28th July 2021 by Dr.Manvir Bhatia and Saunri-Sleep & Headache

Do you often wake up with a headache even if you have slept for enough hours? Do you get a headache in the evening that is only resolved if you go to sleep? Or do you wake up in the middle of the night with a headache?

Sleep and headaches are intricately linked with each other. A good night’s sleep is essential for healthy living. During sleep, the body repairs itself so that it can function optimally. Disturbances in the regular sleep patterns can cause inattentiveness during the day and increase incessant headaches. It has been reported that 16 to 20 % of the Indian population has experienced a migraine headache.

Link between sleep and headaches

Multiple studies have linked the lack of sleep with headaches. A study published in 2011, in The Journal of Pain suggested that the disruption in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep caused excruciatingly painful headaches that did not resolve easily and lasted for a while. REM sleep is essential for regulating mood and memory consolidation. The researchers found that not getting enough sleep causes the body to produce a protein that reduces the body’s threshold of perceiving pain and hence caused the painful headaches.

The Hypothalamus controls sleep also plays an important role in the mechanism of headaches. A study published in 2017 in Therapeutic advances in Neurological Disorders also linked the lack of sleep with tension headaches.

Moreover, the intricate link between headaches and sleep is further emphasised by the fact that the medication often prescribed for headaches regulates serotonin levels that are a chemical messenger that deals with the pain and control pathways and mood regulation.

Types of headaches:

There are different kinds of headaches that are linked with a lack of or disturbance in sleep.

  • Tension headache and Migraine headache are often tiggered due to a lack of sleep.
  • Wake up headache is experienced when you don’t get enough sleep and wake up experiencing a dull ache in the temple region of the forehead.
  • Hypnic headaches that account for 0.07 to 0.35% of types of headaches and cluster headaches are other types of headaches that one can experience during sleep. However, more evidence is required to directly link it to the lack of sleep.

OSA and Headaches

People suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea often complain about throbbing headaches after they wake up in the morning. This has been attributed to a lack of oxygen and excess carbon dioxide in the bloodstream due to difficulty in breathing while sleeping.

How can you know if your headache is sleep related?

Not all headaches are caused due to disturbance or lack of sleep, and hence all headaches cannot be treated in the same manner. To know whether your headaches have been caused due a sleep issue, your sleep specialist would suggest you to keep a sleep and headache diary, where you record the onset of headache and number of hours of sleep to allow them to diagnose your condition.

Do’s and Don’ts for healthy sleep to prevent headaches.

If you suffer from sleep related headaches, undergoing some simple behavioural changes in your sleep pattern will help you attain restful sleep and consequently reduce headaches. These changes include:

  • Establishing a sleep wake routine
  • Getting between 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other substances that impair sleep
  • Reducing screen time close to bed time


Enough evidence indicated that sleep and headaches are linked to each other, and hence one must take utmost effort to achieve good quality, restful and enough sleep, in order to avoid sleep related headaches.

To seek help or know more about sleep and headaches, you can visit the Neurology and Sleep Centre, the 1st sleep centre in the country accredited by Indian Board of Sleep Medicine at L-23, Hauz Khas Enclave, New Delhi, Delhi-110016 (INDIA)

Or give a call on +91-11-46070321, +91-9643500270


Durham, P., Garrrett, F., Hawkins, J., Hayden, J., & Campos, J. (2011). REM sleep deprivation promotes sustained levels of proteins implicated in peripheral and central sensitization of trigeminal nerves: role in pain chronification. The Journal of Pain, 12, 31.

Fernández-de-Las-Peñas, C., Fernández-Muñoz, J. J., Palacios-Ceña, M., Parás-Bravo, P., Cigarán-Méndez, M., & Navarro-Pardo, E. (2017). Sleep disturbances in tension-type headache and migraine. Therapeutic advances in neurological disorders, 11, 1756285617745444. 

Dodick, D.W., Eross, E.J. and Parish, J.M. (2003), Clinical, Anatomical, and Physiologic Relationship Between Sleep and Headache. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 43: 282-292. 

Holle, D., Naegel, S., & Obermann, M. (2014). Pathophysiology of hypnic headache. Cephalalgia : an international journal of headache, 34(10), 806–812. 

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