Morning Migraines – What Causes Them?

morning migraines

Waking up to find that you’re suffering from a migraine attack is one of the worst ways to start the day. Sadly it’s not uncommon for migraine sufferers. Many of us are regularly greeted in the morning by an attack already underway, with early morning between 4-9 a.m. being the most common time for migraine headaches to occur.

There are a few reasons why “morning migraines”, as they’re sometimes called, happen. Dehydration is one. The American Migraine Foundation have found that up to a third of migraine sufferers say that dehydration, even mild dehydration, is a trigger. Countering this by drinking lots before bed isn’t necessarily the best idea though, since going to sleep only to wake up an hour or two later needing the loo can contribute to another morning migraine trigger – disturbed sleep.

There is an established relationship between sleep disorders and migraines. For example; studies have shown that people with insomnia have an increased risk of suffering from migraine headaches compared to people who don’t have insomnia. Poor sleep quality can also be a migraine trigger – snoring, teeth grinding, and a failure to reach REM sleep as a result of waking up too often can all be migraine triggers. So too can a general lack of sleep, or even too much sleep. Small wonder then that migraine attacks beginning in the morning are common. 

Another trigger for morning migraines is medication withdrawal. Medications which treat pain (both over-the-counter and prescription pain medications) usually wear off within 4-8 hours of taking them, so by the time we wake up after a good many hours of sleep, the pain can easily be back. For anyone who takes a lot of pain medication, this is the ideal time for the effects of rebound headaches to take hold. 

Hormonal changes may also help to trigger morning migraines. Between 4-8 a.m. our bodies produce fewer endorphins, and as these are natural pain-reducing compounds it makes sense that migraines can feel particularly awful first thing in the morning. Adrenaline is also released in greater quantities during the hours of early morning, and as this hormone affects blood pressure and blood vessel contraction and dilation, this could be another contributing hormonal factor in morning migraine attacks.

Finally, caffeine withdrawal may be a morning migraine trigger. If drinking a caffeinated drink usually helps to relieve your migraine attacks, this could be a sign that caffeine withdrawal is a big contributing factor of your morning migraines. In which case, a cup of coffee could be a short-term solution, while gradually weaning yourself off caffeine could be a big help in the long-term.  

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