Headaches at Night: Causes, and Treatment
Experiencing frequent night headaches is not a new phenomenon. You can catch them right after dinner, or just before you doze off to sleep or in the middle of the night. These night headaches are frustrating and take a toll on the overall health of a person.
We usually assume headaches to be temporary and a situational thing while the truth is, these can become much more than just a short-term problem if not taken care of timely.
Why do you get Headaches at Night?
Headaches at night are still a topic of controversy and doctors aren’t sure what exactly leads to them.
However, research suggests that there may be a connection between these headaches and certain stages of sleep or your sleep cycle. They can also be caused due to too much screen time or due to a stressful day.
Other reasons can be sleep apnea, overuse of certain drugs or medications, any head injury, etc. While the exact causes and the science behind it is still in the research stage, what’s important to know is the type of headache you are experiencing at night.
Types of Night Headaches
If you are getting a headache at night, it’s crucial to understand what type of headache it is along with the symptoms you are going through and the possible ways to treat it.
1) Hypnic headaches:
This is a rare headache that mainly occurs over the age of 50 years, according to the Migraine Trust. More common within females, this headache mostly occurs during sleep although sometimes, can also occur in the daytime.
Hypnic headaches are frequent headaches that occur usually more than 8-10 times a month and can make people wake up between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
- Throbbing pain
- Pain in either or both sides of the head
- Pain that lasts anywhere between 15 minutes and 4 hours
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
- Watery eyes
- Blocked nose
2) Cluster headaches:
These are some of the most painful types of headaches and an individual can experience them multiple times, usually one to eight times per day.
Exercise, overheating, exhaustion, smoking, and alcohol intake are probable causes of cluster headaches. Genetics may also play a role here but no proper conclusion has been drawn out.
- Stabbing pain on the side of the head
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
- Sweating on the sides of the head
- Agitation And restlessness
3) Tension headaches
These are some of the most common types of headaches people usually experience. These are not very severe so an individual can carry out his everyday activities after resting for some time.
It can be caused due to stress, tight muscles, or fatigue from a hectic day.
Doctors are actually unaware of how these tension headaches are caused biologically or medically. There is no evidence available for it but certain researchers have come up with assuming these as the following probable causes-
- Wrong sleeping position
- Skipping meals
- Too much screen time
- Excess caffeine
- A dull ache or sensation on both sides of the head
- Pain in neck, shoulders, and back
- Jaw tightness
- Pain lasting between 20 minutes to 2 hours
This is a kind of headache which we all must have heard about once in our life, either from our close-knit or during doctor’s consultations, etc. Migraine causes intense head pain and also alters vision to a certain extent.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, people experience migraines in straight early mornings. This is mainly due to the null effect of painkillers taken by them to stop the headache.
These medications stop working after 4-8 hours and thus the pain resumes. Every migration can last as long as up to 72 hours depending on the severity and the medication being consumed.
- Moderate to severe pain
- Vision altering
Diagnosing your Headache
The foremost step towards knowing about your headache and getting treatment for it is self-diagnosis. You need to observe and analyze the following pointers when you start having a night headache-
- Frequency of your headaches
- The intensity of the pain
- Other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, etc.
- Time at which your headache is appearing constantly
Next up is a clinical approach towards it. The doctor would interrogate you regarding all your self-diagnosis and observation associated with your headaches.
The doctor then would run some physical and neurological exams to clinically lookout for the following symptoms-
- Abnormal breathing
- Cognitive or mental behavior
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness or numbness
- Speech issues
- Vision changes
- Brain abscess
- Blood clots
- Head trauma
- Sinus blockage
There are many tests done to diagnose a severe headache disorder. However, these are not the fundamental markers or the accurate tests for diagnosing migraine and tension headaches. Some of the commonly done diagnosis tests are-
- Blood test
- CT Scan or MRI
- Eye exam
Best Treatments for your Night Headaches
Quick tips and tricks
- Get a relieving and relaxing massage therapy from a good practitioner to reduce chronic pain and ease muscle tension. Massage therapies are therapeutic and help a lot.
- You can opt for acupuncture which is a traditional Chinese method of relieving body pain and headaches. It works by applying fine, sharp needles to key areas of the body as a means of promoting energy flow.
- For tension headaches, apply cold packs/ hot packs on the affected area for a maximum of 10 minutes. These bring instant relief reducing your chronic head pain.
- Instant relief in headaches can also be brought about by aromatherapy. Certain smells have a positive and soothing effect and provide healing to the brain as well. You can use peppermint extract, lavender oil, etc.
- A cup of warm and steaming tea is a quick solution to your headache and is probably one of the most preferred methods used. Tea, particularly herbal tea, incorporated with chamomile, ginger, dandelion, etc, provides pain-relieving effects.
Depending on the results of the medical diagnosis, the doctor provides the correct clinical treatments, most of which are prescribed medications. These are suggested in the case of frequent headaches. Some of the common ones are-
- Antiemetics promethazine HCI
- Trimethobenzamide HCI
- Cyproheptadine HCI
For tension headaches, doctors usually prescribe over-the-counter medications for symptomatic relief. Some of the most suggested ones are-
- Naproxen sodium
Note: This is strict to be noted that these medications are only consumed by the doctor’s prescription so self-medication must be avoided. Also, children are not supposed to consume any of these or other prescription medications.
A regular follow-up and daily preventive therapy with the doctor is a must alongside the consumption of these medicines.
Other than the medications, one can also opt for stress management therapy delivered by medical practitioners in order to control these severe night headaches.
Lifestyle modifications to cure night headaches
- Watch out for your diet
Food is hands down the ultimate medicine to every health problem you come across. Keep your diet in check and avoid those foods which trigger headaches. These foods may commonly include-
- Caffeine-containing beverages
- Excess nitrate content
- Tyramine containing foods
There are many such foods, also depending upon the body reactivity and sensitivity, which may pose a problem and trigger headaches.
A well-balanced diet is the center of treatment for curing night headaches. You must eat three meals a day with a snack at night or 6 small meals spread throughout the day.
You should include a good protein source at each meal/snack (i.e. milk, meat, fish) and should avoid eating high sugar foods. Suppressing junk and alcohol cravings will help to prevent the “hunger headache.”
- Get a proper sleep
Proper and peaceful sleep is a boon against many health problems. Get the right sleeping schedule for yourself and stick to it.
Keep all your electronic gadgets away the moment you step on your bed, even before that. Treat yourself to a good book or a hot bath before you go to sleep to keep your mind relaxed.
- Hydration is very important
- Indulge in physical exercises
Daily exercise of 30 minutes can work wonders for your mental health and helps a lot in relieving your headaches. Tension-related headaches can be relieved with regular breathing exercises. Other than that, yoga as we all know is a wonderful stress buster. It can work wonders for you.
Night headaches may start off as short-term, not-so-painful headaches, but they may progress to conditions unimaginable. So, it’s better to start off early and get the right treatments in your hand along with focusing on changing your lifestyle.