The Connection between Sleep Disorders and Headaches

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When someone experiences headaches, the tendency is to just reach out for an aspirin to take care of the problem and then think nothing more of it, until the next episode comes along.

Unfortunately, this lack of concern only perpetuates the problem, until the pain and the frequency become intolerable.

This is why you should never brush off headaches, especially if they happen continuously. This could actually be your body’s way of sending a signal that there’s an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed right away.

young woman headache pain

Types of Headaches

Knowing the type of headache you have is important so you will know how to treat it, and determine if it is the kind that a professional needs to look at.

Here are the most common types of headaches:

Tension headache

This is the most common headache that almost everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. If a person experiences this rather often, then it is called chronic tension headache. The pain or pressure is usually experienced on the temples, on both sides of the head, or at the back of the neck.

This type of headache is not as painful as a migraine, and an over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol will ease off the pain. This headache is usually caused by stress and anxiety.

Hormonal headache

A woman will sometimes experience a sharp, throbbing pain on one side of the head, caused by her menstrual period. This headache may happen before or during a period.

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches frequently affect males more than females. As the name suggests, the recurring headache happens in clusters or in groups.

A person will experience a couple of intense headaches over a short period of time, on the same portion of the head, quickly followed by a headache-free period. The headache can be piercing, intense, and debilitating.

It will suddenly appear without warning, catching the person by surprise and is usually accompanied with nasal congestion such as watery eyes and runny nose.


Migraine is the worst kind of headache to have. Each migraine attack is intense and debilitating, and will prevent a person from performing his or her work.

Before an episode, a person may see bright lights or stars. It is also usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. Lack of sleep or even too much of it can cause migraine.

Sleep, therefore, can be helpful to relieve some of the pain caused by migraine, and those afflicted will often lie in a dark, quiet room until the pain subsides.

Morning headache

This is a short-lived headache that is usually gone by the time a person gets up in the morning. This headache is also association with sleep apnea and changes in the level of blood oxygen within the body.

The Sleep Disorder-Headache Connection

Cluster headaches usually happen after several hours of falling asleep. The pain from this headache can be severe enough to rouse the person into wakefulness.

In a study conducted by Graff-Radford, 31 subjects who suffered from cluster headaches underwent an overnight polysomnographic test. The results showed that out of the 31 people, 25 had sleep apnea.

The high percentage (80.64%) of sleep apnea among these patients who were suffering from cluster headaches means there is a connection between the two.

This is why it is highly recommended to do a sleep evaluation study in order to establish the cause of one’s headaches in order to properly treat them.

Sleep Stages and Headaches

A person goes through several stages while sleeping. Stage 1 is when the person drifts in and out of sleep, and can be awakened by the slightest noise. Stage 2 is a deeper kind of sleep where the eye movement stops and the brain waves become slower.

Most noise disturbances will not wake a person who is at stages 3 and 4. At these stages, there is no more eye movement and muscle activity. This is called the delta wave or “deep” sleep.

The REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the stage where dreams happen and increased heart rates occur. It is believed that the transition from REM to non-REM sleep may be the reason behind the cluster headache.

Treatment Options

In order to determine the cause of your headache, it is recommended you undergo a sleep study, most especially if your sleep is accompanied by snoring. A sleep study will be able to determine if the headaches that you have been having are related to sleep apnea.

If the doctor gives you a diagnosis of sleep apnea, there are lots of sleeping aids to choose from. But the most effective device is still a nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which can improve the quality of your sleep and prevent headaches caused by irregular sleeping patterns.

If you have been suffering from headaches for quite some time now, Sleep Rite can help you by providing a comfortable, convenient sleep study to identify the cause of your headaches.

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