A recent study published in the archives of internal medicine says that 1 in 13 people have suffered morning headaches and none of these people had been out drinking the night before. Chronic morning headaches are usually associated with sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, in which people stop breathing many times throughout the night, teeth grinding and periodic limb movements. Bed partners of snorers are known to wake with a headache. the study found that the headaches were most strongly linked to anxiety and depression.
We do know though is that quality sleep is one of the best ways to prevent the onset of morning headaches. But unfortunately getting a good night’s sleep when you are prone to headaches, or even worse a migraine, is easier said than done. Not only does lying down making it worse but you are much more sensitive to noise, light and other disturbances than you would normally be making it hard to stick to your bedtime routine.
If you regularly suffer with morning headaches try the headache prevention tips listed below
These include good sleep hygiene and stress management tips and if they don’t offer relief within two weeks seek advice from your doctor. It’s best to avoid over the counter painkillers as many painkillers contain caffeine which can make sleeping problems worse.
The following are tried and test non medication techniques but if none of them prove effective make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the options available to you. Whatever you do don’t ignore headaches that occur over and over again. They could be a sign of an underlying healthy problem, such as undiagnosed high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Your sleep posture could be the problem particularly if your pillow is too big or too small. It should fit your contours like a glove and allow you to sleep whilst maintaining your body in the mid-line position. Check out our grid to find out which pillow is best for you.
- Find a pattern: See if you can find a pattern or a trigger to your headaches and then avoid that trigger. When you get a headache note what is going on in your life at the time. Are you under stress? Have you been having problems sleeping? Stress and poor quality sleep can trigger headaches so stress management and good sleep hygiene is essential. Other tension headache triggers include too much sleep, lack of exercise, and activities that require repetitive motion such as chewing gum or grinding teeth or staring at something fixed like a computer screen for long periods of time.
- Learn to relax. By reducing muscles tension you may be able to ward off a fair number of headaches. Sit or lie down in a dark, quiet room for 20 minutes. Place an ice pack on your forehead. Tension headaches sometimes respond better to the application of heat. When headaches or migraines play a part in your process, try to regard them as evidence that the body needs time to be alone, to recharge. Lie in total silence, in complete darkness, and sleep, if possible, until the headache is gone.
- Skip the lie in: Snoozing in for more than an hour can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, and anything that tinkers with your body’s natural rhythms may prime you for pain. Commit to waking up (and going to bed) at the same time every day — yes, that includes weekends, too.
- Watch your posture: Are you sitting or standing up straight with your shoulders down and back? If not, readjust. The main sensory nerve in your forehead is rooted in the base of your neck — which is why experiencing muscle tension there or in your shoulders can lead to head pain.
- Poor neck posture; If you use a computer during the day and are a touch typist your PC needs to be slightly higher than your eyes but if you need to look up and down when you type it should be slightly lower.
- Bed MOT: Review the advice in chapters on the using the correct pillows and mattress as poor sleeping posture can trigger headaches.
- Raise your glass: Drink plenty of water during the day as dehydration can trigger headaches.
- Eat little and often: Missing meals or nutrients can trigger headaches so make sure you don’t leave more than a few hours between meals and snacks.
- Take note of what you have been eating: Watch out especially for foods such as cheese, red wine, chocolate, citrus juice or fruit that contain tyramine, phenylethylamine and histamine which can all trigger headaches. Unfortunately symptoms often don’t hit you immediately after eating these foods, so you need to keep a diary for several weeks to notice a pattern.
- Leafy greens: Magnesium helps your muscles to relax and a deficiency can trigger headaches. So make sure your diet includes foods such as leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, bitter chocolate, soya beans and whole grains.
- Oily fish: Make sure your diet is rich in essential fatty acids – especially omega 3 found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. Another study suggested that migraine sufferers showed a significant reduction in symptoms when they took omega 3 fish oils every day.
- When pain strikes: If you have a tension headache and can’t get to a dark room to relax put your hands around the back of your head and drop your chin on your chest. Press your chin down and hold for a minute. Then use your hands to turn your head to the right and hold for a minute. Then back to centre and hold for a minute, then to the left and then back to centre, again for a minute. If you find that this exercise worsens your headache stop immediately. If your hair is long tying it up in a high bunch can also help ease pain.
- Massage: Regular exercise and stretching can prevent many tension headaches. Treat yourself to a neck, shoulder and head massage. Whether it is a traditional massage or acupressure, releasing physical tension and improving circulation can promote feelings of wellbeing and even prevent headaches. Simply rubbing your temples can relieve pain.
- Cool down: Putting an ice pack on the area where the pain is focused can reduce the blood flow which in turn eases the pain.
- Warm bath: In some cases a warm bath can make headache sufferers feel better, especially if an essential herb such as lavender is added. Other helpful oils include rosemary, lemon and chamomile which can stimulate blood supply to the head and eucalyptus which eases pain. Add a few drops to your bath or make up a massage oil to apply to a neck and shoulder massage.
- Orgasm: Some people find that orgasm can help get rid of headache as it opens up the blood vessels, there are no studies to prove this but it’s surely worth a try!
- Feverfew: One study showed that 70 percent of migraine sufferers had less frequent attacks when taking the herb feverfew. The herb milk thistle may also be beneficial as milk thistle helps improve liver function. Acupuncture and homeopathy may also help with headache prevention and treatment.
Graham has been experiencing severe morning headaches for several weeks and having seen his GP and neurologist he was advised that it was related to his sleeping and day posture. He changed his pillow from a fat chunky one to a slim pillow which set him up in the right sleeping posture and also had a work station assessment to correct his posture at work.