Woke Up with a Headache? Here’s What to Do Next

Your body takes a break with certain functions at night: You produce fewer endorphins and enkephalins (natural pain killers) in the wee hours of the morning. This along with stress, diet, and certain medical conditions can result in a rude awakening: a morning headache. Try one of these remedies the next time your alarm isn't the only thing buzzing in the morning.


Capsaicin cream

You may have seen capsaicin-based creams in your pharmacy and thought it was just for muscle aches, but it could bring relief to your morning headache. “There is research that capsaicin, the active ingredient of cayenne, influences substance P, which is the pain modulator,” explains Marc I. Leavey, MD a primary care specialist at Lutherville Personal Physicians, a Mercy Medical Center in Maryland. When there is less substance P, your brain essentially sends out an “out of the office” reply and you get relief and tricks your body into thinking there is no pain. Capsaicin creams can produce a burning or itching sensation at first, but that decreases with each use. Just make sure to wash your hands after rubbing it into your temples. Try these effective home remedies for sinus headache relief.


OTC relief

OTC drugs are a popular option when your head is throbbing in the morning, but some are easier on the stomach than others, particularly when your stomach empty. Eat breakfast first (if you can stomach it), then take the recommended dosage. Popping more pills than the stated dosage won’t get rid of your headache faster. Dawn C. Buse, PhD, director, Behavioral Health, Montefiore Headache Center, recommends OTC relievers such as non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). This is the best kind of OTC painkiller for every kind of ache.



How to get rid of a headache? Ancient Greek doctors used the herb feverfew to treat headaches as well as a few other ailments, including, including arthritis, menstrual cramps, problems with labor and childbirth, to reduce inflammation, and yes, fevers. “Feverfew is one of those herbal agents that contains a substance, parthenolide, which has also been shown to have action in headaches,” explains Leavey. Feverfew supplements come in the forms of capsules, tablets, or liquid extracts. Feverfew supplements used in clinical studies contain a standardized dose of parthenolide. Read the label and make sure the Feverfew contains at least 0.2 percent parthenolide. Do not take feverfew while pregnant because it may affect uterine contractions. Check out these other home remedies for headaches.



If you woke up with a headache, it may be due to your sleeping position. “We should always evaluate our sleeping position, including neck positioning and pillows used for sleep, as these factors can cause neck spasms that will result into a morning headache,” says Medhat Mikhael, MD, pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Center for Spine Health at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “Avoid very soft or very firm pillows to avoid hyper extended or flexed head,” says Mikhael. Use a lightly firm pillow that keeps the neck in a neutral position. (Here are remedies for a stiff neck.)


Cold and hot packs

Sufferers with tension-type or muscle contraction headaches may prefer warm packs. (It depends on the individual sufferer.) Exercise caution when using warm packs or showers to ensure that they are not too hot. Overly hot showers or packs can sometimes cause the opposite effect desired by inducing muscle spasm and, in extreme cases, cause burns. Do not fall asleep with a heating pad on. Alternate ice for 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. Cold packs should be applied on forehead and temples, warm packs on neck and posterior part of head. Check out these genius ways to are make a DIY ice pack.


Use your noggin

Wake up with a headache after a restless night of tossing and turning? If troubles and woes are filling up your mind, your body tenses up and the result is tense muscles and a headache. You may not have much control over the problem that’s giving you grief but you can control how your body copes with it by keeping your body as calm and relaxed as possible. One way to do that is with biofeedback; a technique that uses our brain to control the body. “Relaxation exercises such as guided visual imagery can help alleviate a morning headache by relaxing muscles and increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain,” says Buse. Check out Dr Buse’s free guided audio files and see for yourself.


Eat something

Sleeping for seven to eight hours is a good thing but if you went to bed hungry, low blood sugar can cause a headache. Diabetics sometimes wake with a hypoglycemic headache but even if you’re not diabetic, it can happen if you went to bed with an empty stomach. The same holds true if you didn’t stay hydrated the day before. Eat breakfast and hydrate by sipping eight ounces of water and gradually add more during the day. If you take in too much water at once your body can’t utilize it properly and you’ll remain dehydrated. Consider making one of these hydrating breakfast smoothies for a quick fix.


Walk it off

You’ve heard the old adage “walk it off,” in reference to cooling off after a heated dispute. When you have a headache in the morning, lace up your shoes and head out for a walk. Exercise makes your brain release pain-fighting endorphins and help you walk off a headache. Even better, grab a friend to walk with you and walk and talk about what’s making you cranky. You’ll not only feel better but may have a solution to your problem as well. Keep these tips in mind to make your walking routine healthier when you head out.


A whiff of lavender

Stop and smell the lavender when you wake up with a morning headache. According to a 2012 study in the journal European Neurology, a whiff of lavender essential oil may be a pleasant way to get rid of a morning headache. Participants inhaled lavender oil for 15 minutes during a migraine headache: 92 of the 129 participants responded entirely or partially to smelling lavender. Apply lavender essential oil to the back of your neck, temples and wrists to whiff away a headache. Find out more ways to ease your headaches without drugs.



Meditation not only reduces stress, it can ease a morning headache too. “Researchers have even found that the effects of meditation can be comparable to pharmaceutical treatment. Preliminary evidence suggests that headaches may be the result of a deregulated recovery from stress and meditation can promote effective heart rate variability and resiliency to stress,” says Jennifer Stagg, MD, author of Unzip Your Gense: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. To start, sit or lie down in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus on your breath, staying present and letting any thoughts pass by without paying them much notice,” instructs Stagg. The more you practice the better you will be quieting your mind Stagg says. Read about the other benefits of meditation.


Caffeine at night

If your alarm clock isn’t the only thing buzzing, you could be suffering from hypnic headaches (or alarm clock headache), a rare headache disorder that can’t be attributed to another condition. “These tend to plague individuals in their 60s and 70s with moderate pain that starts in the early morning,” explains Noah Rosen, MD, FAHS, FANA, head of the Northwell Health Headache Center, New York. “The most common treatment, interestingly enough, is the use of caffeine, such as a cup of coffee, at night,” says Rosen. It’s not clear why caffeine works but it does for some sufferers. Other nighttime treatments include lithium or an anti-inflammatory medication. (Find out the foods most likely to cause headaches.)


Caffeine in the morning

Wake up with a headache on a Saturday morning? We’re not talking about a hangover, though your headache may feel similar to one. “Headaches can be triggered by not drinking caffeine for those who are used to having daily coffee or tea,” says Daniel Franc, MD, PhD, neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “The typical scenario is a patient who is a coffee drinker on weekdays at the office and forgets to have a morning cup on weekends and is left with a headache by 11 a.m.” If this is your scenario, drink a cup of coffee or your usual caffeine infused drink and you should feel better by brunch.


Don’t go cold turkey

If you suffer from serious headaches or migraines and frequently take meds like Imitrex or Treximet for pain relief, and decided to go cold turkey and stop taking the meds, you may be setting yourself up for a morning headache. “Morning headaches can be triggered by medication withdrawal in people that are overusing acute medication for their frequent headaches,” says Dr. Rosen. Talk to your doctor about starting a preventative treatment program (medication or non-medication) instead of going abruptly stopping your current headache meds. Read on to learn more about proven migraine remedies.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer and writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among others. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.