All About Sleep Apnea Headaches
by Dr. Scott Bolding
Most of the time a morning headache isn’t anything to be concerned about. They come and go for a lot of people. However, if you have a headache every morning for a while there may be an underlying issue that you need to address, like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Studies have shown that there is a link between morning headaches and sleep apnea. Of course, not every headache is a symptom of OSA. So it’s important to understand what makes sleep apnea headaches different from other types of headaches. You also need to know what other symptoms are associated with obstructive sleep apnea. Having this knowledge will help you know whether you need to talk to your doctor.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea happens when your breathing is interrupted while you sleep. This usually happens because there is some sort of blockage in your airway.
When you sleep the muscles in your airway naturally relax. Most of the time there’s enough room for air to pass through. With OSA however, the airway actually collapses or is blocked. This makes it hard for air to pass through. Your body senses it’s not getting enough oxygen and wakes itself up to breathe again. Most of the time you don’t know that you wake up because these moments are so brief.
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- Gender (men tend to get OSA more than women)
How Does Sleep Apnea Cause Headaches?Sleep apnea causes headaches because of low blood oxygen levels. Because air can’t get into your airway you don’t get as much oxygen. This leads to carbon dioxide building up in your bloodstream. The carbon dioxide then expands your blood vessels, specifically the ones in your head. The expanding blood vessels cause sleep apnea headaches.
What Makes Sleep Apnea Headaches Different?In order to know if your headaches are caused by sleep apnea, it’ll help to understand how sleep apnea headaches are different from other headaches. Other types of headaches you might feel in the morning that are not related to sleep apnea are:
- Cluster headaches
- Tension headaches
How Do You Know If Your Headache is Caused by Sleep Apnea?The best way to know if your headache is caused by sleep apnea is to get a diagnosis. But before you call your doctor you should take note of any other signs of sleep apnea. Pay attention to how you feel in other ways. Keep a journal of your symptoms. Note how your head feels and how many mornings you wake up with a headache. Also, write down any other symptoms you notice. Symptoms of sleep apnea that you should be looking out for include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Gasping for air during the night
Can Sleep Apnea Cause Headaches? (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/sleep-apnea/can-sleep-apnea-cause-headaches#:%7E:text=According%20to%20a%202020%20study,them%20reported%20having%20morning%20headaches
Pacheco, D. (2022, July 19). Sleep Apnea Headaches. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea-headaches
West, M. (2022b, May 20). What is a sleep apnea headache? Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sleep-apnea-headache