What Are Nighttime Headaches
Do you ever experience nighttime headaches? Even if it’s a mild headache, does it keep you up late or make it harder for you to enjoy your evenings?
There are plenty of reasons why you might be dealing with this issue. Read on for some more information, as well as some tips that may help you to handle headaches at night.
Types of Nighttime Headaches
There are lots of different types of headaches that a person might experience at night. Your doctor can help you determine exactly which type of headache you’re dealing with, but here are some examples of nighttime headaches that might be affecting you:
A hypnic headache is a rare and unique type of headache that only affects about 0.07–0.3 percent of headache patients .
This type of headache only occurs when a person is sleeping. Because of this, it’s sometimes referred to as an alarm clock headache, as it wakes the person up at around the same time each night.
The following are some of the most common signs of hypnic headaches:
- Mild-severe pain that occurs on both sides of the head
- Waking up with a headache 10 nights or more per month
- The headache lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours
- In some cases, the headaches are also accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, as well as recurring nausea and vomiting
Tension headaches are some of the most common types of headaches. In fact, up to 70 percent of people deal with tension headaches 15 days or fewer per month .
As the name suggests, they’re associated with muscle tension and stress. Some people might experience these headaches at the end of the day, or the pain may wake them up at night.
Tension headaches are typically characterized by these symptoms:
- Pain that feels dull, aching, or squeezing
- Pain may occur on both sides of the head or on the forehead
- Tenderness extends down to the neck or shoulders
A cluster headache is a painful headache that occurs in clusters (hence the name). This type of headache is fairly rare and only affects about four in 1,000 people .
These headaches often start at night, a few hours or so before bedtime. They then occur several times within a span of a few weeks or months. Then, they’ll disappear for a long time.
In addition to happening around the same time of day, the following are some other common symptoms of cluster headaches:
- Pain that begins on one side of the head, typically around one eye
- The affected eye gets red, swells, or droops
- The nose gets stuffy or runny on one side
- Skin becomes pale or flushing
- Trouble sitting still when pain occurs
What Causes Nighttime Headaches?
There are plenty of reasons why headaches can happen at night, including certain aspects of your daily habits or routine. The following are some of the most well-known factors that can contribute to nighttime headaches:
Stress often plays a role in a lot of people’s headaches. Even if stress isn’t the primary cause, it can still contribute to or make the headache more uncomfortable .
Stress is especially common in people who deal with tension headaches . When you’re stressed out, your muscles will tense up, especially in your shoulders, neck, and jaw. This, in turn, can lead to a headache if it goes on for too long.
Dehydration can also be a common contributor to tension headaches. When you’re dehydrated, your brain can actually shrink (temporarily) . This shrinkage triggers the pain receptors around your brain and results in a headache.
Dehydration can also play a role in muscle tension and muscle spasms. When you’re dehydrated and your muscles, which are about 79 percent water, don’t get enough fluids, you may end up with more tension, which could lead to headaches .
Certain lifestyle factors have been linked to nighttime headaches. For example, cluster headaches may be triggered by alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and bright light exposure . Many people also report that alcohol can be a trigger for tension headaches, too .
Alcohol’s effect on headaches might have to do with the fact that it’s a diuretic. Diuretics cause fluid loss and can lead to dehydration .
People of all ages can deal with nighttime headaches. However, age does play a specific role in hypnic headaches.
Most people who experience hypnic headaches are over the age of 50 . In some cases, though, they may start at the age of 40.
How to Handle Nighttime Headaches
Once you identify the cause of your headaches, it’s much easier to find a way to manage them.
Remember, always talk to your doctor before starting any kind of headache treatment if you have any questions or concerns. They will help you to put together a plan that works best for you and aligns with your medical history. These are just some ideas of treatments they might recommend:
For folks who experience tension headaches at night, stretching can be an effective tool. Spending some time stretching, especially the neck, shoulders, and upper back, can help to reduce tension and provide some relief .
Some people also notice improvements when they incorporate myofascial release into their routine, too .
Myofascial release involves placing pressure on knots (or trigger points) in the muscles to reduce tension. You can use a foam roller or a tennis ball to reduce this tension, as well as your fingers alone.
Meditation can be helpful for managing nighttime tension headaches as well .
Spending just a few minutes in the evening sitting quietly and breathing deeply can reduce stress and minimize tension in the shoulders, jaw, and other parts of the body. This, in turn, could lead to fewer or less intense headaches.
There are lots of apps that can help you create a habit around meditation and make it seem less intimidating. You can also just set a timer for a few minutes, close your eyes, and breathe, too.
If you suspect that dehydration is playing a role in your nighttime headaches, it might be helpful to make sure you’re properly hydrating.
Note that proper hydration doesn’t mean chugging a bunch of water right before bed. That will likely just lead to you having to get up several times during the night to go to the bathroom.
Make sure you’re drinking water throughout the day. Supplementation with electrolytes (minerals like magnesium, sodium, and potassium that carry an electrical charge and support hydration) can help, too .
Mixing an electrolyte drink mix into your water (like Hydrant) will help you ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of electrolytes. You may consider making it part of your nighttime routine as you start to wind down for bed.
Warmth can help to relieve tension and may help to reduce tension headaches, too .
Soaking in a warm bath or placing a warm compress on the shoulders may provide some relaxation before bed. You can use heat alongside other headache management techniques, too, for additional relief.
Reduced Alcohol Consumption
Reducing alcohol intake, especially in the evening, might help to minimize headache symptoms, too. This is especially true if you find that your headaches are triggered by alcohol.
Keep an eye on when your headaches occur. If you notice that you’re more likely to get a headache at night after you have a drink (or two), you might want to consider taking a break from drinking.
You might want to time your drinks differently, too. Drinking earlier in the evening might also be helpful, particularly if you take the time to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes.
Reduced Screen Time
Exposure to bright lights (such as the light from a TV screen or computer screen) may be a trigger for headaches, especially cluster headaches .
If you’re spending a lot of time in front of a screen at night and think it might be contributing to your headaches, consider taking a break from screens a few hours before bed. Try reading a book or listening to some music instead.
Depending on the type of headache you experience, your caffeine intake could make your headaches better or worse.
For example, if you’re drinking lots of caffeine during the day and not drinking very much water, to the point where you’re becoming dehydrated, you might be more prone to a tension headache. On the flip side, if you struggle with hypnic headaches, caffeine could actually provide relief and help you sleep soundly .
As you can see, one person might need to limit caffeine to manage their nighttime headaches. Someone else might need to consume caffeine before bed, something that’s often considered a no-no.
This is why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about your nighttime headaches. They can assess your situation, specifically, and help you find the treatment protocol that works best and provides the greatest results.
Find Relief from Nighttime Headaches Today
Are you tired of nighttime headaches? If so, keep the tips outlined above in mind as you talk to your doctor to come up with a plan to manage your headaches. They’ll help you to relieve your pain and start getting a good night’s rest.