What Causes Headaches At Night While Sleeping!

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If you have ever awakened in the middle of the night due to a headache, you may have had a hypnic, cluster, or tension headache. It is believed that less than 1% of individuals suffer from nighttime headaches.

But if you’re one of the few persons who have one of these conditions, you know how irritating that headache can be!

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Read on to learn about different causes of headaches and nights while sleeping.

What Causes Headaches At Night

Even though most people get headaches in the morning, many types of headaches occur at night.

While we don’t fully understand how nighttime headaches occur, it’s likely that they have something to do with the activity of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is responsible for the feeling of pain and controls your natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm[1].

Since this area’s activity changes during the day and night, it can give you headaches both at night and when you wake up.

What Causes Headaches At Night While Sleeping

1. Hypnic Headaches

Hypnic headaches are uncommon. According to the Migraine Trust, they are most prevalent in adults over the age of 50, but can also affect younger individuals. They are also more prevalent in women than in men.

Hypnic headaches are the only headaches that occur when a person sleeps. Doctors suggest, that if a person suffers from headaches at night more than ten times per month, they may be suffering from hypnic headaches. Additionally, people who sleep during the day may experience hypnic headaches on occasion.

Furthermore, some people refer to hypnic headaches as “alarm clock headaches” due to the fact that they cause people to awaken at the same time each night. People may also discover that a hypnic headache awakens them between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m.

Possible hypnic headache symptoms include:

Pain on one or both sides of the head that can last anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours, but often lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, heightened senses of light and sound sensitivity, watery eyes or a stuffy nose, and feelings of nausea. Moreover, some individuals may get more than one hypnic headache per night.

2. Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches can be experienced by individuals who get headaches often. Clusters headaches can happen anywhere from one to eight times a day and last from 15 minutes to three hours. Cluster headaches are another type of headache that is one of the most painful[2].

People often get cluster headaches at night, and they can wake up 1–2 hours after they fall asleep.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes cluster headaches, but genes may have something to do with it. Most of the time, they happen to people over the age of 20. Cluster headaches are more likely to happen to men and people who smoke a lot.

Cluster headaches can also be caused by the following:

Ingestion of alcohol, strong odors, such as paint fumes or solvents, Physical exertion, and overheating

Cluster headache symptoms may include:

  • Red, wet eyes and acute, stabbing pain on one side of the head, including the eye and temple region,
  • Runny Nose, and perspiration on the side of the head with the headache. Other symptoms include
  • Uneasiness and agitation, a headache that ceases suddenly.

3. Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can be caused by tension in the muscles, stress, or exhaustion. Experts claim that people may have tension headaches at night as a result of daylong tension buildup [3].

Tension headache symptoms include a squeezing sensation or dull ache on both sides of the head hurting muscles in the shoulders, neck, or back tightness in the jaw pain that lasts between 20 minutes and two hours.

4. Migraines

Migraines are accompanied by intense bouts of head pain and associated symptoms. Other migraine symptoms include nausea or vomiting, observing intense flashes of light Vision impaired by noise and light sensitivity. Uncertain whether your symptoms indicate a migraine or a headache. Explore the differences between the two.

Migraines are frequently provoked by the following: Changes in hormones throughout your menstruation, menopause or pregnancy, weather and barometric pressure fluctuations, specific foods and additions, alterations in sleep habits, and sensory stimulation, including odors, noises, or lighting[4].

If you are unsure of what is causing your migraines, try keeping a journal of each occurrence. Note down the time of day, what you were doing, the weather, and any other information that could assist you in identifying your triggers. Keep a look out for these potential triggers.

How To Treat NightTime Headaches

Since stress and tension are frequently the cause of headaches, practicing relaxation techniques is a common method for preventing attacks and reducing their severity. Commonly used tactics include: [5]

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy that focuses on the development of coping strategies and the modification of one’s view of their condition.

Biofeedback involves the use of wearable equipment to detect physiological indicators of tension and stress, as well as the learning of relaxation techniques to prevent and proactively manage assaults.

Stress, a typical migraine cause, can be reduced by meditation, mindfulness, and other relaxation techniques.

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1. Behavioral Modifications

In order to effectively treat headaches, you must make significant adjustments to your lifestyle and use a systematic approach to manage your condition. 

This may include:[4] regular and continuous physical activity, ensuring that you get nutritious meals and do not skip meals, getting sufficient sleep, going to bed and waking up at regular intervals, and participating in soothing hobbies like gardening, yoga, or others.

Additionally, dietary and other migraine causes should be avoided.

2. Keep a Headache Diary

Understanding your condition is essential for managing a primary headache problem such as migraine, hypnic headache, or cluster headache. This includes keeping track of the medications you’re taking, the frequency and severity of your headaches, and any triggers you discover.

3. Alternative Therapies

Some research suggests that complementary therapies can be used in conjunction with conventional treatments to alleviate headaches. Yoga, acupuncture, and meditation are all examples of stretching-focused activities. In addition, the supplements magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and riboflavin, 10 are beneficial.

4. Medical Devices

In cases of chronic, difficult-to-manage headaches, neurostimulation is an additional option for pain management. This includes stimulating nerves related to pain perception using magnetic fields or moderate electrical shocks. 

In some instances, overstimulation of these neural pathways inhibits pain perception and prevents headaches. These devices include:[6] “Single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulators, such as eNeura”, Trigeminal nerve stimulators, such as Cefaly, which stimulate the trigeminal nerve.

5. Over-the-counter medications

Nighttime headaches require more than a single method of treatment. So, you may need to use more than one method. A lot depends on what’s causing your headaches, but everything from over-the-counter medicines to changes in your lifestyle and other treatments can help.

Headaches are usually treated first with pain relievers like “Tylenol” (acetaminophen) and “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs” (NSAIDs) like Bayer (aspirin) Aleve and (ibuprofen). [7] Especially in long-term cases, the use of these drugs should be watched.

It is important to mention here, that taking too many over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or other painkillers can cause or make headaches worse. This is called medication overuse headache (MOH).

6. Medication for Tension Headaches

If over-the-counter medicines don’t help with a more severe or long-lasting tension headache, a doctor may prescribe other drugs. These include muscle relaxers like Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) and tricyclic antidepressants like Palemor (nortriptyline) and Elavil (amitriptyline) [7] If you take these drugs more than three times a week, this risk goes up.

7. Medication for Migraines

Migraine treatments focus on both easing the pain and finding ways to stop migraines from happening. If over-the-counter medicines don’t help, your doctor may give you triptans like Imitrex (sumatriptan) or Zomig (zolmitriptan), among others. For harder cases, there are also a number of drugs that can stop attacks. Among these are Tricyclic antidepressants, Monoclonal antibodies such as Vyesti (eptinezumab), Aimovig (erunumab), Anticonvulsants, like Neurontin (gabapentin), and others, that help stop seizures.

Furthermore, Beta-blockers like Inderol (propranolol) and Lopresor (metoprolol) can also help.

8. Medications for Hypnic Headaches

Caffeine, like in a cup of coffee or black tea before bed, is often used to treat hypnic headaches. It has been shown that although it is effective for hypnic headaches, it still won’t help you in sleeping well. That is because this condition is notoriously hard to treat, and there are a number of other drugs and supplements that may help: [8] These include: Melatonin, Tivorbex (indomethacin), Topamax (topiramate), Sibelium (flunarizine), and Carbonate of lithium.

9. Cluster Migraine Treatments

As with other primary headache disorders, cluster headaches can be difficult to treat. But fortunately, there are numerous treatment options available for attacks, including:

Oxygen therapy is frequently the first-line treatment for cluster headaches; inhaling oxygen from a canister using a respirator can effectively reduce symptoms. The majority of cases resolve within twenty minutes with this treatment.

Rather than tablets, triptans for cluster headaches typically come in the form of nasal sprays or subcutaneous patches. These medications reduce the duration of asthmatic attacks. They are also effective against migraines.

Dihydroergotamine: Injections or nasal sprays of the ergot alkaloid dihydroergotamine may also be effective in treating cluster headaches.

Lidocaine: Nasal drops of lidocaine are also beneficial for cluster headaches. After 15 minutes, you may take a second dose, but you should not take more than that.

As with migraine, certain medications may also aid in prevention. Verelan (verapamil), lithium carbonate, and Topamax may help reduce the frequency of attacks, according to the available evidence.


1. Korabelnikova E, Danilov A, Danilov A, Vorobyeva Y, Latysheva N, Artemenko A. Sleep disorders and headache: a review of correlation and mutual influence. Pain Ther. 2020;9(2):411-425. doi:10.1007/s40122-020-00180-6

2. Ryan Jr, R. E., & Ryan Sr, R. E. (1989). Cluster headaches. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 22(6), 1131-1144.

3. Paraskevas, G. P., Vassilopoulou, S., Anagnostou, E., Constantinides, V. C., Andreadou, E., Spengos, K., & Kapaki, E. (2018). Tension headaches and vertigo in a cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy patient. Asclepius Medical Research and Reviews, 1(1), 1-3.

4. Powers, S. W., Patton, S. R., Hommel, K. A., & Hershey, A. D. (2003). Quality of life in childhood migraines: clinical impact and comparison to other chronic illnesses. Pediatrics, 112(1), e1-e5.

5. Robblee J, Starling A. SEEDS for success: lifestyle management in migraine. Cleve Clin J Med. 2019;86(11):741-749. doi:10.3949/ccjm.86a.19009

6. Schwedt T, Vargas B. Neurostimulation for treatment of migraine and cluster headache. Pain Med. 2015;16(9):1827-1834. doi:10.1111/pme.12792

7. American Migraine Foundation. Understanding migraine medications.

8. American Migraine Foundation. Hypnic headache.

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I am Dr. Aniqa Agha graduate from King Edward Medical University. I did major in Physical therapy. I am also a professional content writer for over four years experience in content writing. During these years, i have written numerous research articles, health blog posts.