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Zenia
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Does sleep deprivation trigger headaches?

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Neurology Health & Fitness

I am a 18 year old girl. I have occasional throbbing sharp headaches usually felt near the temple and the top part of my head. The pain comes and goes intermittently (lasting for 1 or 2 minutes). I have been sleeping late and have less than 6 hours of sleep some days. May I ask if sleep deprivation can cause headaches, and how will I know if the headache is something more serious?

DOCTOR’S ANSWER (1)

Dear Zenia,

Thank you for your enquiry. Sleep deprivation is a common cause of headaches. There are many types of headaches and some of the common ones are as follows:

1. Tension headache - This is  the most common type of headache and one feels a pressure-like pain around the head. It is often triggered by stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation. Lifestyle changes and over the counter pain relievers can often keep the headache under control.

2. Migraine - This is usually a one-sided throbbing pain and can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, dehydration and food additives. Sometimes the headaches can also lead to nausea and vomiting.  Avoiding the triggers and over the counter pain-reliever can help suffers or mild-moderate migraines. For those with severe or frequent migraines, preventative medications can be taken daily to keep it under control. 

3. Cluster headaches - This refers to headaches that comes in groups or "clusters", often one sided and is centred around the eye region. The sufferer may experience nasal congestion and watery eyes on the side of the headache. The cause is usually unknown but there may be a genetic predisposition. Pain relievers can often keep the headaches under control. 

4. Sinus headaches - This refers to a pressure or throbbing pain due to a sinus infection or blockage. The pain is often accompanied by nasal symptoms (E.g. blocked nose, facial pain and congestion and coloured nasal discharge) or triggered by a change of pressure in the environment (e.g. during flight). The location of the pain can be in the forehead region, in between the eyes or under the eyes, depending on the affected sinuses. Treating the underlying infected or blocked sinus/es often help resolves a sinus headache. 

5. Headaches from obstructive sleep apnoea - This is a condition in which one chokes or stops breathing for a short period of time during sleep. Patients with OSA usually snore, feel tired during the day and may wake up with morning headaches or feeling unrefreshed. Sleep apnoea can be diagnosed by undergoing a sleep study (sleeping with sensors attached to various parts of the body). Treatment includes lifestyle modifications and the use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy. 

As for your question on how you will know if your headache is something serious, if you are experiencing the following symptoms, you should see a GP or neurologist for further assessment: 

  • Neurological symptoms (E.g. giddiness, weakness in your arms or legs, pins and needles in your body, blurred or double vision etc)
  • Fever associated with a stiff neck or  sensitivity to light
  • Your headache felt like you have just been hit with a bat at the back of your head

I would suggest that you try to get enough sleep for the next few days or weeks. If your headaches persist, you should see a GP or Neurologist for an assessment. Hope this helps and all the best.

Consult Doctor
0 371 views 0 Doctors agree 30 Jul 2018
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