Headaches from lack of sleep: causes, symptoms and prevention

December 18, 2020 3 mins read
Headaches from lack of sleep: causes, symptoms and prevention

Maybe you’ve been pulling all-nighters to meet an urgent deadline, or you’ve had a few restless nights in a row, but headaches from lack of sleep can really ruin your day. Let’s take a look at what you can do to ease the symptoms of a pounding head.

Symptoms of headaches and migraines

While the pain felt by a headache and migraine are quite similar, they’re very different in where they affect you and how. We’ll give you a breakdown of the symptoms so that you can identify which type of pain you are feeling.


This type of headache is intense and painful. People who experience migraines often complain about pain on one half of the head. The throbbing pain of a migraine can make doing daily activities difficult. Sometimes, the severity of the pain can lead you to an emergency room.

Symptoms of a migraine include:

  • Vomiting
  • Pain behind the ear
  • A temporary loss of vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Seeing bright spots that blur your vision


Headaches can affect the whole head, causing pain in the neck, forehead and temples. Usually caused by stress, anxiety and tension, headaches can also be the result of a cold or the flu. The most common type of headache is a tension headache. You’ll know you have a typical headache when you experience these symptoms:

  • Dull aching sensation all over your head
  • Tension in the shoulders
  • Tender scalp
  • Dizziness

Can lack of sleep cause headaches?

A lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to getting headaches. Getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night can set you up for a debilitating headache. A study of migraine sufferers found that 50% attributed their headaches to disrupted sleep. People in the group who slept for only 6 hours a night were found to have more frequent and intensely painful headaches, than those who slept for the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

How to prevent headaches from lack of sleep

Consistently peaceful, uninterrupted sleep will help you prevent headaches. Look at the duration of your sleep and determine if you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep a day. That’s the amount you need to fully function at your best on a daily.

Avoid napping late in the day as this can affect your efforts to sleep soundly at bedtime. Put your phone down when it’s nearly bedtime. The light emitted from your screen tells the brain you’re alert instead of preparing it for sleep. Your diet should consist of foods that make you sleep ready, so avoid certain foods and drinks like fizzy drinks and cruciferous vegetables before bed.

By prioritising your sleep habits, headaches don’t have to take over your life, giving you the energy to focus on what you love.