In healthy doses, sleep allows your body to feel restored and ready for whatever chaos the next day may bring. But when that delicate balance is disturbed — say, by a global pandemic or high-stakes election — abnormal sleep patterns can have very real consequences. We talk a lot about the detrimental effects that may occur if you don't get enough sleep, but in especially stressful times like these, getting too much sleep can cause just as much harm. If you've been sleeping more than usual, it's possible you may have started to notice some changes, including morning headaches.
According to Thomas Pitts, MD, a board-certified neurologist with Hudson Medical and Wellness in New York City, the correlation between sleep and headaches cannot be overstated. Headaches typically indicate a disruption in one of the "fundamental pillars of health," Dr. Pitts explained — including sleep, diet, exercise, nutrition, and mood.
Why Does Oversleeping Cause Headaches?
For Lindsay Elton, MD, a board-certified neurologist who specializes in pediatrics, oversleeping is a major migraine trigger. "If I sleep in a lot — I kind of know what my threshold is — it's a guaranteed headache all day," Dr. Elton told POPSUGAR. While these headaches can arise for a number of reasons, they often involve neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Serotonin helps our bodies know when to wake up and fall asleep, Dr. Elton explained — but it also plays a role in mood disorders, like anxiety and depression, which can affect your sleep habits and cause you to oversleep. Unfortunately, oversleeping can further disrupt serotonin levels, along with several other neurotransmitters in the brain. This is one of the reasons morning headaches are thought to occur.
Dr. Pitts noted that sleeping in can also deprive your body of food and water for longer periods of time, which can contribute to headaches as well. You might also suffer from sleep-related headaches if you grind your teeth at night, live with chronic pain (which makes it difficult to rest comfortably), or share your bed with a partner who snores or moves a lot in their sleep. However, Dr. Pitts agreed that oversleeping is a big one, because it can alter serotonin levels and disrupt your circadian rhythm.
This doesn't necessarily mean that an occasional lazy Sunday is going to cause an immediate migraine — but as Dr. Pitts explained, getting too much sleep on a regular basis will catch up with you eventually. "Because sleep provokes headaches through a variety of mechanisms, it really depends on the individual patient and their specific situation," Dr. Pitts told POPSUGAR. "It can happen over years but sometimes over days."
How to Prevent Sleep-Related Headaches
To stop these headaches and make sure you're getting a healthy amount of sleep, Dr. Pitts recommends first seeing a neurologist, who can help you identify what's causing you to sleep so much (and, in turn, be in constant pain). "Correcting the underlying problem is the clear answer," Dr. Pitts said — whether that's a sleep disorder, a mood disorder, or something else.
He also recommends practicing good sleep hygiene by establishing a comfortable sleep environment — ideally, one that's used only for sleep, not work or TV watching — and working to fix any habits that may be disrupting your sleep, such as drinking caffeine in the afternoons.
One of the most important things you can do, however, is set a sleep schedule and stick to it. "Headache patients really need consistent sleep, so they need a consistent bedtime, a consistent wake time, and changes to that are what tend to get people in trouble," Dr. Elton said. "I always tell my patients, you don't have to get up and do anything. You just have to be out of bed."
If you're struggling to fix your sleep patterns, Dr. Elton noted that a low dose of melatonin may be helpful in resetting your sleep schedule — but that's something to discuss with your doctor first.