If you’re not feeling ill and you’re not overdoing the alcohol in the evenings, why are you waking up in the mornings? If you’ve ruled out drinking alcohol and illness, it may be time to consider if it’s a sleep apnea headache you’ve been plagued with, in the morning. So, the question often arises, can sleep apnea cause headaches? These headaches may just be a quiet yet serious sign that your sleep is getting disrupted on a regular basis by sleep apnea.

Despite what we already know about sleep apnea (causes, health risks, treatment, etc.), research has yet to determine the exact reason you frequently suffer with a sleep apnea headache. While it’s true that interrupted or irregular sleeping patterns are a common characteristic of sleep apnea and can lead to lower oxygen levels in the body and the brain, poor sleep quality might just be what’s triggering those morning headaches. This is a possible answer to the question “Can sleep apnea cause headaches?”

Headaches are often an overlooked sign of sleep apnea, which involves interrupted breathing during sleep. It’s important to recognize your symptoms and seek medical help for proper treatment.

If you frequently wake up with a dull, persistent headache on both sides of your head, it could be due to sleep apnea. These headaches typically don’t come with sensitivity to sound, light, or nausea, unlike migraines.

How are Sleep Apnea Headaches diagnosed?

Sleep apnea headaches affect nearly 20% of individuals who are OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) sufferers. In the more severe cases of OSA, the person may experience these recurring morning headaches 15 or more days per month. These headaches are often characterized by pressing (not throbbing) pain on both sides of the skull and can last 3 to 4 hours. Unlike other kinds of headaches such as migraines, the sufferer doesn’t experience sensitivity to light and nausea.

In order to be diagnosed with a sleep apnea headache, the individual must be an OSA sufferer. Despite having what appear to be similar symptoms, these are headaches that may have resulted from drinking too much alcohol the night before, illness, or a stress-related event. However, those individuals who’ve been diagnosed with OSA are likely to experience sleep apnea headaches up to three times as often as someone who doesn’t suffer with the disorder.

A comprehensive approach is necessary when diagnosing headaches related to sleep apnea. Most doctors will consider the characteristics of the headache, sleep patterns, and other related symptoms. You might undergo Polysomnography (a sleep study) to monitor various brain functions and activities.

Sleep Apnea Headaches: Treatment Options

One of the issues involved with treating these types of headaches is that they’re often mistaken for migraines because of their frequent occurrence. However, there are 4 key differences between migraines and sleep apnea headaches as follows:

  • A migraine can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours; a sleep apnea headache usually subsides after 3 to 4 hours.
  • Migraines are typically felt on one side of the head while sleep apnea headaches are usually felt on both sides.
  • Migraines can occur any time of the day or night; sleep apnea headaches occur when you wake up.
  • While migraines are characterized by other symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light, sleep apnea headaches are not.

There are two common groups of treatment options for sleep apnea headaches – lifestyle changes and medical solutions as follows:

  • Lifestyle changes include avoiding sleeping on your back, exercising, losing weight, and treating allergies (if applicable).
  • Medical solutions include CPAP machines, oral appliances, and surgical procedures. It helps you breathe better when you are asleep.

When it comes to treating sleep apnea headaches, there’s more to it than treating the pain and symptoms. Treating the actual cause is essential. Left untreated, sleep apnea can often lead to diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure (hypertension). If you think those morning headaches may be sleep apnea-related, you should speak with a specialist as soon as possible regarding your treatment options.

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