Headaches have many different causes, from dehydration to eye strain to jaw problems. A common cause of frequent headaches, particularly temporary ones that occur in the morning, is sleep apnea. If you are awakened by a sore head or wake up with one but didn’t have it when you went to sleep, there’s a good chance it’s due to sleep apnea.
A Brief Overview of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common sleep-related disorder. It is normal for the muscles of the throat to relax during sleep, but OSA occurs when the throat muscles relax to the point where the airway becomes blocked. The brain then triggers the person to wake up and take a breath. These interruptions to sleep can happen as often as hundreds of times in a single night, preventing restful sleep and leading to numerous short and long-term side effects. Among those are frequent morning headaches.
Morning headaches caused by OSA are typically felt on both sides of the head, they dissipate within an hour of waking up and being able to breathe normally, and they recur regularly. These are the result of oxygen deprivation from hours of irregular breathing during the night, which is why they go away quickly upon waking up. Unlike a migraine, a sleep apnea headache is usually not accompanied by symptoms like visual impairment, light sensitivity, or nausea.
OSA May Be a Migraine Trigger
According to the American Migraine Foundation, people living with migraine are somewhere between two and eight times more likely to have a sleep disorder. However, while we know there is a strong connection between OSA and a sore head in the morning, chronic migraines have different symptoms. Sleep apnea-induced pain often improves or subsides on its own, while a migraine can cause throbbing pain for multiple days.
Tips for Migraine Sufferers With OSA
Even though the connection between migraines and OSA is not yet fully understood, there are several ways to improve your sleep and treat your migraine at the same time:
- Don’t exercise right before bed. Exercising within an hour or two before bed can make it harder to fall asleep, so try to stick to an earlier exercise schedule.
- Keep a consistent sleep routine. An effective way to reduce or manage migraine attacks is by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. It’s also helpful to spend more time in natural light during the day and avoid blue light from screens before bed.
- Avoid heavy evening meals. While it can be fun to have a late-night binge, eating a lot later in the evening can keep you awake, particularly if you’re already struggling with migraine.
- Go to sleep when you’re tired. If you’re staring at the clock unable to fall asleep, it can be helpful to get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired. And keep in mind that while sleep is best, simply resting is good too.
- Good sleep hygiene matters. Reading or watching TV in bed, or using your phone before going to sleep, can make it harder to fall asleep.
How Mood Connects to Sleep and Headaches
The same regions and chemical messengers in the brain affect sleep, a sore head, and mood, and that means that poor sleep or not enough sleep increases the odds of mood changes and headaches. Sleep disorders like OSA or insomnia are often comorbid with anxiety or depression, not just headaches.
Why Healthy Sleep Matters
Healthy sleep is important to so many aspects of our lives. Being able to get a restful night’s sleep on a regular basis can make it easier to maintain or lose weight, it improves concentration and productivity, it helps athletic performance and strengthens the heart, it lowers the risk of diabetes, it supports the immune system, and it affects our emotions and social interactions. If you don’t feel rested after sleeping all night, including if you wake up with a sore head, Dr. Burman can screen for sleep apnea.
Treating Sleep Apnea Headaches
One of the most effective treatment options to eliminate morning headaches from OSA is oral appliance therapy, and that’s where Dr. Burman has extensive knowledge. Schedule an appointment today so that he can see if you are a good candidate for custom oral appliance therapy. Make sure to check the map for directions.