Headaches aren’t fun. They’re especially not fun if you wake up with dull or throbbing pain with no obvious cause.
But one reason your head might be bothering you when you wake up is that you overslept.
Let’s get into how much sleep is too much, why exactly sleeping in too long can cause headaches, and what you can do about it (even if sleeping in isn’t the actual cause).
There’s no magic number of hours that you need to sleep to feel rested. The amount of sleep you need varies depending on numerous factors, including:
- how old you are
- how often you exercise
- how healthy you are
- what your mental state is like throughout the day
And these factors can change dramatically throughout your life (even throughout your days).
For example, if you’re stressed out or if you’re staying in bed sick, you’ll probably find that you need to get more sleep than you’re used to.
Some people need more or less sleep than the average to feel their best.
Getting too much sleep is actually a common headache trigger.
Multiple explanations exist for why exactly this happens, but scientists have dug into some research on this connection.
Typically, serotonin helps maintain your circadian rhythm, the natural patterns of sleep that your body follows to fall asleep and wake up in a way that rests and refreshes your bodily processes.
To do this, cells in your brain called neurons move serotonin to a series of receptors programmed by your genes to use serotonin for a certain goal. In this case, serotonin tells these receptors to make you fall asleep or wake up.
This whole process is called a neural pathway — it’s just one of many in your brain that helps your body accomplish certain tasks. You can think of it as your brain signaling when your body needs to turn “on” and “off.”
When you oversleep, you’re interrupting this neural pathway. If you keep sleeping even after serotonin has signaled to your receptors to make you wake up, your body is no longer truly resting.
Your body now thinks it’s awake and begins to need nourishment like food and water to restore blood flow and nerve activity in the brain that slowed down during sleep.
So if you sleep in for a few hours after your body’s started being active, it’s possible to get a headache from mild nutrient deficiency and dehydration until you get some food or water in you.
Insomnia means that even when you think you’re sleeping, your brain may not go into full-on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a critical part of your sleep cycle necessary for restful sleep.
And according to a
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that reduces how much oxygen gets to your brain during sleep. This can interrupt your REM sleep and constrict blood flow to the brain, causing a headache when you wake up.
There’s a strong connection between anxiety and headache disorders such as migraine.
Studies have shown that anxiety and other mood disorders such as depression are leading causes for insomnia and oversleeping.
Many people with migraine tend to experience migraine on weekends not only as a result of oversleeping but due to a drop in stress levels.
Here are some other possibilities that might explain why you wake up with a headache:
- hypersomnia, or chronically sleeping in
- anxiety that disrupts your sleep
- bruxism, or teeth grinding that makes head and neck muscles tense
- alcohol, which interrupts your circadian rhythm
- overuse of caffeine or alcohol
- skipping meals
While you may be able to manage morning headaches on your own if they’re related to causes like oversleeping or dehydration, it’s important to note that headaches can sometimes be a warning sign of a more serious underlying issue.
See a doctor immediately if you experience:
- sudden, severe headaches
- headaches occurring after head injury
- recurring headaches, especially if this is new for you
- head pain accompanied by symptoms such as confusion, weakness, vision problems, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness
Here are some morning headache remedies that may help you kick it before it ruins your day:
- take your headache rescue medication
- stretch your head and neck muscles to reduce tension
- drink water to rehydrate
- sip a hot herbal tea like ginger or chamomile
- use a hot or cold compress to relax tense muscles and stimulate blood flow
- use aromatherapy with lavender or eucalyptus
- try breathing exercises to relax muscles
- if you can, lie in bed a little longer and relax but don’t fall back asleep
Getting restful, consistent sleep is the best way to prevent oversleeping and the headaches that come with it.
Maintaining your circadian rhythm can help reduce or eliminate the causes of your headaches altogether.
Here are some best practices for getting consistent sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This can train your sleep cycle to ensure more consistent sleep.
- Turn off sources of blue light like computers and phones an hour before bed.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink a lot of liquids right before bed. Liquids especially can make you have to pee during the night and wake you up.
- Do something relaxing in bed like reading, listening to music, or meditating.
- Drink a hot or soothing non-caffeinated drink like herbal tea.
- Use an essential oil diffuser with lavender to relax in your bedroom.
- Create a relaxing atmosphere with dim light, calming music, and warm, clean sheets and blankets.
- Keep a glass of water by your bed to hydrate as soon as you wake up.
- Try techniques to fall asleep faster, like counting sheep, counting down from 100, or focusing on a single object in your room.
If you still have trouble sleeping, see a doctor. They can test you for any possible sleep disorders and recommend a treatment plan.
It’s not always clear why oversleeping may be causing you to have headaches in the morning. But research suggests that it mostly has to do with interruptions in your natural sleep cycle.
There’s plenty you can do to help relieve or prevent morning headaches. For example, you can make some lifestyle changes to help keep you on a consistent sleep schedule. You can also set aside time in the evening to get your body and brain ready for bed.