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Why you have a headache when you wake up – five causes and five cures

Migraines should be 'understood' more says Dr Goadsby

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Waking up with a headache is not how you want to start your day. If your head is hurting before you’ve even got out of bed, here are the most common reasons behind it – and how to fix it.

Headaches can be a really nasty addition to your day, making it difficult to concentrate on anything and even forcing you to give up on your plans and go back to bed.

The Migraine Trust estimates that Brits take 25 million days off a year due to headaches.

We wonder how many of those are the day after the office Christmas party…

Hangovers aside, there are a handful of reasons which can cause you to wake up with a headache.

Waking up with a headache can stop you in your tracks before you’ve even got going.

If you can work out what causes your morning headaches, you will probably be able to figure out a way of avoiding them.

So, here are five of the most common causes for headaches in the morning.

If this is happening to you regularly and you can’t get to the bottom of it, go and see your GP in order to rule out any more serious underlying causes.


If you’ve had a stressful week at work, a lie-in on the weekend isn’t going to fix it overnight.

You might be waking up with a throbbing head on your day off because your brain is struggling to adjust to the drop in stress hormones.

As you relax, the level of stress hormones drop, there’s a rapid release of neurotransmitters – the brain’s chemical messengers – to tell you that it’s time to chill out.

However, these cause your blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, bringing on a headache.

The NHS suggests resisting the temptation to oversleep at the weekends and to relax little and often during the week so stress doesn’t build up.


How much water are you drinking every day?

The NHS recommends we have six to eight cups of water every day.

If you’re drinking less than that, it might be causing you painful headaches.

Try to up your water intake – there are loads of health benefits to drinking more water, including clearer skin and curbing your appetite for snacks.

Teeth Grinding

This nighttime habit can be a common culprit of waking up with a headache.

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can both be a result of suffering with stress or anxiety.

Most people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it, but loads of people grind their teeth and clench their jaws throughout the day and night.

If you suffer from jaw pain as well as headaches, you may well be grinding your teeth while you sleep.

Speak to your dentist about getting fitted with a mouth guard to protect your teeth while you’re asleep.


Perhaps not the most mysterious cause of morning headaches, hangovers can mean waking up with a painful headache.

Painkillers, plenty of fluids and even extra electrolytes can all help to cure a hangover.

But don’t forget, prevention is better than cure – so try to keep an eye on your drinks.

Food triggers

If you suffer from regular migraines or headaches, doctors will recommend ruling out any possible food triggers.

Some foods are known migraine triggers, these include:

  • Cheese
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Dark chocolate
  • Processed meats and fish

By keeping a food diary you can work out whether what you’ve eaten the night before is causing you to wake up with a throbbing headache.

But don’t skip any meals for fear of headaches, as hunger can also bring them on!

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  • Posted on August 31, 2021