Headache due to Lack of Sleep – Causes and Treatment

Headaches and sleep have been related for decades. Waking up with a headache is one major sign that you did not get enough sleep. Headache due to lack of sleep usually lasts from an hour up to a day. This can be located on top of head, forehead or back of head. There are several types of sleep deprivation headache, each type differentiating from the other based on associated signs and symptoms.


  • Headache in the back, forehead, and top of the head
  • Fatigue
  • Mild nausea
  • Photophobia and phonophobia
  • Low mood
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • The pain is throbbing and pulsating in character, ranging from mild to moderate in intensity.

Causes of headache due to lack of sleep

  • Several studies indicate that lack of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep causes more painful headaches. The REM is the part of sleep that involves faster breathing, and dreaming, and is responsible for mood regulation and memory storage.
  • Another reason is the formation of proteins in the body that cause chronic pain due to lack of sleep. These proteins work by lowering the body’s pain threshold thus, sparking intense migraines and headaches.
  • When a body is deprived of sleep, it produces specific inflammatory markers that slowly revert when you start getting enough sleep. These stress and inflammatory markers cause these headaches.

Types of headache due to lack of sleep

Cluster Headache due to lack of sleep

Cluster headache is episodic. Its unique rhythmicity is quite notorious for disturbing sleep as headache occurs around the same time every day. Patient experiences several sleepless nights in a row.

Hypnic headache and lack of sleep

Hypnic headache exclusively occurs during the night when you’re asleep, waking you up from a good night’s sleep. The headache usually lasts from a few minutes to 6 hours on average.

Migraine due to lack of sleep:

Sleep deprivation is a well-known trigger for migraines. Along with sleep deprivation patients who suffer from frequent migraine attacks have other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking, night terrors, snoring, etc.

Risk factors

Sleeping disorders and headaches related to it are more common in patients with:

  • Age above 60 years
  • Chronic pain syndrome
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Complications that may arise due to a lack of Sleep

These are certain conditions that may develop as complications of sleep deprivation headache:

  • Chronic daily headaches
  • Chronic migraines
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic tension headache
  • Psychotic disorders such as epilepsy
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless leg syndrome

How much should you sleep?

7 hours of sleep for a healthy adult is mandatory for good health. Anything less than that can have adverse effects. People who did not get enough sleep have shown signs of brain shrinkage and severe memory loss.


  • Analgesics: Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen
  • Excedrin: For a migraine attack
  • Triptans: For tension headaches
  • Antiemetics: Chlorpromazine, metoclopramide
  • Indomethacin: For cluster headache
  • Anticonvulsants: Topiramate
  • Muscle relaxants: Nuberol forte

Home remedies

  • Try to fix your sleeping schedule to synchronize with your circadian rhythm.
  • Spend more time outside in daylight as it resets your body’s timing to nature’s clock.
  • Try to avoid watching TV, using a mobile phone, or using a laptop for a few hours before you go to bed.
  • Do a proper workout as it regulates melatonin.
  • Avoid drinking coffee before bed as it affects the quality of sleep.

When to consult a doctor?

Most of the time, sleep deprivation headaches are relieved in a few hours. In case of a severe headache that doesn’t go away a few hours after taking an analgesic and is accompanied by vomiting, nausea, fever, convulsions, or dizziness one should consult the physician and get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible.


Why does lack of sleep induce headaches?

Headache due to lack of sleep is caused by the decreased threshold to pain that initiates migraines. Several proteins formed due to lack of sleep lower the body’s threshold to pain.

Who is more at risk of developing a headache due to lack of sleep?

Patients with ages above 60 years, chronic pain syndrome, schizophrenia, depression, parkinson’s disease, and alzheimer’s disease are more at risk.

How much should I sleep?

On average, seven to nine hours of sleep are necessary.

What chronic conditions can I develop as a result of lack of sleep?

Chronic daily headaches, chronic migraines, chronic tension headache, and alzheimer’s disease.

Last medically reviewed on August 28, 2022.