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Can Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches?

Mar 22, 2022

Can Lack of Sleep Cause HeadachesGetting enough sleep each night is a key aspect of staying healthy. Your body repairs cells, muscles, and organs and releases hormones and proteins while you sleep. During deep sleep, your brain will store new information and your nerve cells will reorganize and communicate, supporting healthy brain functioning. While you sleep, your body also helps restore your energy and strengthen your immune system. If you don’t get enough sleep one night, you might only notice some mild discomfort the next day. But lack of sleep over and over again can have a negative impact on your wellbeing. You can actually get a headache from not sleeping. If you are dealing with headaches from lack of sleep, then talk to your doctor about options for headache and migraine treatment.

Lack of Sleep Headaches

There are two main types of headaches you may experience due to lack of sleep: tension headaches and migraines. Here’s what you need to know about both types of headaches to help identify what type of pain you may be dealing with due to lack of sleep.

Tension Headache Symptoms

Tension headaches are actually the most common type of headaches. A tension headache will typically cause pain behind your eyes and can feel like you have a tight band of pressure around your head. Tension headaches can also cause mild, moderate, or severe pain in your head and neck. Lack of sleep and fatigue are two common triggers for sleep headaches. When you carry a lot of tension in your neck and upper back muscles, the pressure and strain can lead to headaches. If you notice pressure around your forehead and feel tenderness along your scalp after a poor night’s sleep, then you may be dealing with a tension headache.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraines are actually more than just a bad headache. In fact, migraines are a type of neurological condition that can cause symptoms that include painful headaches. Migraines can also lead to uncomfortable symptoms like nausea, tingling and numbness, and sensitivity to light and sound. A migraine can be triggered by a lack of sleep, and you may develop a pulsating or throbbing pain in your head. Lack of sleep migraines can cause a pounding headache that may start out mild but develop into more moderate to severe pain over time. A migraine will typically cause head pain along your forehead and commonly affects only one side of your head.

What Can Cause a Lack of Sleep?

In order to address lack of sleep headache, it helps to determine the underlying cause of what is disrupting your sleep. Here are seven reasons why you may suffer from a lack of sleep.


Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some people who struggle with insomnia may have difficulty getting comfortable and quieting their mind enough to fall asleep. Other people may fall asleep easily but then wake up multiple times throughout the night. Insomnia can cause you to feel tired and fatigued throughout your day.


Regular snoring at night can disrupt your quality of sleep. You can also experience a disruption of sleep if your partner regularly snores and it keeps you awake. REM sleep is one of the sleep stages where your body physically and mentally restores itself. Snoring can disrupt your ability to get enough REM sleep, which can leave you feeling physically tired and affect your mood. Both open-mouth and closed-mouth snoring can also be indicators of other health conditions.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea refers to a sleep disorder where you may take a long pause in between breaths while you sleep. These extended pauses in breath can cause you to experience a lower quality of sleep. Sleep apnea can also affect the amount of oxygen your body is getting while you sleep, which can lead to serious health consequences. You may have difficulty feeling well-rested if you are dealing with sleep apnea and wake up with a headache.

Teeth Grinding

Grinding or clenching your teeth at night while you sleep can also disrupt healthy sleep patterns. This condition is known as bruxism, and it can also affect your REM sleep. When you clench or grind your teeth at night, it can lead to insomnia and cause joint pain in your jaw. Teeth grinding can occur during intense periods of stress or due to an underlying condition like anxiety or depression. Pain from grinding your teeth can cause tension to build up in your jaw, neck, and shoulders.

Mental Health

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can have a negative impact on your quality of sleep. In fact, mental health and sleep disorders are often linked because of how they can impact one another. Poor sleep can lead to mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and these conditions can also cause sleep disruptions. People with anxiety may have difficulty quieting their mind and racing thoughts while trying to fall asleep.


You may go through periods of time in your life where certain stressors impact your quality of sleep. When your stress levels are high, it can affect your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep for a healthy amount of time. Stress can affect you physically, causing you to tense your muscles and experience stiffness and soreness. A life change like a new job can cause you stress and lead to difficulty sleeping.

Sleep Habits

Your sleeping habits affect how well you sleep. If you have an irregular sleep schedule, you are actually at higher risk of developing insomnia, depression, or other health issues. Inconsistent sleep schedules can also affect your body’s metabolism and affect your energy levels during waking periods. Even something as simple as using the wrong pillow can affect your quality of sleep. Drinking caffeine too close to your bedtime can also affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Headaches

The hours of sleep you need each night will depend on your age. On average, adults over age 18 typically require 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to support good health. If you consistently get less than 7 hours of sleep, you run the risk of experiencing fatigue, mood changes, difficulty concentrating, and headaches. Lack of sleep headaches can negatively impact your waking hours and even make you feel more tired. REM, which stands for rapid eye movement, is an important part of your sleep cycle. This type of sleep typically occurs in ninety-minute intervals and is the part of sleep where your body stores memories and regulates your mood. Lack of sleep can disrupt your ability to enter into REM cycles while you sleep.

Diagnosing Headaches

If you struggle with lack of sleep headaches, then talk to your doctor to find out more. Your doctor can diagnose what type of headaches you are experiencing. Tension headaches and migraines may require slightly different treatment options depending on your symptoms. Talk to your doctor about when the headaches typically occur, where you notice the pain, and if anything makes the pain better or worse. Your doctor will also want to know about your sleep habits, including how many hours of sleep you typically get at night. It will also help your doctor to know of triggers that are affecting your quality of sleep and leading to these headaches. Your doctor may also run diagnostic imaging tests to help get a clearer picture of what is going on inside your body and support a clear diagnosis.

Treating Lack of Sleep Headaches

If you struggle with headaches from lack of sleep, then here are some headache and migraine treatment options to consider.


Pain Management

You may try at-home remedies to help resolve lack of sleep headaches that cause you pain and discomfort. Over-the-counter pain medications may help temporarily relieve your pain, but it is important to understand that they don’t treat the root cause of your headaches. Applying a cool compress to your forehead or back of your neck can help reduce pain and tension associated with a lack of sleep headache. A heating pad or warm compress can also help soothe tense, aching muscles and help you relax.

Headache Triggers

Identifying what triggers your lack of sleep headaches is also key to experiencing lasting relief. If you notice that stress or anxiety is keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, then try to focus on reducing your stress levels before bed. Relaxation techniques, yoga, and talk therapy can help you reduce stress levels. If you feel a headache coming on, you may try relaxing in a dark and quiet room.

Chiropractic Care

If you struggle with chronic headaches and trouble sleeping, visit a chiropractor. Chiropractic care can help address the root cause of your sleepless nights and lack of sleep headaches. Your chiropractor can work with you to identify triggers that affect your quality of sleep and cause headaches. Chiropractors offer an all-natural approach to pain management and treating headaches. You may also be surprised to learn the benefits of chiropractic care for improving your quality of sleep.

Preventing Headaches with Good Sleep Hygiene

You can also practice good sleep hygiene to help prevent lack of sleep headaches in the future. Here are five ways you can prevent headaches by focusing on how to get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Schedule

Determine the best time for you to go to sleep so you can get a full 7 hours of sleep each night. Sticking to a sleep schedule will help support your body’s natural rhythms and allow you to cycle through enough REM cycles each night.

Sleep Setting

Focus on creating a sleep setting that supports a good night’s sleep. Avoid screen time like watching tv or playing on your phone at least 1 hour before bed. Instead, focus on ways to promote relaxation where you sleep. Try for a cooler temperature at night and consider pillows that support you best.

Bedtime Routine

Create a bedtime routine that can help you combat insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that may affect a good night’s sleep. Make your bedroom a place where you go to relax and sleep and set up a routine as you get ready for bed. This may include nighttime rituals like brushing your teeth and washing your face with a lavender candle burning, then applying a calming lotion before bed.

Better Nutrition

Try to avoid certain foods and drinks that can affect your quality of sleep. Try not to eat a big meal in the hours before bed, because this can lead to indigestion that may keep you up at night. A heavy meal might also give you an unexpected energy rush just when you are trying to relax for the night. Stimulating substances like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can also keep you awake and negatively affect your sleep.

Regular Exercise

Engage in regular exercise each day to help you get better sleep at night. Whether you like aerobic activities that get your heart rate up or calming stretches and exercises through yoga, moving your body each day is good for your overall health. Regular exercise can also help decrease the time it takes you to fall asleep each night.

Poor quality of sleep can lead to you experiencing tension headaches or migraines. If you are struggling with lack of sleep headaches, then talk to your doctor about your options. Our team of headache doctors at AICA Orthopedics in Marietta will work with you to determine what is affecting your sleep and how to reduce your headaches. At AICA Orthopedics, our team of doctors includes orthopedists, chiropractors, neurologists, and physical therapists. We offer state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging in-house so that you can get everything you need for a quality diagnosis and treatment in one convenient location. If you are dealing with lack of sleep headaches, then visit AICA Orthopedics in Marietta to get started on lasting headache and migraine treatment and improve your quality of sleep.


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