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headache from lack of sleep

Can Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches?

The link between headaches and sleep.

A good night’s sleep keeps us healthy and happy, and for headache sufferers, it’s particularly important. Irregular sleep patterns may trigger headaches in some and changes in sleep patterns may trigger migraines in some.

The link between headaches and sleep has been known for decades, but what isn’t clear is whether headaches cause disrupted sleep or whether headaches are a result of irregular sleep patterns.1 (It’s a classic chicken-or-egg situation). Generally, a lack of sleep is known to trigger headaches and migraines in some people.2 In a large study of migraine sufferers, half said sleep disturbances contributed to their headaches. And those who slept only six hours a night on average had more frequent and more severe headaches than those who slept longer.3

But the opposite is also true. Too much sleep can trigger headaches as well – particularly migraines and tension-type headaches4

In addition to irregular sleep patterns, sleep disorders and headaches are linked. In fact, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia and circadian rhythm disorder are disproportionately observed in people with headache diagnoses, including migraines and tension-type headaches.5

Although the relationship between headaches and sleep is complex and more studies are needed to fully understand it, it is thought that a part of your brain important for sleep called the hypothalamus could be involved in some headaches.6 For example, two types of rare headaches are inherently linked to sleep: cluster headaches and hypnic headaches.7 8 9

Worried you suffer from a sleep disorder? Be sure to consult with your doctor. There is evidence that treating a sleep disorder can help reduce the burden of headaches in some people. Modifying your sleeping habits could also potentially help you manage your headaches. In one small study, women who underwent behavioral therapy such as instituting a consistent sleep schedule and eliminating TV in bed, had fewer and less intense migraines.

Learn more about good sleep habits and tips for better sleep that you can try tonight on



  1. Calhoun, A. H., & Ford, S. (2007, 12). Behavioral Sleep Modification May Revert Transformed Migraine to Episodic Migraine. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain,47(8), 1178-1183. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2007.00780.x
  2. Singh, N. N. and Sahota, P. (2013). Sleep-related headache and its management. Current treatment options in neurology, 15(6):704-722.
  3. Kelman, L. and Rains, J. C. (2005). Headache and sleep: examination of sleep patterns and complaints in a large clinical sample of migraineurs. Headache, 45(7):904-910.
  4. Rains, J. C. and Poceta, J. S. (2012). Sleep-Related headaches. Neurologic Clinics, 30(4):1285 1298.
  5. Montagna, P. (2006). Hypothalamus, sleep and headaches. Neurological Sciences, 27(2): 138-143.
  6. Montagna, P. (2006). Hypothalamus, sleep and headaches. Neurological Sciences, 27(2): 138-143.
  7. Cohen, A. S. and Kaube, H. (2004). Rare nocturnal headaches. Current opinion in neurology, 17(3):295-299.
  8. Weintraub DO, James R. Cluster headaches and sleep disorders. Current Pain and Headache reports 2003, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 150-156.
  9. Evers, S. and Goadsby, P. J. (2003). Hypnic headache: clinical features, pathophysiology, and treatment. Neurology, 60(6):905-909.

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