Can headaches be caused by sleep apnea?

sleep apnea headache treatmentCan headaches be caused by sleep apnea? The short answer is “yes.”

Morning headaches are just one of the typical side effects of apnea. Up to half of the people who wake up every day with headaches are believed to also have sleep apnea.

Headaches experienced by patients with sleep apnea occur when the oxygen level drops due to the stoppage of breathing caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The disorder also can cause carbon dioxide to be trapped in the lungs due to a lack of incoming oxygen. It can then build up in the lungs and spill over into the bloodstream.  

The combination of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide negatively affects the brain and can lead to headaches. According to experts in sleep apnea and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, it is the increased level of carbon dioxide that causes sleep apnea headaches.

Carbon dioxide causes the blood vessels in and around the head to dilate, which can result in migraine-like headaches that throb and irritate. There are some important differences between sleep apnea headaches and migraines, however. Sleep Apnea Headaches

  • Are felt on both sides of the head
  • Begin going away when a patient wakes up and breathes normally, usually within an hour or so after rising.
  • These headaches will tend to reoccur regularly

Migraines –

  • Are usually only felt on one side of the head
  • Can last for hours or even days
  • Fairly regularly are accompanied by visual impairments
  • Can include nausea and/or vomiting
  • Regularly include light sensitivity

Other types of headaches may be caused by sleep apnea

  • Cluster headaches– Headaches that occur in “clusters” or patterns during set periods that may last for weeks or even months.
  • Hypnic headaches– are moderate throbbing-style headaches that can wake the patient up numerous times during the night.
  • OSA headaches– are caused by the widening of blood vessels

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Murfreesboro, TN 37129