Headaches can have a variety of causes and can be triggered by a number of different factors. However, there are certain types of headaches that are associated with specific conditions. For example, a sinus headache is caused by sinus pressure, while a tension headache is caused by muscle tension. Morning headaches are another type of headache that can be traced to a select few conditions such as bruxism, poor sleep posture, and sleep disorders. One of the most common causes of morning headaches is obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, one study noted that 29% of people diagnosed with OSA reported experiencing morning headaches.
Morning Headaches Caused by OSA
Besides occurring in the morning, headaches associated with OSA tend to have the following characteristics:
- tend to occur on both sides of the head
- occur frequently (at least 15 days a month)
- disappear about on hour or so after waking, but can last up to four hours
- characterized by a pressing pain, rather than pulsing
- are NOT accompanied by migraine symptoms such as visual impairment, light sensitivity, or nausea
How does OSA Cause Morning Headaches?
According to the Sleep Foundation, researchers do not know for sure why obstructive sleep apnea causes morning headaches. Research suggests that a lack of oxygen can cause carbon dioxide to accumulate within the bloodstream. When this happens, the blood vessels in the brain expand, which causes pressure that can result in a headache. The headache resolves itself once you wake since breathing goes back to normal and the oxygen balances out the excess carbon dioxide in the blood vessels.
However, lapses in breathing occur in both people with and without OSA headaches, implying that there must be another factor responsible for headaches. A study posted in Brain Sciences that evaluated the specific relationship between morning headaches and obstructive sleep apnea noted that a lack of oxygen may play a role in the development of morning headaches, however it was also noted that more research is needed. The disruption of circadian rhythm has also been noted by the article to affect systemic blood pressure, meaning that hypertension can also increase the risk of morning headaches.
This same study also determined that women, those with a history of hypertension, those who complained about unrefreshing sleep, and those who choked at night were more likely to experience morning headaches. Other factors such as age, BMI, smoking, snoring, observed apnea, daytime sleepiness, and Epworth sleepiness scale score were not found to be significantly associated with morning headaches in people with OSA.
While the exact reason why OSA causes morning headaches is still being actively researched, current research has found that morning headaches are an indication of obstructive sleep apnea. If you suffer from morning headaches, contact Doctor Dreamweaver today to get your home sleep apnea test so you can sleep well and be well.