Migraines come in many different forms. Migraines encompass cluster migraines, chronic migraines, migraines with aura…. The list goes on. A few are better known than others though, and hypnic headaches are one form that isn’t talked about so much. So what are they?
Hypnic headache syndrome is a rare headache disorder which affects people over the age of fifty. Although it can begin from the age of forty onwards, it is most common in those aged fifty and over. Hypnic headaches aren’t like most migraine or headaches disorders because hypnic headaches occur only at night, and usually between 1am and 3am.
If you suffer from hypnic headaches you’ll likely experience only one during a night, though some sufferers will find they can have more than one each night. Hypnic headaches may not strike every night for a sufferer but might have fifteen or more attacks a month. The pain of a hypnic headache is so bad that it wakes the sufferer up, which is why it’s known unofficially as the “alarm clock headache”.
Hypnic headaches usually last between 30-60 minutes, however there have been cases where they have lasted for as short a time as 15 minutes, and for some unlucky sufferers, as long as 6 hours. The pain is of a throbbing kind, comes on suddenly, and can be one one side of the head or all over.
Most sufferers of hypnic headaches are no strangers to headaches. Most who suffer will have had other forms of headache in the past.
To diagnose a case of hypnic headaches, your doctor will need a full history of your sleep patterns and habits – how long you sleep for, if you usually sleep through the night, whether you snore or talk in your sleep. This will allow your doctor to rule out potential underlying causes of night-time headaches which can include drug withdrawal and inflammation of the temporal artery. It will also allow them to rule out other headache conditions which can wake you at night, e.g. cluster headaches.
Once diagnosed your doctor may prescribe, odd as it may sound, caffeine at bedtime, or indomethacin (this drug won’t be safe for anyone with a history of stomach ulcers).
So, unpleasant and worrying as hypnic headaches are, don’t forget that there are effective treatments for them and they aren’t something to worry about.
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