Geisinger Doctor Discusses Headache Pain

By Geisinger neurologist Abigail Chua, DO

How to stop waking up with a headache:

Ever realized your head is pounding before you even get out of bed in the morning? Waking up with a headache is — well, a pain. Here’s why they happen and how you can find relief.

Like other common symptoms, headaches vary in cause and strength. Some intense headaches can last for hours. Others might be a minute or two of dull but manageable discomfort. Most headaches are grouped into primary and secondary categories.

Primary headaches are usually caused by pain sensors in your head that aren’t working right. These headaches may run in your family. Or you might get them from foods you eat (or don’t eat enough of), alcoholic drinks or changes in sleep patterns.

Primary headaches are what most people have. The good news is, these types of headaches are preventable and treatable.

The two most common kinds:

  • Tension headaches – This type causes mild pain around the head, face or neck.
  • Migraine headaches – This neurological disease can cause sharp pain on one side of the head and may last for hours or even days. 

Secondary headaches are typically caused by underlying medical conditions, including:

  • Dehydration – Not drinking enough fluids on a regular basis contributes to headaches.
  • Medication overuse – Taking too much of a variety of medications — like Tylenol or forms of ibuprofen, ironically — can make your head hurt. 

For most people, morning headaches result from lifestyle factors. The good news: You can adjust those to ease your pain. Lack of sleep, whether due to insomnia or just an occasional restless night, often leads to waking with an aching head. Others include:

  • Dehydration
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Medication side effects
  • Sleep apnea
  • Jaw clenching or teeth grinding

If poor sleep quality is causing your headaches, your doctor may recommend some changes to your sleep routine. 

Besides getting a better night’s sleep, minor adjustments to your daily routine to reduce the frequency of morning headaches. 

Simple changes you can make include everything from skipping that extra glass of red wine after dinner to drinking more water before bed. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to make your morning headache go away.

  • Hydrate: Drink lots of water to start the day. Dehydration can bring on a headache or make an existing one worse. 
  • Dim the lights: Many people are sensitive to bright light, especially early in the morning. Give your eyes and head time to adjust.
  • Use a cold compress: Grab a bag of frozen veggies or a cold pack and put it on your forehead or the back of your neck. The cold eases pressure and can soothe a morning headache. 
  • Try light massage: It’s simple — but effective. Use your fingers to apply gentle pressure on the part of your head or neck where you’re having pain. This trick can help relieve a tension headache.
  • Get plenty of sleep: Some headaches are related to sleep apnea or other factors causing a lack of quality rest. Try going to bed a little earlier to give your body more time to rest.

Digging out the root cause is the first step in treating your early morning headaches. If you’ve tried to troubleshoot on your own with no success, it’s time to talk to your doctor — especially if you have frequent or daily morning headaches.

Once you and your doctor determine the right treatment plan, you can wake up refreshed, rested and ready to take on your day.

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