There are many potential symptoms of sleep apnea. Most people experience daytime sleepiness, loss of energy, and memory problems as their most significant symptoms. But a small number of people may experience sleep apnea headaches without getting other symptoms.

We’re not sure why this is, but people must take morning headaches seriously before other symptoms and risks appear.

Consider Other Possible Causes of Morning Headaches

young adult man laying in bed holding his head unable to sleep

Of course, if you experience morning headaches without other sleep apnea symptoms, you should consider that your headaches might not be related to sleep apnea at all. Some other common causes of morning headaches include:

  • Insufficient or poor sleep
  • Oversleeping
  • Migraine
  • Bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding)
  • Low blood sugar
  • Medications
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle tension and stress

Headaches are very common symptoms, and these are only a few common causes. If you eliminate all these as potential causes, it’s time to talk to a doctor about sleep apnea.

Insufficient Sleep

It’s common to wake with a headache if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Try going to bed earlier if you are getting less than seven hours of sleep. In addition, try to improve your sleep quality by improving your sleeping environment: less sound, less light, cooler temperatures, etc. If you have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, talk to your doctor about insomnia.


Oversleeping can also cause headaches. If you regularly sleep for more than eight hours and wake up with sleep headaches, you should consider getting less sleep.


Migraines are recurring headaches that often happen in the morning. Suspect migraines if your headache comes with other migraine symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Vision problems
  • Headache lasts 4-72 hours

Note that migraines and sleep apnea can co-occur.


Teeth clenching and grinding are common overnight. If you grind your teeth at night, the muscle strain could cause morning headaches. If someone tells you you grind your teeth, if you wake with grit in your mouth, or you also have a sore jaw, consider bruxism as a cause of your headaches. Note that bruxism commonly occurs in people with sleep apnea.

Low Blood Sugar

Your blood sugar naturally fluctuates throughout the day, and it often reaches a low level before you wake. Low blood sugar can contribute to headaches, typically a dull, throbbing headache. Try eating something in the morning to treat low blood sugar headaches.


Some medications can interfere with your sleep. Check out the warnings on your prescriptions to see if this is a possible side effect. Another potential issue is medication overuse. If you regularly take medication at night for headaches or other pain, your morning headache might be your body responding to the high amounts of medication you take.


If you drank significant amounts of alcohol the previous night, your morning headache could be a hangover. Try to cut down on alcohol to avoid future hangovers. Note that it might be the type and timing of alcohol as well as the absolute quantity you consumed.


Many people consume a lot of caffeine as part of our coffee-focused culture. Drinking caffeine too late at night could interfere with your sleep, and then poor sleep could cause your headaches. On the other hand, you might be going through a caffeine withdrawal in the morning. Try reducing caffeine intake to see if it helps your headaches.


Dehydration can lead to headaches. Alcohol and caffeine both contribute to dehydration, but there are other causes. If you think you are dehydrated because you often wake up to urinate at night, remember that frequent nighttime urination is a symptom of sleep apnea. Make sure you hydrate adequately before going to bed.

Muscle Tension and Stress

Stress can contribute to morning headaches in many ways. It can make it hard for you to sleep or contribute to bruxism. It might make you drink more alcohol or caffeine.

Muscle tension can be related to stress via bruxism, but sometimes it happens because you’re not sleeping in a comfortable position. Try a different approach to sleeping to improve this.

Not Related to the Severity of Sleep Apnea

One of the reasons people might experience sleep apnea headaches but not other symptoms is that headaches aren’t related to the severity of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea headaches don’t have worse oxygen saturation. They don’t have longer apneic episodes or more of them.

This makes sleep apnea headaches different from other sleep apnea symptoms, which increase as apnea gets worse and may not even be perceived when they first develop. As a result, sleep apnea headaches can serve as a warning sign for people who are just beginning to develop sleep apnea.

We Don’t Understand Sleep Apnea Headaches

So, why are sleep apnea headaches different from other sleep apnea symptoms? We’re not entirely sure. We aren’t even certain of the mechanism that links sleep apnea to headaches in the first place. We just know that there’s a link. And we know that it affects maybe 12-18% of sleep apnea sufferers.

And we know that sleep apnea treatment can help eliminate sleep apnea headaches.

Tired of Morning Headaches?

Morning headaches can be associated with lots of different disorders. When you report morning headaches, your doctor might not be thinking about sleep apnea and may diagnose you with migraine or tension headache instead. If the headache treatment you’re using now isn’t working, we might be able to help.

Please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.