Does Lack of Sleep Cause Headaches

Getting enough sleep is essential for staying fit and healthy in your day-to-day routine. Once we are asleep, our body undergoes physical and mental reactions. Much of the vital organs of the body are at rest releasing excessive stress. The body repairs itself against different functions. However, those who don’t get enough sleep could be facing headaches, an indication of a prolonged problem. 

Types of Headaches Caused by Lack of Sleep

Researchers from Missouri University came to the conclusion that the lack of Rapid Eye Movement could lead to painful headaches. Rapid Eye Movement usually occurs throughout the night during sleep at intervals of 90 to 120 minutes. People can experience different types of headache pains each of which has to be treated distinctively. Lack of sleep either causes migraine headaches or tension headaches. 

Headaches are an outcome of lack of sleep. 

Migraine Headache

Migraine is regarded as a neurological condition where there is an intense and debilitating headache that is followed by other symptoms including nausea, numbness, and sensitivity to light, sound, and temperature changes. Unfortunately, migraines have become more common over the past many years and could be affecting people of all age groups. According to some experts, Migraines occur due to abnormal brain activity. 

Usually, migraine pain starts from the forehead of a person. It is on one side of the head but could shift to both sides or shift as well. If you don’t sleep well, you can get migraines which could be short-term or long-term. A constant routine of lack of sleep could result in prolonged migraines due to abnormal brain activity. Migraines may last for up to 4 hours in a lighter state but they can extend for up to 72 hours a week. In addition to that, one of the consequences of migraines is that one may not be able to sleep at all.

Migraines can start from the forehead and extend further. 

Tension Headache

On the other hand, tension headaches are slightly less painful compared to migraine headaches. There is minor pain on any part of the head and does not usually impact with light or sound. This kind of pain could also be behind the eyes. People who suffer from this headache usually say that it is quite similar to a tight band being wrapped around the forehead. These headaches are not as frequent as migraines and only 1 or 2 episodes per month could occur. 

Lack of sleep could increase stress levels in the human body and could cause tension headaches. Chronic Tension headaches affect around 3% of people in the US. According to some studies, women are twice likely to face a tension headache compared to men. A tough routine combined with an ineffective rest is the major cause of this headache. Although tension headaches are usually treatable and not dangerous, they could occur due to a tumor inside the body. Therefore, it is always better for you to visit the doctors to rule out the diagnosis.

Learn more about how to know if you are feeling a lot of stress over here – How to Tell if You Are Too Stressed?

Tension headaches have been increasing over the past few years. 

Pain and Sleep Link

According to many studies, it has been evidently found out that lack of sleep will reduce the body’s resistance to pain. The tolerance level of pain in the human body reduces with low rest and more physical activity. People with insomnia and other sleeping disorders experience more pain as compared to those who do not. 

Studies have also revealed that those who do not have a proper night’s sleep and sleep during odd times may also suffer from the problem of migraine headaches or tension headaches. For example, if people sleep at 5 am and wake up at 12 pm on the day, they might feel restlessness, tiredness, headaches, fatigue, and other underlying conditions even though 7 to 8 hours of sleep is considered sufficiently enough. This is because much of the chemical reactions occurring in the body during the night and activity during the daytime is compromised due to an odd sleep cycle.

Effect of Lack of Sleep on Body Responsiveness

A key factor to consider is that the lack of sleep impacts body responsiveness in a negative manner which is also related to creating headaches. For example, if a machine runs continuously without any break, it might heat up and start to work slowly. Similarly, excessive work and a sleep-deprived routine could do the same to the human body. 

A person may not feel as much active and jolly in social gatherings. Walking posture is also impacted and gait disorders could develop over time. What’s worse is that reflexes in the human body also start to weaken out. On the whole, the body starts to resist fatigue and excessive stress causing you to have headaches and body pains side by side along with restricted body responsiveness. 

Your body will not respond properly if you don't sleep well. 

Treatment of Headaches

Fortunately, the field of medicine has advanced and today, we have many solutions to the problem of headaches being caused by lack of sleep. 

Migraine Headache Treatment

As suggested earlier, migraine headaches are more severe than tension headaches making the treatment more aggressive. Doctors usually suggest a range of medicine to relieve the problem. One of the most effective and instant ways to treat it is to use Pain Killer Medicines. With the combination of Bufferin, Tylenol, and Advil, there can be reduced migraine pain. 

Another important medicine that is prescribed by doctors is Ergots which is a medication that contains ergotamine and is combined with caffeine. Giving an instant boost to the body, this type of medicine helps in relieving migraine pain and is mainly used when the migraine episodes are prolonged. Keep in mind that this medication constricts the blood vessels that ease the pain. If you have underlying health conditions, you should consult a doctor and take full advice prior to consuming it. 

Treatment for migraines is possible. 

Triptans are also prescribed by doctors which are a more direct approach to treating migraines. They simply block the pain pathways to the brain by decreasing blood vessel swelling by binding to the serotonin receptors. There are several ways in which this medication can be consumed including injections, nasal sprays, and pills. Most people use Triptans because they are known for bringing instant relief to migraine pains. 

Opioid Medication is the one where a drug, Opioid, is used to treat the human body. Long-term usage of this drug could be addictive which is why it is given to the worst scenario patients in controlled environments. They contain narcotics such as codeine and are recommended for those whose body resists the Ergots or Triptans.

Tension Headache Treatment

As tension headaches aren’t that severe, the medications are also light and could be even purchased without a prescription although it is always advised to have one. Simple pain reliever medication such as Aspirin, Panadol, Paracetamol, and Naproxen could be useful in completely curing the pain. 

However, some people may have more serious conditions of tension headaches making their pain a little too high. For these people, doctors usually prescribe a few sedatives to help you have a reduced blood flow rate as well as sleep making the pain go away temporarily. In addition to that, drugs like amitriptyline and protriptyline could also be recommended for people who have regular episodes of tension headaches because they are an indicator that something is persistent in your routine which is being a major cause for these headaches. 

Medicines are not usually recommended unless the situation is worse. 

Antidepressants are also often used for the fact that they help in bringing down stress levels as well as increasing the production of healthy toxins and chemical reactions in the human body that could keep you happy. Venlafaxine and Mirtazapine are two of the most used antidepressants known to work but it is always advised that you consult a doctor to have the proper diagnosis as he will be able to better recommend you based on your routine and psychiatric issues. 

Lastly, anticonvulsants are used along with muscle relaxants because physical stress and fatigue for the body could also be a major reason why one could be getting the different types of tension headaches. Topiramate is usually prescribed. Keep in mind that the use of medicines is something that is advised at the last stage. Doctors initially recommend that you try to change your routine as well as to adapt to things differently because without making a major change in your life, the medicines will not be a permanent solution. 

Reducing stress reduces headaches. 

Read more about other problems caused by lack of sleep – What Happens When You Don’t Sleep?


Nobody wants a headache but to avoid one, there have to be certain precautionary measures that need to be taken accordingly. People who don’t sleep enough or who don’t sleep at night could be facing a severe issue with headaches which could develop into a worse case if not treated. Moreover, disorders could become neurological and badly affect the entire human body’s immune system too. Follow the advice we gave above for treating headaches under the supervision of a professional doctor.