomiting
  • a headache after a head injury, even if it doesn’t start immediately after it happened
  • a headache with confusion, weakness, double vision, or loss of consciousness
  • sudden changes in the pattern or severity of headaches
  • a headache with numbness, weakness, inability to lift arms, or facial sagging
  • a headache with seizures or shortness of breath

Anyone with frequent or severe morning headaches should consider talking to a doctor. Treating the underlying cause can help prevent headaches.


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MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

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