Morning headaches can occur for a variety of reasons. You may experience one once in a while after a poor night’s sleep or when experiencing stress, or you may experience them regularly.

Early morning headaches may be the result of a change in your body physiology. In the early morning hours, your body’s level of internal pain reduction may be lowered. Additionally, your body may make more adrenalin during this time, resulting in migraine episodes.

Early morning headaches will often wake you up after 4 a.m., or they may be present when you wake up. The most common types of morning headaches are:

  • cluster headache
  • migraine
  • tension headaches

Headaches related to sleep apnea also tend to occur in the early morning. One study showed that 1 out of 5 people with sleep apnea reported morning headaches.

Migraine attacks are a very common type of headache that occur most often in the early morning. Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world, and nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households include someone with migraine.

Sleep disorders and disturbances can lead to headaches, especially migraine. Emerging research shows that sleep disturbance can trigger a migraine episode and be a precursor of migraine disease by several years. Sleep disorders are associated with more frequent and severe migraine, which may become chronic.

Research has associated sleep disturbances such as insomnia and poor sleep quality with more frequent and intense headaches. About 50 percent of people who experience either tension-type headaches or migraine have insomnia.

Read on to learn more about early morning headaches.

What are the different types of early morning headaches?

A headache can cause dull, sharp, or throbbing pain. You may experience the headache briefly, for an hour or less, or for a prolonged period up to a few days.

The International Headache Society classifies about 150 types of headaches. Those known to occur frequently in the early morning include:

Here are some conditions and factors that can cause early morning headaches.

Insomnia can affect your sleep patterns and cause sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a prevalent cause of morning headaches and can trigger migraine. Insomnia can prevent you from getting enough sleep by:

  • keeping you up when you are trying to fall asleep
  • awakening you during your sleep
  • causing restless sleep

Insomnia can be treated in a variety of ways. Your first step is to discuss it with your doctor. They may ask you to track your sleep patterns to help diagnose the condition.

Insomnia treatment can include:

  • medication
  • psychotherapy
  • a combination of medication and therapy

By reducing your insomnia, you will probably experience more sleep and fewer morning headaches.

Research shows that mood disorders and migraine episodes frequently occur together, and having one indicates a higher risk for having the other.

For example, the higher the frequency of migraine episodes in a person, the more likely they are to have mood disorders, and vice versa.

The study reported that people with migraine are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed than people who don’t experience migraine and between 2 to 5 times more likely to have anxiety disorders.

Mental health conditions can also lead to insomnia, which can further increase your risk for morning headaches.

If you suspect a mental health condition, talk to your doctor. Often these conditions can be managed with talk therapy, medication, or a combination of treatments. Managing these conditions may help reduce your incidence of morning headaches.

Learn more: Is it sadness or depression?

Disrupted sleep caused by snoring or sleep apnea may be the source of your early morning headaches. Snoring can be a condition on its own or a symptom of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing at times throughout the night. Generally, headaches associated with sleep apnea last for about 30 minutes.You can treat sleep apnea with special equipment, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

Shop all Healthline-approved products for snoring and sleep apnea in our sleep shop.

Grinding or clenching your teeth is also known as bruxism. This can occur at night as a sleep disorder, which is referred to as sleep bruxism. A morning headache is commonly associated with bruxism, but research is mixed on whether the bruxism actually causes the headache.

Some researchers believe that headaches linked to bruxism may actually stem from a disorder in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) in your jaw.

A headache that occurs with bruxism is generally dull and can be felt near your temples.

Bruxism is also linked to other sleep conditions like sleep apnea, and it may cause damaged teeth and jaw pain. Treatment may involve:

Early morning headaches may be the result of strained muscles in your neck. You may need to evaluate your sleep position and the pillows you use to ease this form of early morning headache.

Pillows are supposed to help you maintain a sleeping position that properly supports your neck and spine. Finding the right pillow may take some trial and error. Your pillow should keep your head and neck in a position similar to when you’re standing.

Soft pillows may not hold your neck and spine up properly, and hard pillows may create too significant of an angle for your body. Try to replace your pillow as needed in order to sustain the correct sleeping posture.

According to a recent research review, there is moderate evidence that the following pillow features may help improve sleep quality and decrease sleep-related pain:

  • latex pillow material
  • a contoured design that has higher sides with a flattened lower middle
  • middle pillow height ranging from 7 to 11 centimeters (2.8 to 4.3 inches)
  • a cooling surface

Early morning headaches may be the result of alcohol use. Drinking heavily can result in uneven sleep and an early morning headache, such as a hangover.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the amount of alcohol that will lead to a hangover varies from person to person. However, NIAAA says that anytime you drink to intoxication, you’re likely to risk having a hangover the next day.

Read more: Night sweats and alcohol

The NIAAA says time is the only cure for a hangover. The following popular measures aren’t effective:

  • drinking coffee
  • taking a shower
  • having an alcoholic beverage the next morning

Headaches, often in the early morning, could be related to your jaw. A headache is one of the most common reported symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. It even has a name, TMJ headache.

TMJ disorders (TMJD) may cause pain, stiffness, and a clicking in the jaw, as well as headaches. The cause of these disorders isn’t known, but they occur when the TMJ malfunctions. This is the joint that hinges your jaw and lets you talk, chew food, open your mouth, or move it side to side.

Treatment of your TMJ-related headache will involve diagnosis and treatment of your TMJD. Sometimes, resting the TMJ is enough to ease your symptoms. Further treatment often includes:

  • eating soft foods and avoiding hard or sticky ones
  • limiting jaw movement as much as possible
  • lessening stress
  • practicing jaw-stretching exercises

Medications may interfere with your sleep patterns, resulting in disrupted sleep and early morning headaches. Talk with your doctor if you suspect your medications are causing early morning headaches.

Some drugs used to treat headaches can cause sleep disturbances. For example, beta blocker treatment is well known to contribute to vivid dreams and sometimes even nightmares. Also, some drugs, such as benzodiazepines, used to treat sleep disorders may trigger or worsen headaches.

Medication overuse headache (MOH) is also a risk. If you take pain relievers too often to lessen your headache pain, you run the risk of making your headaches worse.

Also, your occasional headaches might wind up becoming chronic. This can happen with either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription painkillers.

Research has shown that circadian rhythm disturbances or changes may play a part in bringing on migraine attacks and cluster headaches.

Circadian rhythms are biological cycles of approximately 24 hours that are shared by humans, animals, plants, and even bacteria. The best known circadian rhythm is probably the sleep-wake cycle.

The research reported that in one study, 82 percent of cluster headache patients had headaches at the same time every day, and the most common time of day for their headache was 2 a.m. Researchers said this suggested that circadian rhythm was a contributory component in the headache cycle.

The Migraine Trust suggests that you use your circadian rhythm to your advantage to help avoid headaches. They suggest you maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule. In particular:

  • Go to bed and get up at approximately the same time each day.
  • Know your sleep needs — usually 6 to 8 hours a night for adults.
  • Spend some daylight hours outdoors to help set your body clock.
  • Make your sleeping environment restful and comfortable, as dark as possible, with few nearby electronic devices.
  • Reduce screen time right before bed.

Getting too much sleep, especially on a regular basis, is a common trigger for morning headaches. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it’s generally thought to stem from disruptions in your natural circadian rhythm and neural pathways in the brain.

The best way to avoid a morning headache caused by oversleeping is to restore your natural wake-sleep cycle by going to bed at about the same time each night and getting up at a regular time on most days.

Oversleeping can be an indication of depression or an underlying medical condition. Be sure to discuss any problems you have maintaining a consistent sleep schedule with a medical professional.

People sometimes worry about having a brain tumor when they experience morning headaches. While a regular morning headache can be a symptom of a brain tumor, the chances are very slim if a morning headache is your only symptom.

The National Cancer Center points out that other neurological symptoms almost always accompany brain tumors. These symptoms might include:

  • seizures
  • nausea or vomiting
  • weakness or paralysis
  • speech difficulties
  • personality change

You may experience early morning headaches because of another health condition. Headaches can be a symptom of a variety of conditions and may not be caused by your sleep patterns at all. Conditions that may cause chronic morning headaches include hypertension and musculoskeletal diseases.

Make sure to discuss all symptoms you experience with your doctor. You may be diagnosed with a different condition altogether.

Headaches related to a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or bruxism will require medical treatment from your doctor to help ease your headaches. You might use medications, devices such as a mouthguard or a CPAP machine, or psychotherapy.

In particular, many studies show that using a CPAP machine appears to be a very treatment.

Additional treatments will depend on other causes of your headaches. Some treatments might include:

  • Mental health condition. If your headaches stem from depression or anxiety, your medical health professional will probably help you resolve that condition with medications, therapy, or a combination of both. This will likely help ease your morning headaches.
  • Strained muscles. If your issue is neck pain due to muscle strain, a new pillow or sleep position may help you heal. This will probably help to lessen your headaches as well.
  • Alcohol use. Too much alcohol consumption can often lead to a morning headache or a hangover. If you need help managing your alcohol use, be sure to ask a medical professional or organization for assistance.
  • TMJ disorder. Your medical professional or your dentist can help you resolve TMJ issues. Successful TMJ treatment will usually lead to headache resolution too.
  • Medications. Headaches caused by medications usually must be resolved with the help of your medical professional. Even if the cause is an OTC medication, your doctor is the one to help you resolve it.
  • Circadian rhythm and oversleeping. You can usually resolve headaches due to circadian rhythm or oversleeping issues by establishing a consistent bedtime and wakeup schedule, as well as a comfortable, dark sleeping environment.
  • Tumor or other health conditions. Treatment for health conditions will begin with treatment of the underlying condition. Talk with your medical professional about the best treatment options for your condition.

Make lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes can sometimes help resolve your morning headaches, especially migraine attacks.

The American Migraine Foundation recommends the following lifestyle habits to help manage headaches. They’re represented by the mnemonic designation SEEDS:

  • S – Sleep. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule and sleep environment.
  • E – Exercise. Regular exercise can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.
  • E – Eat. Maintain a healthy diet and adequate hydration.
  • D – Diary. Keep a headache diary of date, severity, and probable causes of your headaches. This will help your doctor diagnose the cause of your headaches.
  • S – Stress. Practice meditation, yoga, journaling, or whatever practice helps calm you and lower stress levels in your life.

Early morning headaches should be treated according to their cause. Depending on the cause, you may be able to manage the headaches yourself with lifestyle changes, a new pillow, or better sleep management.

Your headaches may also require a conversation with your doctor, especially if they are caused by an underlying condition. Once you and your doctor determine the cause, the headaches should get better with appropriate treatment.