ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Nocturnal Headaches

Updated on February 8, 2018
rpatrick profile image

Regina Patrick is a freelance medical writer and registered sleep technologist with more than 30 years of experience in the sleep field.

Since 1970, scientists have known that there is a connection between certain types of nocturnal headaches (i.e., a headache that occurs in association with sleep) and certain stages of sleep such as slow wave sleep or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. (REM sleep is often called the "dream" stage of sleep). Just why nocturnal headaches would only occur during a certain sleep stages continues to perplex scientists. A nocturnal headache awakens you with a sudden, short-lived pain. Once the pain subsides, you may go back to sleep, only to be awakened a few hours later by another headache. The various types of nocturnal headache and their features are described below.

Types of Nocturnal Headaches

Five types of nocturnal headache are:

(1) migraine

(2) cluster headache

(3) chronic paroxysmal hemicrania

(4) episodic paroxysmal hemicrania

(5) hypnic headache.

MIGRAINE

The pulsating, throbbing pain of a migraine headache is felt on one side in the temple area. Most people who have migraines do not have an aura (i.e., symptoms that herald the headache); for others an aura may occur a day or hours before the onset of the headache. Examples of an aura are seeing zigzag lines, shimmering spots, stars, or blind spots. During a migraine, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea may occur. Avoiding lights, loud sounds, and physical movement may help in managing the pain of a migraine. When migraine occurs at night, it is usually after a person has had an increased amount of REM sleep or slow wave sleep. Slow wave sleep is the deepest stage of sleep; it is sometimes called "delta sleep."

CLUSTER HEADACHE

A cluster headache begins with a sudden, severe (but not throbbing), one-sided pain around the eye. The headache can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours. During the headache, tearing of the eyes, eye reddening, nausea, nasal congestion, facial sweating, contraction of pupil, drooping of upper eyelid, and swelling of the eyelid may occur. Unlike a migraine sufferer who wants to lie quietly, a person with a cluster headache will move around in pain. Cluster headaches occur one or more times at night for a period of time (called a cluster), and then abruptly stop. The abrupt cessation usually lasts from months to years, although for some people the cessation can be a little as 2 weeks. Cluster headache comes in two forms: chronic cluster headache and episodic cluster headache. Cluster headaches are considered episodic if attacks have occurred for six months or less and chronic if attacks have lasted more than six months. The episodic cluster headache is associated with REM sleep, whereas the chronic cluster headache is not.

CHRONIC PAROXYSMAL HEMICRANIA (CHP)

Chronic paroxysmal hemicrania (which means "sudden one-sided headache") is similar to a cluster headache but differs in its much shorter duration (2 to 45 minutes) and more frequent attacks (at least five attacks daily). Pain is felt on one side of the head around the eye or around the temples and is accompanied by tearing, nasal congestion, runny nose, eyelid swelling, etc. The attack occurs most often during or just after REM sleep.

EPISODIC PAROXYSMAL HEMICRANIA (EHP)

Episodic paroxysmal hemicrania involves frequent attacks (e.g., 6 to 30 attacks) that are short-lived (e.g., 1 to 30 minutes). The pain is a one-sided severe throbbing pain around the eye or temple area. The pain may be accompanied by symptoms such as tearing of the eyes, nasal congestion, eyelid swelling that occur on the same side as the headache. After a period of daily attacks, there is a remission period lasting months to years. These attacks occur during or just after REM sleep.

HYPNIC HEADACHE

The hypnic headache occurs in men and women who are 50 years old or older. It is felt as a throbbing, generalized pain that does not produce symptoms such as tearing of the eyes, eye swelling, and eye redness. An attack lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours. Hypnic headaches are associated with REM sleep. Some people have a hypnic headache with every REM sleep period, which occurs approximately every 2 hours..

Treatment

Treatment for sleep-related headache involves one of several approaches:

1. By altering how the neurotransmitter serotonin (which appears to play a role in headache) is used in the brain. Some drugs that alter serotonin transmission are sumatriptan, lithium carbonate, tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., imipramine), and methysergide.

2. By blunting pain through the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Examples of drugs used in this approach are indomethacin and caffeine taken in combination with ergotamine or in combination with an NSAID.

3. By reversing the dilation of blood vessels. The pain of headache occurs when blood vessels suddenly dilate (i.e., become open). An example of a drug that prevents the sudden dilation of blood vessels is timolol.

4. By increasing the level of the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA inhibits the firing of nerves in the brain, thereby lessening pain. An example of a drug that increases GABA levels is valproic acid.

5. By blocking the spasm of arteries that occurs before their sudden dilation. Examples of drugs that prevent spasms of blood vessels are verapamil and flunarizine.

A hidden sleep disorder can contribute to nocturnal headaches. For example, the drop in blood oxygen that can occur during an episode of sleep apnea can cause a person to awaken with a headache. (Read the "Did You Know . . .?" section for more details.) Therefore, you may need to consider being assessed for a sleep disorder if treatments for your nocturnal headache have not been fully effective.

Did You Know . . . ?

Awakening with a headache may be a sign a person has sleep apnea. In sleep apnea, tissues such as tonsils block airflow through the upper airway. This causes the blood oxygen level to fall. A person ultimately arouses briefly to take some deep breaths that restore the blood oxygen level to normal. Sleep apnea-related headaches are usually felt in the front of the head above the eyebrows, tend to be dull and may last for at least 1 to 2 hours after awakening, and have no other symptoms (e.g., nausea) that typically occur with migraine or other type of nocturnal headaches.

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may help developing brains mature. Premature babies have 75% REM sleep, which is 10% more REM sleep than full-term babies have.

Insomnia is nearly twice as common in women than in men.

In the military, special glasses have been used to help soldiers remain awake for up to 36 hours. Tiny optical fibers embedded in the glasses project a ring of bright white light around the edge of soldiers' retinas. The light mimics sunrise, thereby biologically fooling a soldier's body into thinking it is morning.

The number of road accidents fall when daylight savings time ends.

Guestbook Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)