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Although the majority of headaches occur when a person is awake, sometimes they can onset when he or she is sleeping. If you are finding yourself waking up several times a week with head pain, here are two things that may be causing it and your treatment options.
You're Suffering from Sleep Apnea
A common cause of nighttime headaches is sleep apnea. This disorder is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing during the night, typically due to the collapse of oral tissues into the airways. The head pain you feel in the morning afterwards can be caused by two things.
First, your body wakes you up when you stop breathing to get you to start again. This can happen as many as 100 times per hour, so your sleep isn't as restful as you need. Second, your brain is being deprived of oxygen during those times when you stop breathing, which can damage the delicate tissues. This is why people who suffer from sleep apnea are at a higher risk of stroke and other brain disorders.
Sleep apnea is caused by a number of issues, including being overweight, having small airways, or irregularities in the mouth and throat. Men are more likely to have this condition, and children may develop it if they have larger than normal tonsils.
A common way this condition is treated is by using a CPAP machine or a mouthpiece that prevents the oral tissues from falling into the airways. People who are overweigh or obese also finds their condition improves when they lose the excess pounds. In severe cases, surgery or radiation therapy may be needed to remove extra oral tissues.
You've Developed Hypnic Headaches
Hypnic headaches are another reason you may be waking up with head pain. This is a somewhat rare condition where the head pain is caused by actual sleep. It is thought to be connected to a person's circadian rhythm. As such, the individual is usually awakened at the same time every night with a headache.
What makes this condition unique is that it isn't accompanied by any other symptoms, such as nausea, light or sound sensitivity, or dizziness. Instead, the headache usually occurs within a few hours of falling asleep and will last for 15 minutes to up to 4 hours after waking up. This condition is most common in people over the age of 50, though it can happen to anyone of any age.
This condition is typically controlled by medication and/or lifestyle changes. The doctor may recommend drinking a small amount of caffeine before going to bed, as caffeine has been known to alleviate head pain. If that doesn't work, you may be prescribed lithium, indomethiacin, or similar medications that have been shown to stop the pain.
To learn about these or other conditions that could be causing your nighttime headache, contact a family doctor, like one from Snow Creek Medical Center.