5 reasons why you wake up with headache and how to solve them

5 reasons why you wake up with headache and how to solve them

Nothing ruins the day quite like a sore head in the morning, and you might have no idea what the cause is – thankfully, experts have revealed five core headache-inducing factors and explained how to rid of them

Woman with a headache

Ever wake up with a pounding headache and no idea why? (stock image)

Ever wake up with a pounding headache and have no idea why?

If the answer is yes, you’re certainly not alone. A staggering one in every 13 people experience this too, with those aged between 45 and 64 most vulnerable, according to the Sleep Foundation.

But fear not. Dr Anis Khalaf, a specialist in traditional Chinese medicine and TikTok creator (@acupuncturefit), as well as other experts have identified a number of surprising causes behind morning headaches. And turns out there are some pretty simple solutions.


First up, if it wasn’t obvious already, Dr Khalaf highlighted alcohol. Anything from your favourite cocktail to a pint of beer usually contains an ingredient called ‘ethanol’ which is a natural diuretic.

In a nutshell, this means it can trigger chemical imbalances and dehydration by exacerbating how much water is lost by the body. Meanwhile, a beverage’s flavour-enhancing ‘congeners’ can also drive up inflammation; the two factors combined are the perfect recipe for a headache.

Dr Gareth Nye, a senior lecturer at Chester Medical School, also weighed in on this, explaining that reducing alcohol or increasing water intake will improve the situation. He told The Mirror: “Most headaches are caused by a lack of hydration and can often be solved by having more to drink over reaching for pain medication.

“This is also true of morning headaches as our body is naturally dehydrated in the morning… Ensuring adequate hydration for your body is a positive step for many conditions – not just morning headaches.”

Grinding teeth and posture

Next up, Dr Khalaf mentions teeth grinding, also known as ‘bruxism’. This can occur while you’re awake or unknowingly in your sleep, causing tension that’s often linked to headaches – though research is still ongoing.

Rosey Davidson, a sleep consultant at Just Chill Baby Sleep, also explained this can be worsened by sleep posture too. She told The Mirror: “Waking up with a headache can be attributed to various factors.

“Poor sleep posture, such as sleeping in an awkward position that strains the neck, may also be a culprit. Dehydration… and teeth grinding during the night – bruxism – can further exacerbate morning headaches.”

According to the NHS, bruxism is often linked to stress and anxiety, so it’s vital to find ways to relax in order to solve it. This may include listening to music, doing breathing exercises or taking regular exercise.

Rosey also believes that carving a consistent sleep pattern can help, adding: “Creating a conducive sleep environment, and practising relaxation techniques before bed can promote better sleep quality.”

Caffeine and other drinks

Drinking too much coffee, tea or fizzy drinks throughout the day can take a huge toll on your sleep too, worsening headaches, according to Dr Khalaf. This is primarily because it quickly blocks our receptiveness to ‘adenosine’ – a bodily substance that’s crucial to helping us feel sleepy.

Dr Nye elaborated: “Caffeine addiction and withdrawal can cause headaches but it can also relieve them. Caffeine is a stimulant meaning it helps pump blood around your body faster, aiding in the delivery of oxygen to muscles, but it also narrows the blood vessels around the brain.

“It depends entirely on the individual and the underlying cause of the headache whether it’s linked to having your morning coffee or not.”

Another recent study also uncovered that drinking milk before bed can have an unpredictable impact on your body too – even though it’s often recommended as a sleep-inducing remedy. Rosey explained: “Milk is often talked about as a sleep aid due to its content of tryptophan, an amino acid, which is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. [But] the evidence supporting milk’s direct impact on sleep is mixed.

“While tryptophan may theoretically promote sleepiness, the amount found in milk may not be significant enough to induce noticeable effects. Additionally, individual responses to tryptophan can vary widely.”


Dr Khalaf also mentioned two disorders that not only have a huge impact on your personal wellbeing, but trigger painful headaches too. Firstly, insomnia – a common condition that makes it difficult to stay asleep or fall asleep at night.

Those who suffer from this may also wake up far too early and struggle to snooze off again – which can induce tiredness and headaches throughout the day. Stress, noise, uncomfortable beds, and even caffeine can contribute to this problem, but once again, establishing a sleep schedule can help.

The NHS recommends: “Relaxing at least one hour before bed, for example, take a bath or read a book. Making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet – use curtains, blinds, an eye mask or ear plugs if needed.”

Sleep apnoea

Meanwhile, sleep apnoea is a condition in which your breathing may stop and start when you’re asleep. While you may be unaware of this, it’s often experienced among people who wake up gasping, snorting or choking.

Dr Nye explained: “Away from dehydration, poor sleep is a commonly cited cause of morning headaches. Poor sleep or problems with breathing during your sleep means the muscles are not gaining sufficient oxygen through the night.

“This could lead to a buildup of lactic acid which is essentially cramp. This may be seen in the facial muscles leading to a headache. If you are a snorer, it’s likely you have some issue with your breathing mechanics during sleep which may be linked to a condition called sleep apnoea. Both are linked to morning headaches.

“If you feel like you may have a medical issue like sleep apnoea it’s always advised to seek medical help in these cases as they can be quite dangerous if left unchecked.”

Rosey also added: “Addressing any underlying sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea, through medical intervention where necessary.”

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