Sleep Apnea Headache: Can CPAP Therapy Cure It?

October 09, 2020

Sleep Apnea Headache: Can CPAP Therapy Cure It?

Waking up with a headache in the morning is a common sign of Sleep Apnea. In fact, 50% of people who experience headaches first thing in the AM could in fact be suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Yet, why is that? 

Below, we are going to talk through the link between headaches and Sleep Apnea, what an OSA headache is like, and what individuals can do to relieve their symptoms. 


Sleep Apnea and Headaches: How Are They Linked? 

As we mentioned above, suffering from headaches is a common indicator that an individual may be showing signs of OSA. But how exactly does Sleep Apnea cause headaches?

You may already know that sleep and headaches have an interdependent relationship. For example, if you develop a headache or migraine before bed this will undoubtedly cause sleep disturbances. On the other hand, if you sleep poorly this can result in a throbbing pain in the temple. 

While the causes of Sleep Apnea headaches can certainly be multifactorial, many sleep specialists believe that those with moderate to severe OSA experience headaches as a result of a drop in oxygen saturation levels.

As OSA causes intermittent breathing, air can get trapped in the lungs. This air is de-oxygenated and becomes carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is then recycled from the lungs and into the bloodstream. 

It is the buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream that results in OSA headaches. As more carbon dioxide enters the blood, it causes the blood vessels in the head area to dilate. This dilation results in a throbbing and irritating pain similar to a migraine. 


Signs Of An OSA Headache

It is important to note that a Sleep Apnea headache isn’t the same as a migraine. Although they may feel similar, headaches caused by OSA typically can be described in the following ways:


  • Felt on both sides of the head
  • Occur on a regular basis
  • Ease within the first few hours of waking 
  • Dull throbbing pain

Headaches that are caused by sleep-related problems often display either as a cluster headache that occurs in patterns that may last weeks or months, or as a hypnic headache which is a moderate throbbing headache that wakes a person once or more during the night. 

Unfortunately, once you begin experiencing headaches as a side effect of Sleep Apnea it will become a chronic issue without treatment. The longer that OSA goes untreated and sleep disturbances occur, the more stress and inflammatory changes that happen in your body and the longer the cycle of pain will be. 


How Does CPAP Therapy Relieve This Symptom? 

As PAP therapy, especially that delivered by a CPAP machine, is centred on providing OSA patients with the appropriate amount of airway pressure they need to prevent soft tissues in their airway from collapsing during the night, it can adequately relieve an OSA headache and other Sleep Apnea symptoms.

CPAP therapy provides a consistent flow of air to a patient during the night and gives the body the oxygen it needs to continue functioning optimally. As a Sleep Apnea headache is linked to the build up of carbon dioxide, receiving a set pressure level of air each night prevents oxygen deprivation. 


Are You Still Having Headaches? Try These Solutions 

While most individuals who start CPAP therapy note an improvement in the occurrence of headaches that they experience upon waking, for others they may need to try additional solutions to relieve their headache symptoms. 

If you continue to have headaches during CPAP therapy, consider trying a number of the following: 


  • Use over-the-counter medication: Taking pain reliever medications can be helpful for managing the pain of an OSA headache. Make sure to read and abide by the usage guidelines of the particular medication you’re taking and consult with your doctor if your symptoms don’t subside. 
  • Lifestyle changes: Making small changes to your lifestyle such as drinking more water, exercising regularly and getting plenty of fresh air can be helpful when managing pain caused by headaches. 
  • Avoid using digital devices: Trying to watch TV or scroll through Instagram on your phone may seem like a way to relax and distract yourself from a headache but it could be having the opposite effect. It is best to avoid using any digital devices until your headache subsides completely.

  • Sleep and headaches go hand in hand. However, headaches that are a result of a sleeping disorder can be managed correctly by treating the core problem. When left untreated, OSA not only causes throbbing pain in your temple but can also lead to other serious health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    If you believe that your morning headaches may be a result of Sleep Apnea, it is important to get assessed by your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get a sleep-related disorder diagnosed, the faster you will be able to get your sleep quality back on track.

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