Sleep Apnea: How to Get Rid of A Recurring Sleep Apnea Headache?

sleep apnea headache

Starting the day on the wrong foot due to a morning headache isn’t only frustrating, but it’s also a common sleep apnea symptom. Here’s how to get rid of it.

If you experience headaches in the morning or episodes of snoring while sleeping, then you might be suffering from OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). It’s a medical condition that can lead to additional stress and cause a drain on happiness and productivity.

This article discusses the basics of sleep apnea and how to get rid of headaches that accompany it.

What is OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea)?

OSA is a medical condition that refers to abnormal breathing while sleeping. People with OSA either breathe shallowly or stop breathing intermittently, which results in frequent awakenings at nighttime. 

Along with disturbed sleep, OSA can also cause low oxygen levels.

According to the Journal of Headache and Pain, most patients report sleep apnea headaches, thinking problems, and daytime sleepiness.

What is A Sleep Apnea Headache?

According to the third edition of ICHD (International Classification of Headache Disorder), a recurrent morning headache is called “sleep apnea headache” if it meets one or more of the following conditions:

  • Resolves within four hours
  • Occurs with a pressing quality on the head’s both sides and isn’t associated with sensitivity to sound, photophobia, and nausea
  • Occurs at least 15 times within a month

It’s important to note that there are also some other health conditions that can lead to morning headaches. That’s why doctors perform a thorough examination before making any diagnosis.

Some common conditions that can cause morning headaches are –

  • Obesity hypoventilation syndrome
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)
  • RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome)

Causes of Sleep Apnea Headache

Before getting into the details of how to get rid of sleep apnea headaches, it’s important to discuss the common causes of this medical condition.

As mentioned, people suffering from OSA involuntarily stop breathing, and their oxygen level drops. During intermittent breathing, the air inside the patient’s lungs becomes trapped, and the body converts it to carbon dioxide. 

As a result, the carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream increase and cause sleep apnea headaches.

The scientific evidence regarding the connection between sleep apnea and headaches shows that this condition might be the result of the following.

  • Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dilated blood vessels caused by increased carbon dioxide levels


How are Sleep Apnea Headaches Diagnosed?

The diagnostic process, just like all the other medical conditions, starts by visiting a doctor. If you’re experiencing recurring morning headaches, consider making an appointment with an ENT specialist.

The ear, nose, and throat specialist will review your symptoms and medical history and then conduct a physical examination. The doctor might also rule out some medical conditions, order tests, and advise you to visit a sleep specialist if required.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Other than recurring headaches, the following are some common sleep apnea symptoms:

  • Inability to focus
  • Loud snoring
  • Irritability
  • Heartburn
  • Extreme daytime tiredness

Sleep Apnea Headache: Treatment

In order to opt for the right treatment methods, it’s critical to make sure whether or not your headaches are caused by sleep apnea. There’s no point in taking the over-the-counter medication without being diagnosed.

If your headaches are caused by sleep apnea, the best way to cure them is to treat sleep apnea itself. This way, you’ll allow your brain to obtain the required oxygen levels while sleeping.

It’ll also eliminate the problems related to enlarged blood vessels, and the carbon dioxide levels in your bloodstream will also return to normal.

The following are the sleep apnea headache treatment options.

Change Your Lifestyle

Bringing positive changes in your lifestyle not only minimizes your sleep apnea symptoms but also improves your overall health. 

Consider the practices mentioned below to achieve a healthy lifestyle to combat sleep apnea headaches.

  • Refrain yourself from taking sedatives
  • Treat your allergies
  • Quit drinking alcohol right before going to bed
  • Minimize your alcohol consumption
  • Exercise regularly
  • Lose weight if you’re fat.
  • Don’t sleep on your back.

Use A CPAP Device

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) is a device that delivers air pressure into your mouth and nose (or only nose). The pressure makes sure that your airway passage remains open.

It also prevents snoring and intermittent sleep problems that minimize sleep apnea headaches significantly.

Use an Oral Device

Your sleep specialist may also advise you to use a mouthpiece/oral device to treat your sleep apnea headaches. It holds your tongue in a particular position or brings forward your lower jaw to keep your airway open.


Surgery is the last option that you should only consider if none of the other non-invasive methods work. The surgery to treat sleep apnea headaches include:

  • Implanting devices to identify and treat obstruction
  • Removing tissue(s) leading to airway obstruction
  • Bypassing obstructed airway by performing a tracheostomy

Sleep Apnea Headache Risk Factors

Anyone can fall victim to sleep apnea, including children. Here are some factors that increase the risk.

Family History

If you have someone in your family, especially your mother or father, who suffers from a sleep apnea headache, then it can increase your risk as well.

Excess Weight

Obesity can significantly increase the sleep apnea headache risk because fat deposits in the upper respiratory tract can obstruct breathing.

A Narrow Airway

Some people inherit a narrow throat that leads to sleep apnea and recurring headaches. Adenoids and tonsils can also block the airway by getting enlarged. In addition, people with thicker necks can also naturally have narrow airways.

Old Age

Older adults fall victim to sleep apnea more often than young people.

Use of Tranquilizers, Sedatives, and Alcohol

These substances can worsen sleep apnea headaches because they relax the throat muscles.

Being Male

According to an NCBI study, sleep apnea is diagnosed more commonly in men than women. However, menopause and obesity increase the sleep apnea risks in women.

Nasal Congestion

If you’re experiencing difficulty in breathing via the nose, whether from allergies or some anatomical problem, then the chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea increase.


An NCBI study suggests that the chances of experiencing sleep apnea headaches in smokers are three times higher than in nonsmokers. That’s because smoking tends to increase fluid retention and the amount of inflammation in the upper airway.

Medical Conditions

Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and Congestive heart failure are some of the common medical conditions that can increase sleep apnea risk.


You must see your doctor immediately if you feel you’re suffering from sleep apnea headaches. Luckily, effective treatments and therapies are available to get rid of morning headaches caused by sleep apnea.




Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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