I keep waking up with a headache! What gives?

Dr. Roshini Raj
October 29, 2015

I keep waking up with a headache! What gives?

A few things could be going on here. For starters, poor sleep quality can lead to a headache the next day. So the first thing to do is investigate what, if anything, is interfering with your slumber.

One common culprit is sleep apnea, a condition in which you periodically stop breathing throughout the night. Your body then wakes you up so you'll start breathing again. You may not even realize that this is happening. Ask your partner or a friend whether you're a loud snorer—that's often a tip-off. Either way, your doctor can refer you for a sleep study, which is the most accurate way to diagnose sleep apnea.

No problem sleeping? Teeth grinding overnight can cause soreness in the jaw muscles or temporomandibular joint (or TMJ, which is also the commonly used name for the jaw disorder that sometimes involves grinding). That achiness can lead to a headache. Again, you may not realize that you're grinding your teeth, but your dentist should be able to detect the problem if it's there.

It could also have to do with pesky allergens. Exposure to dust mites while you sleep (they love to live in your sheets and mattress) can also leave you waking up with an aching head, due to the sinus congestion it causes. If you suffer from allergies, try using allergy proof bedding—special pillowcases, mattress covers and duvets designed to protect you from exposure to mites—and washing your sheets more frequently. An allergist, if you've never seen one, can help you find additional ways to relieve symptoms so you're headache-free in the morning and sneeze-free for the rest of the day.

Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.

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