Are Sleep Issues Causing Your Headaches?

We all know that sleep plays a vital role in our day-to-day health and well-being.  During regular periods of shut-eye, our body repairs cells and regenerates itself. Adequate sleep cycles are related to both physical and mental health and supports brain function and emotional well-being. Lack of sleep can raise your risk of suffering from a host of health issues, including disease, increased reaction time and decreased mental proficiency.

OK, so you know how important sleep is, but how do you know if you need more? If you wake up more than occasionally with a bad headache and/or neck pain, it may be a sign that you need to focus on night-time habits that increase your quantity and quality of sleep.


Waking up with a pounding head forces you to re-examine what you might have done the night before to cause it. Although alcohol or caffeine are possible culprits, quality of sleep may also be contributing to your headaches or migraines.  In fact, headaches are two to eight times more common among people with sleep disorders.

What’s going on during your night-time hours that’s causing your headache?  It could be any one of these issues:


We all have the occasional night of restlessness, but if you suffer from insomnia on multiple nights during a given week, you may want to seek help. Stress and anxiety prevents relaxation and cumulative nights of less than ideal sleep creates a cycle of fatigue and worry. A headache is a common symptom of all these conditions.

Tooth Grinding

Clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth during the night – which is also known as “bruxism,” puts stress on the mouth and facial muscles, resulting in aches all over your head and face. If you think you might be grinding your teeth in your sleep, see your dentist for a treatment plan that may include a referral for a sleep study.  Grinding may be a sign of a sleep disorder.


Did you know 75% of Americans don’t drink enough water? Many of us suffer from a constant state of mild dehydration. Not getting enough fluids during the day can lead to severe headaches upon waking. Make sure you’re drinking about 8 eight ounce glasses of water or other fluids a day.

Sleep Apnea   

If you suffer from migraines and sleep apnea, they may be related. Many of those who suffer from sleep apnea, or an inability to breathe consistently while asleep, find it more difficult to breathe when lying on their backs. But, being forced to lie on one’s side can lead to discomfort and eventually even a pinched nerve.  Pinched nerves happen to be a common trigger for migraines. If you get migraines and have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about your treatment for both.

Neck Pain

Waking up with a stiff neck can set you up for a day of pain and agony every time you try to turn your head. Whether it’s a muscle pull or a tension headache, consider improving a few of your bedtime habits to ensure you’re not giving yourself a pain in the neck.

Pillow Support

Your neck agony may be related to the wrong pillow. If you fall asleep without enough support to your head and neck or strain your muscles for hours overnight, you’re almost guaranteed to wake up with some tension pain. Make sure you keep your head and neck in a neutral position while lying in bed– as if you were standing up. If you do wake up with a stiff neck, try a hot shower to relax your muscles or take some over the counter pain medication.

Sleep Position

Some sleeping positions are more likely to cause neck pain. Sleeping on your back (unless you have sleep apnea) or on your side is less stressful on the spine than spending the entire night on your stomach.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to change the habit of what sleep position you settle in to. Try to start the night on your back or side, at the very least.

Getting quality sleep is important for many reasons – not the least of which is feeling focused and capable of getting through your day. Headaches and neck pain that are related to poor sleeping habits prevent you from looking and feeling your best – get to the bottom of what’s causing that throbbing in the top of your head!

Healthy bodies start with healthy teeth. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at