December 13, 2021 6 min read

If you suffer from headaches, then consistently getting high-quality sleep can be a challenge. Under normal circumstances, it can be difficult to become relaxed and comfortable enough to fall asleep—but when a nighttime headache strikes, getting a good night’s sleep can seem impossible.

Nighttime headaches can happen due to a variety of reasons. In some cases, nighttime headaches are the result of a headache disorder, while in other cases the headaches may be tied to a separate health condition. Nighttime headaches can even occur as a result of low-quality sleep or stress.

If you’re wondering how to sleep with a headache, you’re in the right place. Although getting to sleep with a headache may be easier said than done, there are a number of strategies you can employ to get high-quality rest despite your headaches. Read from start to finish to learn more about how to get to sleep with a headache or use the links below to skip to any section in the article.

What Causes Nighttime Headaches?

There are several reasons why you may be experiencing nighttime headaches. Additionally, there are several different types of headaches that you may be experiencing at night. In some cases, nighttime headaches are directly related to a health condition, while in other cases the headaches are tied to your behavior and self-care practices.

For instance, lack of sleep is a major cause of nighttime headaches. In fact, lack of sleep is cited as a trigger among 48% to 74% of migraineurs and 26% to 72% of tension-type headache sufferers. In these cases, a simple behavioral change—such as adjusting one’s sleep schedule—may have the power to significantly reduce the frequency or intensity of nighttime headaches.

Lack of sleep as a trigger for migraines

The only problem is that nighttime headaches create a self-fulfilling cycle—a lack of sleep contributes to these headaches, but these headaches also contribute to a lack of sleep. And, in certain cases, nighttime headaches may be caused by a headache disorder. Below, we take a closer look at the different types of headaches that can negatively impact the quality of your sleep.

Hypnic headaches

Hypnic Headaches

Hypnic headaches are rare and most commonly affect individuals over the age of 50. Those who suffer from this headache disorder experience frequent headaches exclusively at night. The headaches themselves may last anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours and are occasionally accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or sensitivity to light or sound. 

Tension headaches

Tension Headaches

Tension headache is the most prevalent type of primary headache disorder. In some populations, more than 70% of people report episodic tension headaches occurring for less than 15 days per month.

This type of headache is characterized by an aching sensation on both sides of the head, which can feel like a band wrapped tightly around one’s skull. The ache can spread into the neck, shoulders, or back, and last anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.

Cluster headaches

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches often strike within an hour of falling asleep and can be excruciatingly painful. Oftentimes, the pain is focused around one eye, and can potentially result in eyelid drooping, redness, tearing of the eye, and a runny nose. This type of headache can be episodic or chronic, meaning it happens once in a while or occurs as often as eight times per day.

Migraines

Migraines

At some point or another, many of us have experienced a migraine. A migraine is a particularly painful headache that commonly strikes in the morning. This is because if you take pain or migraine medications before bed, these medications will typically wear off by the time you wake up.

Symptoms of migraines include head pain, nausea, vomiting, vision abnormalities, and sensitivities to light and sound. While some migraine episodes are brief, some can last as long as 72 hours.

Tips: Sleeping With a Headache

Now we come to the question of how to go to sleep with a headache. While sleeping with a headache can be difficult, it’s certainly not impossible. To learn more about how to sleep with a headache, check out our list of tips below.

1.    Stick to a consistent sleep schedule

To avoid nighttime headaches, be consistent with your sleep schedule. Sleeping too little or too much can potentially lead to headaches. With that being said, you should aim to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Additionally, if you suspect you have a headache disorder or sleep disorder, make sure to seek treatment as soon as possible. Treating your headache disorder can help to break the cycle of poor sleep and get you on track to achieving sufficient, high-quality sleep each night.

2.    Optimize your sleep environment

Creating a relaxing sleep environment can help you achieve a good night’s rest. In order to optimize your sleep environment, make sure that your room is cool, quiet, and dark. On top of that, use a mattress and bedding that makes you feel comfortable at night. Consider trying out MedCline’s therapeutic body pillow to add an extra level of comfort and support to your sleeping environment and improve sleep quality.

3.    Minimize electronic use before bed

While it can be tempting to surf the web and browse through social media on your phone right before bed, it’s best to avoid it. Electronic screens emit blue light, which can disrupt sleep by suppressing the secretion of melatonin. So, if you want to improve your sleep at night, make it a goal to avoid engaging with electronic screens for two to three hours before bedtime.

How to reduce nighttime headaches infographic

4.    Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake

As you probably already know, caffeine is a stimulant that does a great job of keeping you awake. While this can be a plus when you’re feeling groggy in the wee hours of the morning, caffeine is not good for sleep. Consuming caffeine late in the day can negatively impact sleep quality.

Similarly, alcohol can also negatively impact sleep quality. While it may feel easier to get to sleep after a few drinks, the quality of sleep isn’t the same as if you’re sober.

5.    Practice relaxation techniques

Certain relaxation techniques, such as mindful meditations or yoga, can help you relax and fall asleep more easily. One study found that over 30 days, a daily 11 minute Yoga Nidra meditation proved successful in reducing the stress levels of practitioners and improving their sleep. So, if you’re struggling to get to sleep due to headaches, go online or download a mindfulness app to find relaxing guided meditations.

6.    Reduce stress

Some headaches, such as tension headaches, can be triggered by stress. Thus, you can potentially reduce the frequency or intensity of nighttime headaches by reducing your stress levels. To reduce stress, you can:

Woman waking up with a headache

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to sleep with a headache?

It’s always best to treat headaches before going to sleep, as they can potentially become more severe and harder to treat upon waking. Attempt to soothe your headache before you go to sleep. If you have recurring nighttime headaches or can’t treat them before falling asleep, speak with your doctor about other treatment options.

How should you lay down with a tension headache?

If you experience a tension headache, you may find relief by sleeping on your side or your back, while keeping your neck in a neutral position. MedCline’s therapeutic body pillow can help keep you in a secure yet comfortable position as you sleep, so you can get the rest you need each night.

Does lying down with a headache make it worse?

Lying down with some types of headaches can exacerbate the condition. With cluster headaches, in particular, you should avoid lying down in most cases. If your head hurts while lying down, try getting up and moving around to see if that provides any relief.

Man sleeping soundly with no headache

Final Notes

When it comes to learning how to sleep with a headache, there are no easy answers. However, practicing the tips we mentioned above can make it easier to fall asleep and consistently achieve high-quality rest. If nighttime headaches are regularly interfering with your sleep schedule, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor and discuss treatment options.

In some cases, creating a relaxing sleep environment and adding an extra layer of support can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you want more support and comfort at night, try out MedCline’s therapeutic body pillow and experience premium comfort on a nightly basis. Chat with one of our sleep specialists to learn more about how MedCline can help you achieve the good night’s sleep you’ve been dreaming of.