Waking up with a headache after a nap: causes and prevention

October 30, 2020 3 mins read
Waking up with a headache after a nap: causes and prevention

You’ll be forgiven for thinking the universe is playing a cruel trick on you after waking up with a headache after a nap. Micro snoozes are supposed to make you feel energised, fresh and ready to tackle the next half of your day, right?

So when you wake up with throbbing temples, it’s likely you’re feeling shortchanged. Here’s why it’s happening, and what you can you do about it…

What causes a headache after sleeping?

There are many potential reasons why your head is sore. Usually, waking up with a headache after a nap can be traced back to your sleep habits or the cause can be an underlying medical condition.

Sleep inertia

Have you abruptly woken up from sleep because of a loud alarm? Did you feel groggy, dazed and disorientated? If that feeling stayed with you for a couple of hours afterwards then you probably had sleep inertia. It happens when you wake up during slow-wave sleep, a stage of the sleep cycle. The headache occurs because you haven’t completed a full cycle of sleep which usually lasts 90 minutes.


Sorry to break it to you but if you’ve been flagged for snoring, you’re more likely to wake up with a headache after a nap. When you snore, your breathing rate is irregular and at times this cuts short oxygen to the brain. The low levels of oxygenated blood can cause your head to throb with pain.

Teeth grinding

Known as bruxism, this happens when you gnash your teeth during sleep. Triggered by tension and stress, the muscles in the head work overtime leading to a bad headache.

How to prevent getting a headache after napping

Before you reach for the painkillers, there are some tried and tested home remedies that can help.

Sometimes, changing the pillow you use can elevate your head so you can avoid getting a headache after napping. Drinking water before and after a nap can also reduce the risk of a headache.

Here are some more tips to nip that post-nap headache in the bud:

  • Drink smaller amounts of caffeine throughout the day. When you do, try not to drink a cup of coffee before taking a nap.
  • Meditate, take a hot shower or do some yoga. Relaxation techniques can ease any tension you might feel that could contribute to a headache.
  • Exercise to release some feel-good hormones. Moving around also keeps the blood flowing to your brain which can eliminate the risk of a headache.
  • Take fewer naps. Yes, naps improve mental performance but overdosing on sleep can make your headaches worse.
  • Practise sleep hygiene by taking your naps in a cool, dark place.

Prioritise getting quality shut-eye. If your headaches persist, then visiting your doctor will rule out any underlying illnesses.

Remember: rest and relaxation are your weapons in fighting off headaches.