With the major link between TMJ and migraines via the trigeminal nerve, it’s understandable that normally when we talk about headaches, we emphasize TMJ. But sleep apnea is also a major contributor to your headache risk, and it can lead to all common types of headaches.
The “Textbook” Sleep Apnea Headache
Headaches specifically linked to sleep apnea are common. They are often felt right upon wakening, and will likely affect you most mornings. However, they normally resolve spontaneously within a half hour of waking.
Tension Headaches and Sleep Apnea
Tension headaches account for about nine out of ten headaches and are related to muscle tension constricting the skull and putting pressure on certain nerves. The pain can be from the muscles themselves or from the nerves.
Sleep apnea contributes to tension headaches because of the way your body responds to apneic events. The jaw is the primary bony support for your airway, and when the airway collapses, the body attempts to give it more support by clenching the jaw. This can lead to jaw pain and tension headaches.
Migraine Headaches and Sleep Apnea
The mechanisms that link migraines and sleep apnea are less well understood because migraines themselves are more mysterious.
But we do know that sleep apnea treatment relieves migraines and there are a number of potential links. First, there’s the trigeminal nerve irritation that may be fostered by jaw clenching overnight. Also, migraines are partly vascular, and one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is high blood pressure, so there could be a vascular link. Finally, people with sleep apnea often suffer from irritability and stress, which can also contribute to migraines.
Cluster Headaches and Sleep Apnea
Cluster headaches are a very severe, but less common form of headache. They are short, intense headaches occurring at night and felt on one side of the head. Although they do not last for long, they occur, as the name implies, in clusters, with people suffering from many headaches a day for a period of a few short days. The headaches may not recur for months.
The nighttime incidence of cluster headaches makes sleep disturbances a natural link for these headaches. But there are many potential reasons why these headaches might come from sleep apnea, such as sleep disturbance, oxygen shortage, or jaw clenching. Periodicity of cluster headaches may relate to seasonal causes of sleep apnea.
Headaches are one of the many disabling symptoms of sleep apnea. If you are suffering from headaches that you think might be linked to sleep apnea in Denver, please call (303) 691-0307 for an appointment with a sleep dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.