Can Stress and Sleep Loss Cause Headaches?

Can Stress and Sleep Loss Cause Headaches?

headache can determine whether you have an enjoyable, productive day or suffer through at a seemingly snail’s pace. And while most everyone experiences the occasional headache, up to 4% of people experience a headache on 15 or more days per month.

If you’ve noticed that headaches crop up when you’re especially stressed or low on sleep, it’s no coincidence. Both stress and sleep loss can bring on headaches or make ongoing symptoms even worse.

Our expert team at Houston Pain Specialists, led by board-certified pain management specialist Hui Kang, MD, diagnoses and treats severe and recurrent headaches so you can get back to more comfortable living. 

Take a few moments to learn about the link between headaches and the problems of stress and sleep loss.

How stress fuels headaches

Stress is far more than an emotional issue. When you experience stress, your body may go into a fight-or-flight response. This state often causes physical changes, such as constricted blood vessels, which can bring about pain, including of the headache variety.

Stress also contributes to tension headaches. These common aches are linked with muscle tension. And when you’re stressed out, your muscles may tense up without you realizing it. You might lock up your neck or jaw muscles, for example, inviting head pain.

Stress can also affect your appetite or schedule, leading some people to skip or delay meals. And when you eat or drink too little, headaches become likely. 

Stress is also a potential migraine trigger. So if you’re prone to migraines, stressful events may bring one on.

How sleep loss makes matters worse

When you sleep too little, you disrupt your normal sleep stages. In particular, you may end up with too little REM sleep, which is the most restorative phase. As a result, your pain threshold may be lowered, leading to a bothersome headache.

Headaches can also stem from sleep-related issues, such as sleep apnea and teeth grinding. Sleep apnea causes a lack of oxygen and sleep loss, and teeth grinding makes your muscles tense. In both cases, you may wake up with lingering head pain.

Getting headache relief

If you’re dealing with headaches because of stress or sleep loss, you need to address the underlying cause. Aim to manage your stress through therapy, relaxation exercises, or a yoga practice, or by avoiding stressful happenings when you can. 

To improve your sleep, brush up on positive sleep hygiene. A healthy sleep routine can improve the length and quality of your sleep. 

Helpful steps include sticking to fairly consistent sleeping and waking times, sleeping in a dark, cool room, and avoiding caffeine and digital screens near bedtime. 

If you’re prone to headaches regardless, our team at Houston Pain Specialists can help by creating a personalized treatment plan. Depending on the specifics of your headaches, we may recommend:

We can also help identify your personal headache triggers and come up with strategies to help you avoid them.

To learn more about headache causes or to get the relief you need, contact our Houston, Texas, office today to schedule an appointment.

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