Waking up with a headache is a terrible way to start the day. But for many people morning headaches are an almost daily occurrence. In order to figure out how to treat these headaches, you first have to isolate the cause. Here are seven of the more common causes of morning headaches so you can figure out how to get rid of them.

Young man with a short brown beard rubbing his head in the morning due to a headache. It's a terrible way to start the day but you are not alone. Dr. Marlen Martirossian discusses 7 Causes of Morning Headaches and how to treat them.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that is most common among overweight middle-aged men, but can affect anyone of any age. In this disorder, your breathing stops during sleep. This results in brain waking due to oxygen deprivation, blood pressure surges, and other disruptions of your body’s normal sleep cycle.

In addition to headaches you might experience related symptoms like:

  • Snoring
  • Dry mouth
  • Moodiness
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of interest
  • Dozing off during the day

These disruptions may occur hundreds of times a night, even if you don’t notice them. And after a night of such disrupted sleep, your brain is understandably hurt. Classic sleep apnea headaches occur within a half hour of waking, but that’s not the only type of headache linked to sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea also tend to have migraines (more on this below).


Alcohol consumption is common, with 70% of Americans drinking alcohol to some degree, and about 20% of Americans having a drink every day. You don’t have to drink a lot of alcohol to end up experiencing the consequences in the morning.

You might also experience symptoms like:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness
  • Elevated heart rate

Alcohol might give you a headache in the morning because you’re dehydrated. Making sure you drink enough water with your alcohol can control that. Another problem is that alcohol can disrupt your sleep. If you drink too close to bedtime, alcohol can contribute to sleep apnea risk, or otherwise disrupt sleep. Changing your schedule of drinking can help you avoid headaches in the morning.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Even more Americans drink coffee each day, and most of those that don’t enjoy a morning cup of joe prefer a cup of tea. Unfortunately, this also means that many people come to rely on caffeine, and if they aren’t getting enough of it or aren’t getting it soon enough, it can lead to withdrawal headaches.

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty concentrating

Consider these headaches a warning sign that you’re too reliant on caffeine. Try to reduce your consumption. If you find you need more than one cup of coffee to get moving in the morning, maybe you need more sleep at night. And if you find that you need caffeine in the afternoon to keep going, it’s likely that you’re suffering from sleep apnea.

Not Enough or Too Much Sleep

Many of us aren’t prioritizing sleep. We sacrifice sleep for other things: work, play, or even social media. But getting enough sleep is critical to brain health, and if you’re not getting enough, you may experience serious headaches.

You might experience:

  • Back pain
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Heart problems

On the other hand, getting too much sleep can be bad, too. It can disrupt your serotonin levels, which can cause headaches. It’s also bad to try to catch up on sleep over the weekend because you’re not getting enough during the week. The variability in sleep patterns can lead to morning headaches.


Depression is not just about chronic low mood states. It comes with many other symptoms, which may include headaches. The leading suspect in depression headaches is low serotonin levels, which are common in depression.

You might also experience:

  • Overeating or lack of appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Lack of interest

Note that sometimes sleep apnea is misdiagnosed as depression, and that morning headaches are common to both conditions.

Sleep Bruxism

Sleep bruxism is when you are clenching and grinding your teeth at night. This stresses your muscles, and puts pressure on many facial structures overnight. This can lead to pain anywhere from your chin to the top of your head.

Sleep bruxism may also cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw noises
  • Tooth damage
  • Ringing in the ears and other ear-related symptoms

If you have sleep bruxism, your sleep partner may complain about the sound, you may notice grit in your mouth in the morning, or you may see your teeth get worn down rapidly over time.

Some doctors are quick recommend muscle relaxants for bruxism. While they are effective, there are also drug-free ways to relax a tense jaw.


There are many potential migraine triggers, and one that people can’t control is the drop in endorphin levels overnight. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers, and sometimes when these levels drop, migraines and other headache pain can spike, which makes for a very painful awakening. In addition, there are several muscles in the head that have been linked to migraines. Bruxism can tense these muscles and therefore trigger migraines. Migraines have been linked to caffeine, and sometimes giving up caffeine has been recommended as a migraine treatment. However, this also comes with the risk of causing headaches due to caffeine withdrawal.

Symptoms associated with migraines include:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Blurred or cloudy vision

Migraines are also associated with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea treatment not only takes care of morning headaches, it can dramatically reduce your overall incidence of migraines, perhaps as much as 92%! This is very good news for people with migraines, who often have trouble finding successful migraine treatments.

We Can Help with Many Headache Causes

If you’re suffering with morning headaches, we may be able to help. Most of the potential headache causes that aren’t within your control will respond to TMJ treatment or sleep apnea treatment. We can help treat morning headaches related to sleep apnea, sleep bruxism, and migraines. We can even help mediate headaches related to caffeine if they’re secondary to sleep apnea.

Would you like to learn whether we can help with your morning headaches? Please call (201) 343-4044 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Marlen Martirossian at the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.