Why You Wake Up With A Headache & How To Feel Better

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
If you're a person who gets migraines, it can feel like each morning is a fresh chance for you to hopefully not get slammed with one — but sometimes you wake up and already have a headache, which derails your whole day. While migraines can happen at any time of the day, nearly half of all migraines occur between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m., according to the American Migraine Foundation. And if it feels like morning migraines are worse than the ones that strike at other times, that's not just in your head.
"The reason why those [morning] headaches feel worse is because, with headache, the timing to treatment really matters," says Juline Bryson, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. If you can treat your migraine or headache within the first 20 minutes that it hits, then there's a good chance you can prevent the pain from getting really bad, she says. But when you wake up and are already in pain, chances are you missed that window, so any treatment you try isn't going to work as well. "It feels more severe, and those migraines are really obnoxious," Dr. Bryson says.
Even if you don't get migraines, there are a few reasons why tension headaches (which, BTW are not the same thing as migraines) hit first thing in the morning. Understanding what triggers your headaches will help you treat them, and make waking up less of a gamble. "Our goal is to put people in control of their headaches," Dr. Bryson says. If you're getting morning migraines every single day, or you never had migraines and now are suddenly getting them in the morning, then it's a good idea to see a neurologist so that they can rule out more serious disorders, such as idiopathic intracranial hypertension or brain tumors, Dr. Bryson says.
Ahead are some common factors that can contribute to morning headaches and migraines, and how to find relief.