Getting Headaches at Night? Here’s What Your Body’s Trying to Tell You

Woman in bed with a headache looking at smartphone

It’s been ​a day​, and now you’ve got a headache, which is really going to cut into your plans to have a relaxing night on the couch with snacks and made-for-TV holiday movies. Or — even worse — you might be woken up in the middle of the night with an aching noggin and have to decide if you get out of bed to take meds or try to sleep it off.

Uncovering the source of the head pain will help you take action (or get help), so you can reduce the risk that you’ll be laid up with a pounder in the future.

1. You’re Stressed

This is zero percent surprising for anyone who’s ever felt as if they barely survived the constant onslaught of the day (multiple Zoom calls in a row, a boss who’s not happy about that thing, kids on e-learning while you try to work), but stress causes headaches.

These are often tension headaches, and once upon a time they were even called stress headaches, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Stress management or relaxation training is a common treatment to ease your mind and thereby reduce your risk of this type of headache. Deep breathing (download the app Breathwrk if you have iOS), listening to calming music or trying guided imagery (close your eyes and picture a place that’s peaceful to you, like a beach or laying in the sun in a park on a warm day), are a few tools to have in your back pocket as you wind down at night and prepare for bed.

2. You’re Spending Too Much Time in Front of Your Computer

Jumping off of the endless Zoom call bandwagon, you might find yourself hanging out in front of your computer more when WFH compared to last winter when you were still in the office. In fact, some estimations say that workers are logging longer hours — about 30 minutes more in the U.S.

So here’s the deal: If you’re staring at a computer screen, you’re at risk of developing “computer vision syndrome,” which includes symptoms like eyestrain, neck and shoulder pain and headache, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).

If you wear glasses, make sure you have the right prescription for viewing a computer screen, correct your posture when doing work and practice the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes on your computer, look away for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.

3. You Have Hypnic Headaches

Also called “alarm-clock headaches,” these pains — which are more common in people over age 50 — only happen at night and occur at the same time at night, explains Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles.

They’re so regular, in fact, that they wake you up like your own special alarm clock.

It’s important to note that these headaches are rare, Dr. Dasgupta says. See your doctor, who will rule out other causes of nighttime headaches. Interestingly, consuming caffeine at bedtime is a common treatment, according to the American Migraine Foundation.

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