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Migraine sufferers know how painful these intense, debilitating headaches can be and how severely it can impact everyday activities. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to determine what is causing recurrent migraines as there can be many contributing factors. One type of migraine that may have a clearer cause, however, are those that occur immediately upon waking in the morning.

Those that awaken with a bad headache every morning may be dealing with an underlying health condition known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops for a period of time during sleep. This can cause a variety of symptoms, one of which is waking up with a headache in the morning.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is when a person stops breathing for a short period of time, often just a few seconds, due to the airway being collapsed or blocked. The tongue or soft palate can obstruct a person’s airway when they are relaxed during sleep.

Once the airway becomes blocked, the body responds by accumulating carbon dioxide which is unable to exit the body due to the breathing being disturbed. This excess carbon dioxide then dilates the blood vessels in the brain which in turn generates more blood flow to the brain, resulting in more pressure within the skull and pain for the person suffering from sleep apnea.

Other Sleep Apnea Symptoms

In addition to waking up with headaches, a person suffering from sleep apnea may also

  • Snore
  • Be excessively tired during the day
  • Wet the bed
  • Wake up with a dry mouth
  • Grind their teeth
  • Gasp for air in their sleep
  • Have difficulty concentrating
  • Experience mood disturbances
  • Have frequent acid reflux
  • Wake up drenched in sweat

Treating Migraines and Sleep Apnea

In order to stop morning migraines from occurring, the underlying sleep apnea must be treated. This is typically achieved by using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. Other lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, exercise, and quitting smoking can also help. Sometimes surgical removal of the tonsils or adenoids may be required to treat sleep apnea.