Why Is My Headache Worse When Lying Down?

Mar 17, 2022

If you’ve ever woken up to a splitting headache, the feeling can be alarming. After all, aren’t headaches supposed to be relieved by lying down and sleeping? Despite conventional wisdom that lying down should help, there’s evidence to the contrary pointing towards the fact that lying down might often make your headache feel worse. Around 8 million people will visit their doctor’s office each year complaining of headache pain, and the neurologists in Tucker at AICA Tucker are familiar with almost every type of headache complaint. Here at AICA, we think it’s important for you to be able to make informed decisions about your care, so we’ve broken down some helpful information about headaches; What causes them, ways to decrease them, and things you should be on the lookout for.

Causes of Headaches

Let’s start with some basic biology to help you understand why you might be experiencing headaches while lying down or when you wake up in the morning. We know this is not the way anyone wants to wake up in the morning, and there are a few conditions that could be triggering these morning headaches.

First, when you lie down, blood vessels that run through your head and your neck can become compressed, which temporarily restricts blood flow, causing headaches. Increased blood pressure on arteries from lying down can increase headache pain.

Before consulting a doctor about your morning headache, take stock to see if the following may be contributing to your morning headache: consuming alcohol the previous night, morning sickness from pregnancy, or jet lag. These are common reasons you could be experiencing headaches in the morning and aren’t medical conditions. But, if your headaches persist regularly, it’s wise to get in touch with your doctor. Some conditions that would necessitate seeing a doctor include:

  • Increase in Spinal Fluid Pressure – It’s difficult to monitor this pressure, but it can greatly affect how you feel when you lay down. While it may be tough to say conclusively that your headache is coming from an increase in spinal fluid pressure, you can change your sleeping position to sleep on an incline to try to avoid pain when you lay down.
  • Sinus Disease– You’re probably familiar with the pain and discomfort caused by sinus pressure from infection or chronic sinus disease. These problems can cause inflammation and irritation, with much of that happening in your head and face. This can cause you to experience headaches when you lie down.
  • Brain Diseases– Headaches in the morning when you wake up are symptoms of certain neurological and brain diseases. If you have ongoing morning headaches, it’s important to get these checked out immediately as they could signal a more serious condition like migraines or epilepsy.

Improving Sleep to Decrease Headaches

If there’s one thing we know to be important at AICA Tucker, it’s posture. Our comprehensive care team includes chiropractors and physical therapists who can help assess your posture during the day and while you sleep, bringing about huge impacts on your health. When sleeping, it’s best to support your head and neck in a neutral position. Keeping your spine aligned and relaxed will help keep morning headaches at bay if sleep position is the problem. There are also a few sleep positions to avoid if you’re waking up with headaches:

  • Fetal position – Even though it feels good, this position can force your shoulders forward, causing tension in your neck, and resulting in a morning headache.
  • Stomach sleeping- Again, even though this can feel good, sleeping on your stomach can force your neck and head to twist in unusual ways, which also brings on morning headaches as a result of the tension during the night.
  •  Sleeping with an arm over your head- This position can cut off circulation, put pressure on your nerves, and interrupt blood flow, which can cause you painful headaches in the morning.

Types of Headaches

There are many different kinds of headaches, with various underlying causes and triggers. It’s important to understand each of these types of headaches so your medical provider can help you assess whether or not they might be the cause of any pain you feel when you lie down or any headaches you might be experiencing when you wake up.

  • Cluster Headaches – Cluster headaches are a subtype of migraine headaches that exhibit a particular type of pain and sometimes nausea and vomiting.
  • Tension Headaches – Tension headaches are often felt in the back of the head and are caused by tensions in the shoulders, head, neck, and back. Lack of sleep, bad posture, bad diet, and poor exercise habits can lead to pain when lying down.
  • Sinus Headaches – As its name suggests, sinus headaches stem from inflammation of the sinuses and usually accompany an infection. These headaches are often part of a suite of other symptoms like nasal congestion, cough, and fever. The pain of sinus headaches can be felt between the eyes or between the ears and your forehead. It can be dull or sharp.
  • Migraine Headaches – Nearly 1 in 5 people will experience migraines in their lifetime. These common and disruptive headaches can range in severity and symptoms. Most people experience symptoms in the head, eyes, and jaw.
  • Cervicogenic Headaches- This particular type of headache differs from other types of headaches because it starts in the neck and back muscles instead of in the head or neck like other disorders. This kind of headache may be caused or made worse by stress or anxiety, and it may result in the muscles around your neck and back tensing up. Poor sleep posture (like on your stomach) can aggravate this type of headache and make it worse.

Ways to Decrease Morning Headaches

As we mentioned, there are a few common triggers that can cause morning headaches. These include alcohol consumption, jet lag, morning sickness, teeth grinding, caffeine intake, and excessive screen time, for example. These triggers don’t necessarily have any underlying medical issues but can cause morning headaches. In order to decrease your instances of waking up with a throbbing headache, here are a few tips:

Practice good sleep habits

Good sleep habits sound like something to roll your eyes at, but these little habits can add up to big, pain-free results. These habits include going to bed at the same time daily, avoiding napping, avoiding drugs, alcohol, or large meals before bed, avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, exercising for 30 minutes every day, limiting screen time right before bed, if you can’t sleep, get up and go to another room.

Change your pillow or sleep position

Finding the right pillow, one that’s not too hard or stiff, but still provides some support, is key. Arranging these pillows in a way that is supportive will help you sleep better and hopefully prevent headaches. Side and back sleeping are superior to stomach sleeping.

Pain relief

If you need help with pain relief through over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, know that in moderation, this can be an effective way to manage headaches. However, you should not be relying on pain medication any longer than two weeks.

Seek out medical advice

Sometimes, the tips and tricks don’t work to resolve or relieve any of the pain felt when lying down or when waking up. This is why it’s important to know the causes of headaches, types of headaches, and ways in which you could potentially help yourself when it comes to keeping headaches at bay. But, everyone has their limits, and it’s important to seek medical care and advice if morning headaches persist.

Serious Conditions that Can Cause Headaches

In some cases, having pain when you lie down can be an indication of something more serious. These should be discussed and diagnosed only with a medical professional. Be aware of the following conditions, as they could be underlying causes for morning headaches. These conditions can be dangerous and life-threatening if left untreated. These conditions are rare.

  • Stroke- Headaches can be a product of a stroke, which is the most common cause of brain damage. Strokes can also result in various behavioral changes, both physical and mental, but the most common symptom of a stroke is a headache.
  • High Blood Pressure – Headaches associated with high blood pressure can be incredibly dangerous and even cause shock. Symptoms of a high blood pressure-related headache are throbbing in the temples, forehead, or neck, a tight feeling in the head, severe itching of eyelids, and sometimes a nosebleed.
  • Brain Tumor – On rare occasions, you can develop headaches from a brain tumor that is pressing against the brain or against the base of the skull. As a tumor grows, it can put increased pressure on the brain or skull, resulting in headaches that grow worse over time, or it can result in sudden pain and loss of consciousness.
  • Cluster Headaches – As previously mentioned, cluster headaches are a type of migraine recognized by their severe, recurring headaches without any diagnosable cause. The pain from cluster headaches can present as severe, sometimes pulsating, throbbing, or sharp.

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