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Headache After a Nap? Find Out Four Common Reasons Why

For most of us napping can reduce the effects of insufficient sleep by helping us feel refreshed and lessening daytime fatigue. But for some with migraine disease, napping may actually cause head pain and other migraine symptoms instead of feeling restorative. Experiencing a headache after a nap is miserable and there are a variety of reasons it happens. In this article we’ll explore four of them.

If you have migraine you’re likely all too familiar with the multitude of symptoms that can make life difficult. For some, daytime fatigue is one of those troubling symptoms. Experiencing daily fatigue, excessive sleepiness or an overall lack of energy can lead to napping in an effort to maintain alertness, boost energy levels or simply to function for the second half of your day. 

When napping leads to a headache, pulsating head pressure or a full blown migraine attack, it can compound the problem instead of making it better.

Why do I get a headache after a nap?

Headache after a nap is not experienced by everyone with migraine, but it is fairly common especially in those with chronic migraine. 

If you’re experiencing a migraine attack you may want to nap to sleep it off. Many people find napping to be an effective strategy to help abort migraine attacks. The good news is that napping usually doesn’t interrupt nighttime sleep when used this way.

Contrarily, if you decide to nap when you’re not in the midst of a migraine attack, just looking to feel refreshed from a nap, you might awake with head pain. The reason you wake up in pain after napping can vary. Let’s explore a few of those reasons.

1. Dehydration 

Ok, hear me out here. I know we feel weary of being told to drink more water. But not being properly hydrated really is a common migraine trigger culprit. That’s because migraine brains can be sensitive to even mild dehydration. And people with migraine may actually need more hydration than those without migraine.

Napping contributes to dehydration not only because we obviously can’t drink while we’re sleeping, but also due to occasional excessive sweating during sleep. This is especially an issue when we sleep in a warm environment during the warmest part of the day. 

Lowering your room temperature before a nap can help you avoid unnecessary water loss that migraine brains are so sensitive to. Drinking water right before a nap may also prevent waking up with a headache after napping.

2. Clenching your jaw 

If your jaw is sore while you yawn or chew or if you notice tight facial muscles you might be unconsciously clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth during your nap. Jaw clenching during even brief periods of sleep could be a reason you’re waking up with a headache after a nap.

Tight muscles in your jaw can lead to intense head pain, head pressure and even increased tinnitus. If you think you’re prone to jaw clenching, there are things you can do to ease the discomfort. Consider the helpful information about Gua Sha for migraine massage and doing facial exercise to relax the muscles.

If that doesn’t seem to help, making an appointment with your dentist to see if a mouth guard is right for you is worth considering.

3. Using the wrong pillow 

Sleep positions can trigger neck pain, contribute to lower sleep quality and can bring on a headache after napping. This is simply because when you have migraine disease, pain begets pain. Our heightened central nervous system almost ensures that feeling pain anywhere in the body may provoke an attack. To avoid neck pain while napping, stick to the bed you’re used to. Your comfortable mattress and pillows are better than napping in an awkward position on the couch. 

According to the sleep foundation, sleeping on your side on a large pillow can help to keep your neck in a neutral (no angle) position. You’ll also want to avoid stacking pillows and using pillows that are too thick. This can elevate the head too high resulting in neck pain leading to the dreaded post-nap headache.

If you sleep on your back, placing a small pillow at the base of your head to keep your neck in a neutral position is recommended. Try to rest your arms alongside of you or position your hands on your chest to avoid tensing these muscles. Upper-body muscle tension could contribute to head pain.

Sleep specialist do not recommend sleeping on your stomach.

At Migraine Strong we regularly poll our extensive social media following to get input from “the pros” at managing migraine. This article about the best pillows for migraine may be just what you need to get rid of those headaches after napping.

4. Getting too much or too little sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation. The sleep we experience during naps actually happens in four stages.

  • Stage one lasts just one to seven minutes making this the lightest and briefest stage of sleep. You might feel like you’re sleeping yet still alert to sounds or general stirring in the environment during this stage.
  • The 2nd stage lasts around 10 to 25 minutes. During stage two our muscles begin to relax & body functions start slowing down, but sleeping is still considered to be light.
  • Stage 3 of naptime sleep lasts 20 to 40 minutes. This is a more restorative, deeper stage of sleep. You may find it more difficult to wake up during this stage.
  • The 4th stage of sleep happens after 40 minutes and is the deepest sleep stage known as REM where dreaming takes place. Waking up during this stage can cause grogginess and increase daytime sleepiness.

What’s the best length of time for a nap to avoid a headache

You might be thinking stages 3 and 4 where more restorative, deep sleep takes place is the way to go. But, save that for bedtime. When it comes to naps shoot for stage two. Because napping too little or too long can trigger headaches, the best length of time for an adult to nap is between 20-30 minutes for short naps. If you do feel like you need a longer, more restorative nap shoot for 90 minutes. 

Why should I shoot for short naps?

Here’s why. Sleeping 20-30 minutes will allow you to relax without getting into too deep a sleep. If you allow yourself to enter REM, it may end up making you feel more tired or groggy. Waking groggy from REM could ultimately trigger a migraine attack, especially when REM is interrupted.

If you really need a longer nap shoot for sleeping for about an hour and a half. This will allow you to cycle completely through all four stages of sleep without interrupting deep sleep.

Following these two recommendations should help you to wake feeling alert and refreshed which is much less likely to trigger a migraine attack. Keep in mind these times are loose suggestions. Every body is unique so experiment with the best time of day, duration and location that feels best for you.

Tips to avoid a headache after taking a nap

“Sleep hygiene” refers to habits, routines and environmental factors that help to promote healthy sleep. Prioritizing sleep is an often overlooked and underrated migraine treatment. Practicing good sleep hygiene, even for naps, can go a long way in reducing your chances of waking up with a headache. 

Healthy naptime sleep hygiene practices might include:

·       Keep short naps 20-30 minutes. Long naps 90 minutes.

·       Setting an alarm & choose an alarm with a pleasing tone.

·       Nap before 3pm to avoid nighttime sleep disruptions.

·       Hydrate before dozing off.

·       Modify sleep position.

·       Replace old mattresses and pillows with supportive, comfy ones.

·       Rest in your regular, comfortable environment.

·       Consider a mouth guard.

·       Apply ice or heat before or after waking (not during).

·       Nap in a cool, quiet & dark place. Drop your AC down to 68 degrees.

·       Skip napping altogether.

·       Use a cold pillow or slip a chill pad under your pillow to avoid excessive sweating.

·       Use a nod pod to block out light. It’s seriously the best eye mask ever!

·       Apply migraine balms like Peace Love Rally to help you relax. Save 10% with promo code MIGRAINESTRONG

Experiencing a headache after a nap is a very common problem in those with migraine and has many possible causes. In addition to the triggers mentioned here you may also be experiencing blood sugar fluctuations, medication overuse headache, sleep apnea, stress or more. 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to migraine triggers and treatment. If you have migraine and you are experiencing a headache after napping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor for more information on treatment options available for you.

If you are looking for some handy ideas for at home migraine treatment (check out what the Migraine Strong team does.

Headache After a Nap? Find Out Four Common Reasons Why

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2 thoughts on “Headache After a Nap? Find Out Four Common Reasons Why

  1. I wake up with a headache almost every day. Would the same triggers and preventative steps be relevant to that as well? Thank you.

  2. I also have an espresso before my nap, sleep for 20 mins, and when I wake up the coffee has kicked in.

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About the Author

Jennifer Bragdon

I was diagnosed with Vestibular Migraine in 2016 and my neurotologist added a Ménière’s Disease mild diagnosis in 2018. I went from being housebound for months to working full time and living an active full life by following the Migraine Strong treatment pie. Preventive medications, the Heal Your Headache Diet and supplements do a lot of the heavy lifting in relieving my symptoms. You can also find me over on The Dizzy Cook blog baking yummy head safe goodies on a guest post each month.

View all posts by Jennifer Bragdon