Sleep apnea can have many symptoms, but individuals suffering with the disorder may only experience daytime symptoms with no indicator of what is causing the symptoms. One of the most common indicators of sleep apnea is morning headaches, so if you’re experiencing headaches along with any of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from sleep apnea:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Feeling the need to nap during the day
- Having memory and cognitive difficulties
- Mood swings/irritability
- Feeling unrefreshed even after sleeping for hours
- Loud snores that wake you or your bed-partner up
Why Does Sleep Apnea Cause Headaches?
A recent study showed that nearly 40% of untreated sleep apnea sufferers had persistent morning headaches, and that the headaches are more common in women than men. Only 9% of the normal population suffers with morning headaches.
The reason that sleep apnea causes headaches is because when you persistently stop breathing throughout the night, your body becomes oxygen deprived. You’re not taking in the amount of oxygen you need, and you’re not expelling carbon dioxide. That means that your blood pH is too low and your brain becomes starved of oxygen – which in turn, causes headaches and memory problems and cognitive difficulties the next day.
There is no specific reason for sleep apnea to cause morning headaches, but it’s linked to both the effects of oxygen deprivation on the brain and the effects that sleep deprivation and persistent arousals cause. The disruptions in sleep occurring in sleep apnea sufferers could be to blame for morning headaches, but there is no research to support this.
What Can I Do?
The good news is that when sleep apnea is treated with a CPAP device, morning headaches are eliminated in 90% of sleep apnea patients. Treatment with CPAP helps massively with other sleep apnea symptoms, too, and it pretty much saves your life.
However, tolerance for CPAP can be quite low in some patients, especially if they only have mild to moderate sleep apnea. In these cases, treatment with either a dental device or items designed to position your body in such a way that your airways lie open may be the way to go. There are also a number of things that you can do to reduce your risk of apnoeic episodes. Some risk-reducing tips and some bedtime tips for preventing sleep apnea are below:
- Lose weight. Losing just 10%of your body weight can reduce your number of apnoeic episodes.
- Quit smoking. Smoking causes fluid retention in the back of your throat and it also causes the tissue in the throat to be inflamed and swollen, increasing your risk of apnea.
- Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives. These items relax the muscles in the throat which can cause apnea.
- Avoid caffeine and heavy meals two hours before going to bed.
- Keep your nasal passages open. This will enable you to breathe through your nose during sleep – do this by using either saline spray, a nasal dilator, a neti pot or breathing strips.
- Stop yourself from rolling onto your back – sleeping on your back increases the risk of your airways closing. One of the cheapest ways to do this is to sew a tennis ball into your sleepwear – that way, when you roll over, it will be too uncomfortable for you to remain in that position and you’ll then roll onto your side. You can also buy pillows that do this job for you.
- Prop your head up. Elevate your head between four and six inches from your waist, using a wedge pillow.
- Try doing some throat and tongue exercises. There are a number of tongue exercises that you can do that strengthen the muscles in the throat, reducing the likelihood of the throat muscles collapsing.
All of these things can treat sleep apnea fairly successfully – which in turn could treat your morning headaches. If you’re still having headaches but your sleep apnea is being treated successfully, go to your doctor.