Nighttime Headaches: What Causes Them?

If you get nighttime headaches often, you need to see a doctor to get examined and find out what's causing them.
Nighttime Headaches: What Causes Them?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

A nocturnal headache affects rest and the ability to get a good night’s sleep. And since you need those hours to wake up the next day with vigor and optimism, therefore, it’s important to know what may be the cause of this discomfort and how to treat it correctly.

This discomfort is much more common than we might think. In fact, most experience it at some point in their life. And although we often tend to confuse it with common headaches, nocturnal headaches don’t manifest itself exactly in the same way.

5 causes of nighttime headache

Sometimes, we go to bed with a previous discomfort. Then, that pain progresses, reaching greater intensity as the night progresses. Then you open our eyes, and you feel dull, as if a heavy nebula were pressing down on your head.

In general, headaches can have multiple origins. However, the one that appears suddenly throughout the night, interrupting rest responds, to certain factors.

A woman with a nighttime headache.

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1. Hypnic headaches

Hypnic headaches aren’t very well-known. They may happen during the night or even when napping.

  • Generally speaking, they happen during the REM stage of your sleep. It’s a mild but sharp pain that usually lasts from 15 minutes to an hour or two.
  • The reasons aren’t completely understood, but it’s known that it happens during this particular stage of sleep. Therefore, it’s believed that the hypnic headache may be related to a sudden drop in melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep.
  • Hypnic headaches tend to present in people over 50.

2. Inflammation-causing foods

Inflammation-causing foods

This is another piece of information that’s not very well-known. Certain foods, when eaten in excess, cause changes in your body.

  • Oftentimes, food high in monosodium glutamate (MSG) cause headaches in the middle of the night if eaten late in the day, like at dinner.
  • This artificial additive isn’t just unhealthy, but also addictive.
  • It gives an intense flavor to many of the foods you eat every day, like sauces, creams, soup stock, and many kinds of precooked meals.
  • Cheese and other dairy products also cause inflammation and often cause nighttime headaches.

All of this means that you should watch what you eat at dinner. Choose which foods you consume so close to bedtime well.

3. Sinus headache

Sinus headaches are also associated with nighttime headaches.

  • This type, as the name indicates, is caused by sinusitis.
  • This pain in the sinus area is very intense. The sensitivity may also reach your ears and head.
  • A lot of times, people think that it’s caused by some kind of migraine or vascular headache, but not sinusitis. This condition tends to get worse overnight if the air is very dry. Humidifiers can be very helpful in these cases.

4. Exploding head syndrome

It’s as odd sounding as it is true. Exploding head syndrome was described by the end of the 19th century, and yet today little is known about what causes it.

This kind of disorder enters into the realm of what’s called “parasomnias”, or, in other words, a sleep disorder.

It consists of an intense headache right when a person is about to fall asleep. Women tend to get them more than men.

Some people may experience it only once in their life; others may get them for months at a time. However, in all registered cases, they go away by themselves.

For now, the data indicates that it may be related to an injury in one of the bones of the ear or even a failure in neuronal activity right when you’re about to fall asleep.

Take a look at this: 10 Keys to Good Sleep Hygiene

5. Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are a type of migraine that affects men more than women.

  • They appear between two and three hours after falling asleep.
  • The pain is very intense and lasts a relatively short period of time, between 15 minutes and half an hour.
  • The pain is located on one side of the head, behind the eye, and may extend to the temple and neck.
  • Other symptoms that accompany the headache are eye inflammation, a congested nose, and watering of the eyes.
  • Cluster headaches are sometimes chronic.

Does your head hurt?

If you’ve experienced any of these problems for several days in a row, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor. It’s important for the professional to do a complete check-up to find out what may be happening to you and what’s the most appropriate way to treat the issue so that you can regain your well-being and lead a normal life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.