People over the age of 50 often report waking up from a sound sleep with a headache. These are sometimes called alarm headaches and happen during the night or sometimes during an afternoon nap. Often the patient does not experience headaches during the day.
Sometimes they happen at the same time every night that is why they are called “alarm” headaches.
Pain from these headaches can be mild to severe and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Doctors are unsure of the cause of these headaches. The headaches are called hypnic headaches and can be caused several factors. A doctor can diagnose hypnic headaches with the patient’s medical history and other signs.
There are treatments for “alarm” headaches. They include having a small dose of caffeine before going to bed, using a prescribed medication, and using an anti-inflammatory medication. Be careful of the dosage of caffeine you take before bedtime. It could reduce the headaches by not allowing your body to fall asleep!
If your headaches happen while you are sleeping you should see your doctor immediately. It may be a symptom of something more serious. Cluster and migraine headaches can occur during sleep but rarely do they appear while you are sleeping.
There are other causes of nighttime headaches and some of them are serious. Sleep apnea is a serious problem that causes headaches during sleep. A machine may be indicated to check your sleep habits. Sleep apnea is a dangerous problem if left untreated.
Another cause of nighttime headaches is an inflammation of the arteries in the head. This is a serious problem that could lead to stroke. Nighttime headaches may be a warning sign you need to take seriously. Bleeding in the surface of the brain is another serious medical emergency. Nighttime headaches may also suggest a brain tumor.
Nighttime headaches often are found in adults over 50 who are in good health with no other medical conditions. Treatments for nighttime headaches are similar to what you would do if you had a headache during the day. You may try tried-and-true over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen. Gently massaging the area of the headache may help ease the pain. Small amounts of caffeine may also help. You can experiment with a hot or cold compress on your neck and head.
Avoid stimulation before you go to bed and extreme amounts of caffeine. Do not perform any physical exercise two hours before you retire for the night. Take a soothing bath, read, and turn off the television at least half an hour before you go to bed. These will not only help you sleep but will also reduce the risk of having nighttime headaches.
As with any medical condition, if the symptoms are recurring or nothing helps, consult your doctor. They can exclude the other serious medical condition and begin to find the treatment for your nighttime or “alarm clock” headaches. Do not be too concerned about nighttime headaches, but have them checked out if they recur often.