Headaches At Night: Why Cluster Headaches Strike at Night
Cluster headaches are a very unique type of headaches because of their close ties to nightly sleeping patterns. People who have recurring cluster headache often describe being woken up in the middle of the night by them in excruciating pain. This pain is marked by sharp, steady, or burning pain on one side of the head or behind one eye. The pain may not last very long in each episode, but it is very intense and severe and recurs. Although these headaches occur in cycles, they can come on very unexpectedly and seriously disrupt one’s sleep schedule.1,2,3
This is an explanation of why cluster headaches often happen during sleep and how healthy sleeping patterns can help prevent their occurrence.
Headaches and Sleep: When Do Cluster Headaches Commonly Occur
Unlike other types of headaches, cluster headaches often happen when a person is at least two hours into sleep. After about two or three hours of falling asleep, the body typically begins to transition from REM sleep to non-REM sleep. This transition may play a role in triggering a cluster headache attack because of the changes in brain activity involved.1,3
Cluster headaches are also believed to involve abnormal functioning of the brain’s blood vessels or vascular system, which slow down and relax during the cycles of sleep. But once a cluster headache strikes, it is usually impossible to go back to sleep or even sit still.1
The Effect of Sleeping Patterns on Headaches at Night
Research has shown that sleeping patterns can affect the likelihood of having a cluster headache during sleep. There is a strong connection between poor sleep quality and the occurrence of cluster headaches. Many medical professionals believe that the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the body’s biological clock, plays a role in the activation of cluster headaches. This means that if an individual’s sleep cycle is disrupted from its normal schedule, then a cluster headache is more likely to occur. Sleep deprivation and jet lag are additional risk factors.2
Studies have also revealed that numerous sleep disorders are closely associated with cluster headaches. These disorders include obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy. Sleep apnea, for example, is an aggravating factor and possible cause of cluster headaches. This means that if a sleep disorder is properly monitored treated, the likelihood of cluster headaches during sleep may decrease as well.2
Preventing Cluster Headaches During Sleep
People with cluster headaches should try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day to keep their biological clock working on a consistent schedule. Physicians may recommend melatonin, a natural supplement, to help facilitate normal sleep cycles, especially for people who do shift work or travel a lot for work.2
There are preventative medicines that have proven very effective for cluster headache sufferers, such as blood pressure medications, anti-epilepsy drugs, and herbal products. Oxygen inhalation, triptans, and ergotamines can provide on-the-spot treatment for cluster headaches when they strike in the middle of the night as well.1
References for Headaches At Night: Why Cluster Headaches Strike at Night
2. Healthline. How To Treat Cluster Headaches Yourself Naturally. Retrieved on September 3, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/cluster-headache-natural-treatment#causes .
3.Mayo Clinic. Cluster Headache. Retrieved on August 22, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cluster-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20352080.
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