4 Reasons to Treat Your Nighttime Headaches

Don’t let nighttime head pain get in the way of a good night’s sleep.

Nighttime headaches can have terrible timing: After a busy day, “bam!”  a headache hits you, possibly disrupting your sleep and then making your morning miserable, too. And because lack of sleep is also a headache and migraine trigger for some, your nighttime headaches can turn into daytime ones. It can be a vicious cycle.

And it’s more common than you might think. A recent survey of WebMD users* found that about one out of every five people who suffer from severe headaches specifically get them at night.

Nighttime headaches can have various triggers, but as usual, stress is a major source. In fact, tension headaches, which account for 80 percent of all headaches, can strike in the late afternoon or evening and are commonly stress-related. While much more rare, a hypnic or “alarm clock” headache is one that only occurs at night and causes sufferers to wake with pain. 1

Nighttime headaches are certainly a pain, but don’t feel as though you should tough them out. Dr. Keri Peterson, an internist in New York City, shares reasons she tells her patients to treat their nighttime headaches — stat.

Treat So You Can Sleep
More than a third of adults don’t get enough sleep per night, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 Reasons for lack of sleep vary, but Dr. Peterson notes that head pain certainly doesn’t help. Dr. Peterson notes that migraines in particular can complicate sleeping, with pain and often nausea and vomiting.

Lack of Sleep Can Trigger More Pain
Missing out on quality shut-eye due to a nighttime headache can do more than make you tired the next day. According to Dr. Peterson, a lack of sleep can trigger more headaches, a fact supported by participants in a recent WebMD survey*, which found that 7 in 10 sufferers report headaches triggered by lack of sleep.

There’s a link between migraines and sleep, too: One study of more than 1,200 migraineurs found that people who routinely averaged six hours of sleep per night experienced significantly more frequent and more severe migraines than those who slept longer. 3 Dr. Peterson adds: “It can be a vicious cycle because sleep deprivation causes migraines.”

Nighttime Head Pain Can Affect Your Social Life
Although you might think of nighttime head pain as only affecting your sleep, don’t forget about your socializing time. Dr. Peterson notes that evening activities where you interact with others, like going out to dinner or spending time with your partner, can be challenging with a headache.

Headaches Are Treatable
Luckily, Dr. Peterson cites many possible treatments for nighttime headaches, like rubbing your head and scalp, applying hot or cold compresses to your head and neck, and taking headache medications like Excedrin.

What’s more, Dr. Peterson says healthy sleep habits can actually help prevent headaches. Learn more about healthy sleep habits and see tips to get more sleep.

*Disclosure: These survey findings were made possible by WebMD. Respondents of the survey were US residents 18 or older whom experienced a headache within the past 12 months, and medical professionals including US Personal Care Physicians, Pharmacists and Neurologists.

*Source: WebMD Professional and Consumer Headache Perceptions (2015); Professional N=802; Consumer N= 2557.

Show References

Hide References

1. Migraine Fact Sheet: Hypnic Headache, The Migraine Trust. Last accessed July 9, 2015.

2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Insufficient Sleep Is A Public Health Epidemic

3. Headache and sleep: examination of sleep patterns and complaints in a large sample of migraineurs. Headache. 2005 July-August;45(7):904-10.

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