Cluster headaches, tension headaches, migraines, sinus headaches – headaches come in all different shapes and sizes and can vary greatly. But they all have one thing in common…they’re always a real pain!
Night-time headaches in particular can be the worst.
You’ve made it through a long day and are finally ready to unwind and hit the sack when…
All of a sudden
…You get slammed with an excruciating headache! That peaceful sleep that you were so looking forward to is feeling more and more impossible thanks to your night-time headache.
Night-time headaches like this can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep, leaving you exhausted and crabby the next day.
And since lack of sleep can actually trigger headaches, night-time headaches that cause you to lose sleep are often the start of a vicious cycle.
But how are you supposed to fall asleep with that throbbing pain in your head? And what can you do to avoid night-time headache pain in the future?
To help ease the pain of your night-time headaches, we’ve gathered up the best ways to treat a headache at bedtime once it hits. Plus, we’ll share some tips for avoiding future headaches that disrupt your sleep.
Falling Asleep with a Headache
When it comes to treating an existing headache, it can be helpful to understand the trigger or cause. If you can identify what specifically brought your night-time headache on, you can more easily treat it. We will look at ways to keep track of triggers when we talk prevention in a bit.
For now, let’s assume you’re not sure what is triggering your night-time headache. Here are some simple ways that you can find relief when that pounding pain in your head or neck hits at bedtime, no matter what the cause may be.
One of the most common treatments for headaches at any time of day or night involves taking medication. Over the counter medications are often very effective for the run of the mill headache. Various brands of aspirin or ibuprofen will start to help the pain subside within 20-30 of taking it. Take a pill half an hour before bed and you should be asleep in no time.
If headaches are consistently disrupting your sleep, prescription medication may be required. Speak with your doctor about the various prescription medications that may help when night-time headache pain hits hard. He/She may be able to suggest a targeted medication that will specifically fit the needs of you particular headache.
2. Hot or Cold
After a long day, it’s not uncommon for tension and stress to settle into your neck or head and manifest as a painful night-time headache.
Applying a moist compress, hot or cold, to your neck or head may help alleviate some of the pain. Moist heat is able to penetrate more deeply into your muscles than dry heat in order to soothe pain.1
Simply dampen a towel with warm water and apply it to your neck where you feel like the pain is originating. You can also wrap the towel around your head so that it covers your temples and forehead, depending on where the headache is. Or take a different approach, chill your pillow for some headache relief while you sleep.
To get an extra burst of heat, you can stick the damp towel in the microwave for a few seconds. Do be careful when removing it as to not burn yourself.
The same pain alleviating benefits that you get from heat, may be experienced with a cool compress.2 Dampen a towel with cold water and apply it to your neck or head. For that extra chill factor, stick the damp towel in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
Whether you use hot or cold compresses, you may find it easier to fall asleep with a damp towel wrapped around your neck or head in order to lessen painful headaches at night.
If you are looking for a purpose made solution, there are gel sleep masks available that can be heated or frozen. The main advantage a gel sleep mask has over a towel is that it won’t slip off your head and make your pillow damp in your sleep.
3. Calming Sounds
Just as loud or obnoxious sounds can cause headaches, soothing ones can help to ease them.
A study done in 2001 found that music therapy was an effective treatment option for people who suffered from chronic headaches.3 If you feel a bedtime headache coming on, try playing some tunes to ease the pain.
Simply play whatever type of music that you find soothing as you try to fall asleep. Be sure to keep the volume at a minimal level so that it doesn’t disturb your efforts to unwind and fall asleep. If music isn’t your thing, you can try soothing nature sounds or a sleep machine that offers a selection of calming noises.
If loud noises at night are triggering your headaches then an ideal solution is sleeping with earplugs in.
4. Sniff the Lavender
Smell is one of our most powerful senses and is responsible for so many things-making you hungry when you smell good food, triggering a memory when you smell an ex’s perfume, and even alleviating pain in some instances.
Research has suggested that sniffing lavender essential oils can be effective in helping to eliminate headaches.4 Try rubbing some oil on your wrists at night or sprinkle some on your pillowcases so the aroma surrounds you as you sleep.
If you have an oil diffuser, you can try diffusing lavender essential oil as you sleep to help ease the pain.
5. Feed the Headache
Certain ingredients in foods have shown to be helpful in relieving headache pain. While it is not advised to eat large meals right before bed, eating small amounts of these foods to relieve that pain and get to sleep may be worth it.
Two ingredients that are shown to relieve headache pain are capsaicin and magnesium sulfate.
Capsaicin is commonly found in spicy foods like hot peppers. Try eating a few raw hot peppers when you’re dealing with a night-time migraine.5 If you don’t happen to have any hot peppers laying around, sprinkle some red-hot pepper flakes or cayenne on a night-time snack.
Magnesium has also been shown to relieve various types of headaches.7 Raw pumpkin seeds or dark chocolate both have naturally high levels of magnesium. Snack on some pumpkin seeds or dark chocolate before bed when trying to alleviate painful headaches. Or even more conveniently, keep some magnesium supplements on hand.
Meditation is an excellent way to relieve tension and stress-both common causes for night-time headaches. When you are coping with night-time headaches, meditation might be an easy solution to ease the pain and help you drift off to sleep.8
Choose a quiet place to meditate for 10-20 minutes when headache pain hits at bedtime. Close your eyes and pay attention to you breathing. Try visualizing the headache pain leaving your body as you breathe out through your nose. You can meditate in your bed as you try to fall asleep, but many meditation enthusiasts recommend meditating in a location different from where you sleep.
7. Massage It Out
If you happen to have a personal masseuse around when a night-time headache hits, then you’re in luck because massage is a great way to relieve headaches. Since many of us are not lucky enough to have a personal masseuse (or even one of those amazing massage chairs), you may need to call on your significant other or act as your own masseuse for night-time headache relief.9
Gently rubbing certain pressure points in the neck or head can help to alleviate headache pain at night. Applying pressure to the muscles in these areas can help them relax and may ease the tension that you feel.
8. Clear Sinuses
Clogged sinuses and sinus pressure can be a very common cause of night-time headaches.10 By clearing out your sinuses and relieving the pressure, you can hopefully also relieve your headache.
There are a variety of ways that you can clear out your sinuses and eliminate painful pressure. Try using a Neti Pot or saline nasal spray to help push out sinus junk.
You can also try placing a humidifier in your bedroom in order to keep the air moist. Dry air irritates sinuses and a humidifier will keep the air saturated. This will allow your nasal passages to stay lubricated and less clogged, hopefully also eliminating sinus-related headaches at night.
9. Lose the Light
Many people who suffer from headaches find that light can significantly exacerbate the pain. Hopefully when you’re trying to fall asleep at night you’re already doing so in a completely dark room. But if you aren’t keeping your bedroom completely dark, you should be.
Minimizing sensory input can be extremely helpful in thwarting headache pain. Make sure that all light sources are removed or turned off when you go to sleep at night, especially if you’re suffering from a night-time headache. Complete darkness can help reduce your night-time headache and allow you to fall asleep.10
Prevent Night-time Headaches
Okay, so now that we have covered treating your migraine as you are trying to sleep, it’s time to take a closer look at how you can prevent them from happening in the future.
1. Keep a Headache Journal
y taking careful notes and documenting when you get night-time headaches, you can better evaluate what is causing them. Make note of the foods that you have eaten, activities that you have performed, or other environmental factors that may act to trigger your headaches at night.
By reviewing these notes after a period of time, you may be able to recognize some patterns and pinpoint what is causing the night-time headaches. Addressing the specific trigger is a great way to avoid dealing with future headaches that may interfere with your sleep.
2. Avoid Common Trigger Foods
Just as certain foods are known to help reduce the pain of headaches, many foods have been proven to instigate headaches.11 Some foods that you may want to avoid if you are prone to night-time headaches are:
- Foods high in MSG
- Dairy products, especially cheese
- Red wine
- Artificial sweeteners
- Smoked or cured meats
- Food additives
If you do consume these foods, make note of the times that your consumption of certain foods coincides with night-time headaches.
3. No Nightcaps
Nightcaps includes any beverages with caffeine or alcohol in them. While a small amount of caffeine has actually been known to help very rare and serious hypnic headaches (not to be confused with hypnic jerks), for the most part caffeine is a trigger for headaches.12
Alcohol is another possible trigger for night-time headaches. Consuming beverages that contain alcohol in the afternoon or evening can increase your chances of getting night-time headaches.13 If you do drink alcohol, try to keep it to a moderate amount and make note in your headache journal of any time that caffeine or alcohol coincides with night-time headaches.
Better yet, why don’t you swap out your nightcap for a bedtime tea that can actually help you sleep?
Dehydration can commonly be the cause of headaches at any time and certainly at night.14 If you have gone all day with only one or two glasses of water, that night-time headache may be your body telling you to drink more H20.
Shoot for at least 64 ounces of water every single day in order to keep your body lubricated and hydrated. Avoiding dehydration is a great way to ward off night-time headaches.
5. Healthy Sleep Habits
Lack of solid and restorative sleep can seriously up your chances of struggling with night-time headaches.14 This often forms a deadly cycle of poor sleep leading to increased night-time headaches which disrupt your sleep and lead to more headaches. And repeat.
Ensuring that you develop and maintain good sleep hygiene habits can not only help you avoid night-time headaches, but maintain a good sleep efficiency score. A few things to keep in mind when trying to improve your sleep hygiene:
- Shoot for getting into bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Keep you sleep space cool, dark, and quiet.
- Avoid using technology and electronics before bed.
Healthy sleep habits are natural headache repellents. Struggling to fall asleep? Here are 101 ways to get better sleep!
How do you beat headaches at night so that you can soundly fall asleep? Let me know in the comments below