The Nap Headache

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Couch with pillow and blanketContinuing on a theme of “body language” from earlier this month, let’s discuss the Nap Headache.  For those of you blissfully unfamiliar with the Nap Headache, it is an excruciating pain that presents itself upon waking up from a nap that you mistakenly thought was the answer to all your problems.   It can happen when you are woken up prematurely by something (like an alarm clock or a needy person) and also when you naturally wake up.

I don’t understand the Nap Headache.  If the headache is a sign that the nap was not needed, then why was I so tired in the first place?  Why make me think “Wow, I can’t hold my eyes open for one more minute … I must get some sleep” if I’m going to get punished later?  Is there no winning in this game?

Has anyone found a good strategy for preventing (or curing) the Nap Headache?

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  1. Hm. I’ve never had this “nap headache” but I am quite familiar with the “nap inertia”. That is, when you wake up from a nap (unaided by any alarm) so in theory your body is rested and is waking itself up. However you are just exhausted still and feel like you should sleep at least a few more hours. It feels like you couldn’t move even if you wanted to. Hate that feeling. Tends to come at the end of late-afternoon naps for me.

  2. I have had the misfortune to experience each of the nap headache and the nap inertia, although I can not recall a time when I have experience them simultaneously (although I do not claim that it has never happened). I usually commence immediate consumption of some caffeinated beverages immediately to alleviate the symptoms. I find that I am most likely to suffer these sysmptoms after a nap that is likely to have otherwise gotten me in trouble for sleeping when I had other things to do (or things that other people wanted me to do). Perhaps the headache or inertia is nature’s way of punishing me for being lazy and shirking my duties.

    As an aside, I think that the nap blanket in the picture has much too busy of a pattern for a proper nap blanket. I prefer a nice subdued one color blanket for napping.

  3. Rarely napping, I have never suffered from a nap headache. However, I wonder if it has something to do with not having sufficient time to reach REM sleep.

  4. I´ve experienced this nap headache… and for someone who suffers of migranes… this sucks!

    What I discovered (even though I really don´t take naps)is that when you wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle, its frequent to wake up to a headache.

    I really don´t remember who was who told me that we sleep in 1:30 hour cycles, from falling to sleep, REM, and back again. This is the time your body neads at least to complete a cycle.

    For reasons unknown to me, if you go to sleep -or take a nap- you should aim to time your sleep according to this cycles.

    For example, your nigh sleep is preferrably 7:30 hours.. which consist of 5 1:30 cycles. If you need to take a nap, make it of 3 hours, or 1:30 hours.

    Try this and let me know how it goes

  5. Don’t know about the headache (could it be dehydration?), but I’ve read that nap inertia comes from waking at a wrong point in your 45 minute sleep cycle.

  6. As a proponent of the nap in all its shapes and sizes (midday naps in jammies in bed, a few stolen moments of sleep on a moving bus, a snooze on the side of the highway), I am happy to report that I have never suffered a Nap Headache. It sounds positively uncomfortable.

    Regarding headaches, I think the main reason for them (he suggests with his typical lack of scientific certainty) is dehydration. I used to suffer migraines when I got too dehydrated. Now I drink water more regularly. No more migraines.

    And the skill of a napper is surely reflected in his/her ability to nap comfortably regardless the pattern of the available nap blanket.

  7. I don’t nap very often, only a few times in a year when i’m extremely tired. i have inertia right after the nap but no headache until couple hours later. the headache is very minor but uncomfortable enough to make me stay awake at night, even though i’m still very tired.
    I don’t know why and i haven’t found a remedy so the only thing i can do is avoid napping or changing sleeping pattern.

  8. I get the nap migraine if I sleep longer then 40 minutes to an hour. I can’t get rid of it and I will usually wake up and have to throw up it hurts so badly. Sometimes more then once. I don’t understand it, but last night I stayed up all night long(I never do that) so I took a 4 hour nap today. Woke up with the most terrible migraine then the rest of my day was taken due to the headache. Boo.

  9. I wonder if this has to do with being a night person. I am a night person and also get terrible nap headaches when I fail to avoid napping. The body temperature of night people gets higher in the evening, and I find the later I stay up the higher my temperature gets, so I want the AC on or windows open, even in winter. (My wife is a morning person and gets chilly in the evening.) Point is, when I fall asleep and wake up again, I feel very overheated, and I wonder if there is a mis-match between my daily rising temp cycle, and my body thinking it is asleep and therefore acting like it is cooling off — when it isn’t. If others who experience this are also night people and also feel overheated on awakening, maybe there is a link.

  10. I have excruciating nap headaches. They always seem to happen when I take an evening nap, and especially when I’m extremely tired. I take 3 Advil Liquigels. They get rid of the headache eventually, but it usually takes them an hour-and-a-half to two hours to completely work. I wish I knew what causes the headaches because they are SO unbelievably painful.

  11. – ” why was I so tired in the first place? Why make me think “Wow, I can’t hold my eyes open for one more minute … I must get some sleep”.
    Solution: get regular nightly sleep 7 – 9 hrs every night. Or get headaches and other issues.

  12. Thanks for that Robinson… Some of us out here do get an adequate 7-9 hours sleep a night but still suffer fatigue, especially when taking several common migraine medications. I have suffered migraines for close to ten years, and some of the worst ones are after a nap. The only solution I have found – don’t nap, no matter how tired you are. If I do nap, I make sure it’s less than 45 minutes.

  13. Don’t believe it’s from dehydration (the nap headache) I wake up with one after any nap at any place after any amount of time an I drink up to six bottles of water a day. So I’m usually a hydrated mapper. Maybe I’ll try the caffeine. I’m trying to get rid of one now.

  14. The Nap Headache is a cruel joke.

    I do not know of a way to alleviate this problem aside from not taking naps ever to begin with.

  15. I am suffering a terrible nap headache and i slept for an accidental 20 minutes, so i dont think the length of the nap seems consistent with the headaches as people have listed them

  16. I too suffer from nap headaches. I am an RN and am well hydrated most of the time. I am baffled by this problem. I took a nap today and am now miserable. Thought I would look online for a possible solution and to see if other people have this problem too. I tried today to take ibuprofen before the nap to head it off but it did nothing. I tend to lean more toward the REM/sleep cycle theories indicated above and am going to try next time the 1 and a half hour increment and see if that helps. I only nap usually once or twice a month and this sucks!

  17. haha, I didnt know that Im not alone and basically, I realised that if I take a bath immediately after I wake up, it will alleviate the problem sometimes! It does not matter whether is it a hot bath or a cold one, but just a bath.. try it and tell me whether it works for any of you as well 😀

  18. After waking up at 5:30 AM to a 5-year old inches from my face staring at my sleeping face. This is not a fun way to wake up (though not uncommon or unheard of). Going to sleep again was not an option until my husband demanded my crankiness be removed by any means necessary. I was falling asleep on the couch anyway.

    I relocated to bed and woke sometime later with a massive headache.

    Another theory is that I didn’t move at all. Typically I move around a bit in my sleep but I had an imprint on my hand telling me I hadn’t moved at all. I think this stiffness contributed immensely.

    I took motrin with water and grabbed some caffeine. No sure which worked but feeling better.

  19. I have had a migraine type headache after every nap I have taken for the last 30+ years. Needless to say, I rarely nap … maybe once or twice a year. It is just TOO painful. Just took a nap and woke up with a doozy. Got onto the computer and found this site. I am really sorry for anyone else who experiences thees post-nap headaches but am glad I’m not alone. Has anyone found anything to help?!

  20. I have been having these headaches for about a year now, always accompanied by dry mouth (no matter how well I hydrate). The only relief I have found is excessive amounts of caffiene. Which I assume only creates another cycle of headaches.

  21. Grr! It’s not a lack of sleep or dehydration, or some REM cycle. I don’t know what it is, but I also get a terrible headache every time I sleep, or have a nap, even if it’s for 5 minutes only. Good luck everyone! ❤

  22. ok io know all about these cused headaches!!!!!! get em everytime I take a nap ,or when I try to sleep later than I should. only sumatriptan gets rid of my headaches. its a prescribed migraine pill that is very pricey. I break em in half and they have never failed me. But………………..I take my naps sitting straight up as possible. I kinda sit sideways on the couch and sit back sideways on the back of the couch. This doesn’t allow me to get too comfortable as to where I don’t sleep very long. 5-10 minutes tops. I NEVER have a headache when I do it like that. I get a headache 95%of the time if I nap lying down.. I sill wake up still a lil refreshed with no throbber. I think we all all different when it comes to these aches,but maybe my technique can help a few out there. GOD BLESS AND GOOD LUCK

  23. i have been suffering this migraine after nap’s excruciating indeed. it makes your kind of paralysed.i have a another issue too. i m suffering from nightfall problem too. it also give me terrible headache afterwards. so is there any connection between these problem??? need ur help??

  24. Try napping on your back, or more technically in the yoga position position Savasana on the floor, a carpet or some other firm surface. I have found that when I take naps like this, I sleep for only about 30mins. and wake up refreshed and ready to continue the day. Today I rolled onto my side and slept for another 30 which I sometimes do. Then I transitioned to my bed where the above mentioned inertia carried me to sleep another 45 min. and now I have a nap headache. I never have this problem when I nap on the rug like I usually do.

  25. an add to the replies here could be possibly for unknown reason the body lacks oxygen. These days too have to sleep head elevated but napping, am not happy for falling asleep twice awaking with that nap headache. Decaf coffee for me and a 200 mg ibuprofen softgel. Is a mystery and am researching it some now but thought about oxygen, could be brain and air, lungs might be congested some and you don’t know it, they slow down, not enough breathing, well lah, awake with headache from not enough air. Hmm…

  26. Yay! Glad to know it’s not just me! I’m 62 and have had severe headaches upon waking from naps my entire life. Hydrating is definitely not the problem for me but I think the idea of interrupting sleep cycles may be right. I just avoid taking naps as much as possible but today I was tired from early morning waking and walking in heat in the afternoon. It felt so good to slip off into that nap but, MAN did it hurt when I woke up. Still hurting after an hour awake. I think the nap was about 45″ long. Long enough to really get under. Waiting to go to bed at usual time because if I go to bed early, I will waken in the middle of the night. Solution – never nap!!!

  27. Even just nearly falling asleep – trying to avoid the rotten headache and hangover-like grumpiness – will give me the nap headache.

    Only pain relievers help, caffeine before or after will make me feel grumpier but more alert, and uselessly more able to articulate how foul I feel.

    Without the nap I will be drowsy and dim, with the nap I shall become annoyed at anything, slightly nauseous with a hangover headache, impatient and a misanthropic grouch. So no nap is the only choice I have, or pay the high price.

    The person who mentioned sleeping upright might be onto something, at least for some.
    I have found at times the headache is less awful if I’ve been seated propped up in bed, not lying on my side or back.

  28. I suffer from excruciating nap hangovers regardless of the time of day, length of the nap, if I wake up with an alarm or on my own, the brightness of the room, nothing seems to make a difference.

    The one thing that seems to help, similar to what someone else mentioned, is to take a hot shower upon waking, and the headache is slightly better than it would be otherwise. I also find myself dehydrated upon waking and drinking something seems to feel good, though it doesn’t exactly get rid of the headache.

    I wish knowing I’d be incapacitated the rest of the day would keep me from napping, but it rarely does. The best thing for me is to stay so busy that a nap isn’t an option.

  29. Did u guys ever think that it might be sleep apnea?! Possibly not enough oxygen? That’s why we feel groggy, headache, etc. upon waking up… just my opinion…

  30. I am very familiar with this phenomenon. I can not midday nap without a headache. UNLESS, I take a tylenol or ibuprofen before the nap instead of after, that fixes the problem.

  31. I get a “nap hangover” too – great name for it, Ariel! Even five minutes of naptime will do it. I get a headache, nausea, and feel terrible, regardless of the time of day or duration of nap. Pain killers, antacids, a good night’s sleep – nothing will shift it. One time my nap hangover lasted for three days, so I vowed never to nap again.

    Funnily enough, I don’t get it when I am unwell and spend most of the day sleeping, as I did after a recent attack of gastro.

    (By the way, I don’t suffer from migraines.)

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