Sleep Apnea and Headache Symptoms

sleep apnea and headache symptoms

Heads up! If you’re experiencing chronic headaches, especially in the morning. It’s possible that you have developed a sleeping disorder such as sleep apnea. Sleeping conditions overall not only interrupt your life, but can be very dangerous for your health. Specifically, sleep apnea causes a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms and can lead to serious health conditions such as heart failure, stroke, or even premature death.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disordered breathing condition in which a blockage (or, less commonly, a brain malfunction) causes the body to stop breathing for extended periods of time. When the brain finally realizes that the respiratory system isn’t working right, it triggers alarms to the body to wake up and start breathing again.

This whole process may last only several seconds, but in severe cases when it happens repeatedly during the night, it can wreak havoc on the body and brain. Sleep is interrupted, heart rate is increased, blood sugar spikes, and other responses all combine together to create poor health and severely reduce quality of life.

Sleep Apnea and Headaches All Day

Headaches and sleep apnea often seem to go together. People with headaches may be more likely to suffer from sleep disturbances, and people with sleep apnea often exhibit headache as one of the symptoms. This may or may not occur in the morning.

Related specifically to migraines, the recording of the occurrence of sleep apnea in people with migraines is no more than the general population, and vice versa. However, some indication has been made that treatment for sleep apnea can mitigate migraine headaches in people who suffer from both.

This relationship may have less to do with the direct impact of sleep apnea, and more to do with sleeping positions. Sleep apnea and snoring are exacerbated by sleeping on the back. This means that many people with sleep apnea try to sleep on the side or stomach. The side effect of this could be pinched nerves in the neck related to less-comfortable sleeping positions. Pinched nerve in the neck can be the culprit for migraine headaches. So although the actual connection between all day migraine headache and sleep apnea may be indirect, it still exists and may be treatable.

Morning Headaches Sleep Apnea

People who have morning headaches may find the cause is more directly related to the lack of oxygen their bodies are receiving during sleep. Lack of oxygen, as well as the release of stress hormones when the brain attempts to wake the body, can contribute to high blood pressure and result in headaches.

Sleep apnea headaches occur in approximately 50% of people who suffer from the condition. But many more may be left undiagnosed. Morning headaches may exhibit themselves differently, with throbbing pain, nausea, sensitivity to light, or even pain in the jaw muscles. Throbbing headache pain usually indicated restricted blood vessels which can be related to blood pressure and the circulatory system. Dull pain which feels like a tight band placed around the skull may be indicative of a tension headache related to muscle contraction and stress.

Another indirect association between sleep apnea and headache can be excessive consumption of caffeine. People who don’t sleep well are chronically tired and may rely on caffeine to help get through a day. Some sleep apnea sufferers will drink between 10 and 20 cups of coffee, tea, or colas per day, just to stay awake. Morning headaches (possibly with jitters) may be associated with withdrawal from caffeine that happens during the night. Reducing caffeine intake is critical for mitigating these symptoms.

Waking up with a headache often comes along with tension and sets the tone for the day. If you’ve already not gotten enough restorative sleep, and then you have to deal with a headache, you may find yourself very grouchy, moody, and irritable. Treatment for sleep apnea can stop the cycle of sleep deprivation, headache, and personality changes.

Do I Have Sleep Apnea?

One of the common signs of sleep apnea may be morning headaches. In some people, these headaches last all throughout the day. Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud chronic snoring
  • Occasionally waking with a feeling of choking or gasping for air
  • Waking with a very dry mouth and/or sore throat
  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Waking up often to go to the bathroom
  • Lack of concentration, forgetfulness, poor work or school performance
  • Insomnia or inability to sleep well
  • Fatigue and sleepiness during activity such as driving or working
  • Irritability, mood swings, depression
  • Decreased libido

If you or someone you are close to is experiencing morning headaches or other symptoms and signs related sleep apnea, a medical professional should be contacted right away for diagnosis and possible treatment options.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

Some people are more likely than others to develop obstructive sleep apnea. Here are some of the common risk factors associated with this sleep breathing disorder:

  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Being male (men are twice as likely as women to develop sleep apnea)
  • Being middle aged
  • Large neck circumference (17” or more in men, 16” or more in women)
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of sleep apnea or snoring
  • Alcohol consumption at bedtime
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Large tonsils
  • Small jaw or other facial formations that cause blockage to airways

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea and Headaches

For most people, treatment of the underlying condition of sleep apnea can make symptoms such as headache and fatigue go away almost immediately. Diagnosis of sleep apnea requires a sleep study. Once a diagnosis exists, treatment often includes lifestyle changes such as losing weight or sleep positional adjustments. Of course, treatment will be determined based on the cause of the sleep apnea.

For more severe cases of sleep apnea, treatment with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine may be needed. This breathing machine keeps the airways open during sleep, allowing oxygen to pass through to the respiratory system without being blocked. Other more invasive treatments may include dental appliances, surgery for malformed jaw or tongue, surgical removal of tonsils or adenoids (in children) or correction of blocked nasal passages. The goal is always to restore breathing during sleep in the least invasive way possible.

Sleep Apnea 101 ~ Start Here!


Headaches are often a difficult symptoms to diagnose, but they can easily be connected to sleep apnea and other forms of sleep disturbance. Treating sleep apnea can help to restore healthy sleep patterns, and reduce immediate symptoms such as headaches, memory struggles, and depression. In the long term, treatment of sleep apnea and related headaches can offer minimization or prevention of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and other serious conditions which may even lead to premature death. Talk to a medical professional about how a few, simple lifestyle adjustments could change everything for your life and your health!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.