Can a Lack of Sleep Trigger Headaches?

Can lack of sleep cause headaches? Stellar Sleep discusses how sleep deprivation can trigger physical symptoms and what you can do about it.

Not getting enough sleep can make you feel terrible in various ways, both mentally and physically. But can a lack of sleep trigger headaches, or is that just a coincidence? How can you improve your sleep to avoid the side effects of sleep deprivation? Stellar Sleep is here to help.

Can a Lack of Sleep Trigger Headaches?

Sleep deprivation can take its toll on your body, especially if it becomes a chronic issue (like insomnia). Headaches are just one of the physical impacts a lack of sleep can have on the body — and although research is not yet conclusive on the exact reason why this happens, it’s believed to be related to sleep’s restorative effects on the brain. 

Sleep deprivation-related headaches are most commonly experienced as dull pain or pressure and are usually located on the forehead or the top of the head. The less time someone spends in deep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the more painful these headaches tend to be. 

What Else Causes Headaches?

Sleep deprivation isn’t the only factor that can contribute to headaches, though. An awareness of the other potential causes of headaches can help you more easily distinguish which type you may be dealing with — and when to seek help. 


Mental stress can also cause headaches, regardless of whether that stress is temporary or related to a long-term issue. Stress most often triggers what are commonly known as “tension headaches,” a catch-all term that includes many different types of headaches.

Stress-related tension headaches are most often felt in the head, neck, and shoulders. They also occur all over the head instead of being concentrated in one specific place, and they can last up to seven days.

While pain medications can help reduce the pain from tension headaches, they can’t make a change in any psychological causes of stress. The lack of a distinct physical cause tends to make stress-related headaches far trickier to manage. 


Not drinking enough (or any) water during the day? Your headache may be triggered by dehydration. The human body is mostly made up of water, so not giving it enough can cause it to divert water to the most important locations.

In addition to triggering headaches, dehydration can also increase your risk of developing hypotension (low blood pressure), thrombosis (blood clots), and syncope (losing consciousness). 

However, it’s also easy to prevent — just make sure to drink a good amount of water and avoid excessive caffeine intake. However, if your dehydration is severe enough, it could be a medical emergency that would require IV fluid treatment. 

Physical Tension

Just like there are mental headache triggers, like stress, there are also headaches that are caused by purely physical reasons. Muscle contraction headaches are one of these headaches, where trigger points contract and “pull” at the deep, pericranial muscle layer on the skull. Physical tension headaches can directly result from poor posture, especially in the neck and shoulders. 

Medical Conditions

There are also other medical conditions that can cause headaches, some of which can be serious if not addressed as quickly as possible. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is one of those conditions — and if left untreated, hypertension can lead to other serious health issues. If you’re experiencing a severe, unexpected headache, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

How Can You Get More Sleep?

With a lack of sleep impacting so many physical and mental components of your health and wellness, getting more sleep should be a primary focus of your self-care routine. Here are a few ways that you can adjust your routine to get better, most restful sleep.

Practice Good Bedtime Habits

Humans are creatures of habit, so work with your natural desire for routine by creating bedtime habits you can stick with. When you focus on creating a sleep routine that follows good sleep hygiene principles, like reducing your technology use before bedtime, keeping your room dark and comfortable, and not spending your free time in your bedroom, you can create a far more supportive night’s sleep.

Implement a Healthy Lifestyle

The way you treat yourself can also impact both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Finding ways to implement healthy lifestyle habits into your life can help improve your sleep, as well as your overall health and wellness. 

One of the best ways to do this is by making sure to get your body plenty of exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to be something you dread — finding ways to move your body, burn calories, and still enjoy yourself is key. 

However, remember that exercise can also negatively impact your ability to fall asleep if you do it too close to bedtime. Plan your activity so that you’re done with it at least 90 minutes before you start your bedtime routine to reduce the risk of all those beneficial chemicals and hormones keeping you up at night. 

Consider the Psychological Factors

Cognitive behavioral therapy aimed directly at insomnia (CBT-I) is an effective way to help evaluate what may be going wrong with your sleep schedule, and whether psychological factors are at play. Once you know what the root issues are, you can make changes so that you can get a better night’s rest. 

Take our free sleep quiz, and learn how to sleep again.

When Should You See a Professional?

Can a lack of sleep trigger headaches? Yes, but that doesn’t mean catching up on sleep will be enough to help get rid of them. 

If you’re dealing with regular headaches, are struggling to identify the cause of your headaches, or just want to discuss ways to improve your sleep for the better, it’s never a bad idea to see a professional.

The Bottom Line

Stellar Sleep is a great place to start if you’re looking for ways to improve your sleep, ease symptoms related to a lack of sleep (like headaches), and address any psychological factors that may be holding you back from getting quality rest. 

Don’t neglect your sleep any longer. Take that initial step and put your sleep — and yourself — first. 



Sleep deprivation headache | NIH

Dehydration and Headache | PMC

Muscle Contraction Tension Headache – StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf

Tension headache | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

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