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Why Does My Head Hurt When I Lay Down on My Pillow? Unveiling 11 Possible Causes

From spine misalignment to allergies, there are many factors that may cause you to wonder, “Why does my head hurt when I lay down?” Below, we discuss the different types of sleep-related headaches and how you may improve your sleep hygiene to steer clear of this discomfort.

Why Does My Head Hurt When I Lay Down on My Pillow


Sleep-related headaches are typically due to improper pillow support, which causes your neck or spine to misalign.

Tension and sinus headaches may get worse when you sleep than when in an upright position.

It helps to stay hydrated, have proper pillow support, and to plan for 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. 

Did you know?
80% of North Americans have frequent headaches, and 50% of those have a headache at least once per month.

Ever wondered, “Why does my head hurt when I lay down on my pillow?”. Well, you may be surprised to learn that 1 in 13 of us regularly experience this, so you’re not alone.

The most common reason for these headaches is improper pillow support. Having unsupportive pillows may cause your neck and spine to misalign as you sleep. This may lead to you feeling some pain and discomfort. Therefore, having good pillows as well as maintaining a healthy sleep regimen may help you steer clear from headaches when lying down.

Why Does My Head Hurt When I Lay Down?

Getting a headache when lying down is a common experience for a lot of us. You may notice, “The back of my head hurts when I lay down… but why?” Headaches like these can be caused by various factors related to your sleep environment and overall health. Here are 11 potential reasons:

1. Neck & Spine Misalignment: Sleeping on pillows that are too thin or too thick can lead to an awkward head position, affecting alignment and causing headaches or neck pain.

2. Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches that can begin or worsen when you lay on your pillow.

3. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): RLS has been linked to tension headaches and migraines due to shared brain pathways, possibly related to iron deficiency.

4. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism): Grinding and clenching teeth due to stress (bruxism) can result in tension headaches or migraines, which you may feel more strongly when resting.

5. Caffeine Withdrawal: Suddenly quitting caffeine consumption can cause withdrawal headaches.

6. Medication: Drugs like aspirin, opioids, and anti-anxiety medications are among those that may cause headaches as a side effect of withdrawal.

7. Allergies: Allergy-related headaches can occur during allergy seasons or, due to your pillows’ fillings not being hypoallergenic.

8. Migraines: Migraines can be confused with sinusitis and often present with various symptoms like aura, vision changes, and neck stiffness.

9. Mood Disorders: Conditions like depression and anxiety can lead to sleep problems and, subsequently, headaches.

10. Sleep Disorder: Sleep-related headaches can be a symptom of sleep issues like sleep apnea, insomnia, and snoring, affecting nearly 29% of individuals with sleep apnea.

11. Hangover: Alcohol consumption can lead to hangover headaches, often due to alcohol's dehydrating effects.

Can Simply Laying On A Pillow Cause A Headache?

Different Types of Headaches

There are several kinds of headaches that one may experience when lying down, or simply going about their day. These headaches may differ in intensity as well as the location where they are felt. Below, we describe how different kinds of headaches feel and why they happen:

i) Cluster Headache: This is characterized by severe, sharp pain near the eye, tearing eyes, congestion, and possibly a flushed face. Cluster headaches are rare and often occur in “attacks,” with daily headaches for several weeks or months.

ii) Migraine Headache: Migraines affect about 12% of the population and are characterized by debilitating, throbbing pain that can worsen with movement, light, and noise. Other symptoms may include dizziness, vomiting, and sensitivity to temperature changes.

iii) Sinus Headache: This type of headache causes pain in the nasal area that worsens throughout the day. Sinus headaches are caused by blocked sinus ducts and result in throbbing pressure around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead.

iv) Tension Headache: Tension headaches involve a dull, steady ache on both sides of the head, often accompanied by tightness in the neck or back of the head. Stress and neck muscle tightness are considered key factors.

v) Thunderclap Headache: Thunderclap headaches are sudden and severe, often described as the worst headache ever. They may be accompanied by vomiting, fever, speech problems, weakness, confusion, and visual symptoms.

It’s important to note that while this information can help identify headaches, it should not replace professional healthcare advice. If you experience frequent or severe headaches, consider seeing a doctor for proper diagnosis and guidance.

Can Simply Laying On A Pillow Cause A Headache?

Yes, the type of pillow you use may contribute to headaches, and here's some detail on how this can happen:

1. Pillow Alignment: Proper pillow alignment minimizes stress on your neck and prevents pain-sensitive structures from being compromised, which can lead to symptoms like neck pain, stiffness, headaches, and shoulder or arm pain.

2. Improper Support: A pillow that offers improper support can result in tension headaches. It's crucial to select a pillow with the right loft and firmness to maintain proper head and neck alignment based on your sleeping position.

3. Allergies: Allergies to pillow fill, dust mites, or specific pillow materials can lead to sinus headaches and poor sleep quality.

4. Old Pillows: An old pillow may lose its support and accumulate allergens and dirt, contributing to neck pain, shoulder pain, lower back pain, allergies, and headaches. It's recommended to replace pillows every one to two years for better sleep quality.

5. Using Too Many Pillows: Ideally, you should use one good pillow for proper spine alignment. However, using extra pillows between your legs or under your knees can improve sleep quality.

Remember, your sleep position matters. Stomach sleepers should use flat, soft pillows to prevent neck curvature. Side sleepers benefit from lofty, supportive pillows to alleviate shoulder pressure. Back sleepers should choose medium-loft pillows that conform to the head and neck.

There are many pillows that one may use, but the best options are pillows that are ergonomically designed. Our Cuddler, for instance, is made with plant based materials, which also reduces the likelihood of developing allergy-related headaches from pillow fillings.


Ergonomically designed

Made from natural Melofoam™

Additional cover styles available

Cuddle up

What Kind Of Headache Gets Worse When You Lay Down?

There are specific types of headaches that can get worse when you change your body position. These types of headaches are often referred to as “orthostatic headaches” or “positional headaches.” Below, are a few examples:

  • Tension Headaches: While tension headaches are not considered positional headaches, some people may experience increased pain when lying down if they have specific neck or muscle issues that worsen with certain positions.
  • Sinus Headaches: Sinus headaches can sometimes be exacerbated when lying down because the position may lead to increased pressure in the sinuses.
  • Low or High Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Pressure Headache: CSF is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, providing cushioning and support. When there's a leak, for instance, it can lead to a positional headache that gets worse when you are in an upright position.
  • Chiari Malformation Headache: A Chiari malformation is a structural abnormality in which the cerebellum and brainstem are displaced downward into the spinal canal. This condition can lead to headaches that worsen when lying down, especially when there is increased pressure on the cerebellar tonsils in the upright position. 

Can I Get A Headache From Sleeping Wrong?

Yes. Sleeping in an improper posture, particularly on your stomach, can result in morning headaches. When you sleep on your stomach, your back may arch, and your neck can twist unnaturally, leading to muscle tightness and insufficient support for your spine and neck.

Also, underlying mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD can exacerbate sleep problems and contribute to headaches. Frequent tossing and turning during the night may serve as an indicator that your sleep position is causing discomfort, interrupting your sleep, and potentially leading to headaches.

What Is The Best Sleeping Position For A Migraine?

What Is The Best Sleeping Position For A Migraine?

Are you looking for the best sleep position for a migraine? We’ve got you covered. Experts recommend that sleeping on your back or your side are the best positions for spine alignment. These positions may promote better blood flow to your head and also ease any tension on your neck and shoulders.

For those who snore, sleeping on the back might be a bit tricky, so it is best to sleep on the sides as straight as possible to avoid misaligning the spine. You may also have pillows for support in elevating your head a little bit.

Which Sleeping Positions to Avoid?

If you’re looking for the best way to sleep with a headache, then you may want to be mindful of these positions – or steer clear of them where possible.

  • The Fetal Position: It might feel instinctual, but curling up in a ball like this forces your shoulders forward, which can cause a lot of tension in your neck. Once your neck tenses and locks, you may expect a headache in the AM.
  • Sleeping On Your Stomach: This position makes you twist your head and neck in an unnatural way so, again, it may bring on unnecessary tension.
  • Putting Your Arm Over Your Head: Putting your arm over your head can cut off circulation and put pressure around your nerves, disrupting proper blood flow. This may also cause your headache to worsen. 

Regardless of your sleep position, it helps to have a supportive pillow with you. When sleeping on your side, having a full body pillow that cuddles you up may help your head, neck, and back stay aligned. Our Cuddler is ergonomically designed to melt away tension from your neck and back, which will help you wake up feeling rejuvenated.

How Do I Avoid A Headache After Waking Up From Sleep?

To avoid getting a headache after waking up from sleep, you can consider several factors. Below, we list some helpful tips to help you wake up feeling refreshed and headache-free:

  • Identify and treat underlying medical causes
  • Have the right support, like a body pillow
  • Maintain a proper sleep position
  • Set aside a sufficient sleep duration (7 to 9 hours)
  • Hydrate before bed and steer clear of heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Consider staying away from screens within 1 to 2 hours before sleeping
  • You may want to avoid excessive alcohol consumption
  • Occasional and controlled pain relief from over-the-counter medications may help 

When To See A Doctor

Although headaches can be painful and aggravating, they typically aren’t a cause for concern. However, it’s important to promptly seek medical attention if your headache is accompanied by any of the following symptoms

  • A notably stiff neck
  • Balance issues
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Fainting
  • High fever
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of your body
  • Vision problems 


There are a whole host of reasons as to why your head might hurt when you're lying down, from dehydration to your sleeping position. While it’s a common issue, relief from sleep-related headaches is possible. For instance, having the right pillow support may completely change your sleep experience, leading to deeper and restorative sleep.

It is essential to use sustainable and ergonomically designed pillows as you rest. Our Cuddler is a body pillow that will give you contoured cuddles from head to toe as you rest. Plus, you will not need to worry about any allergens from pillow fillers as it is made from natural rubber tree sap.

If you still feel a headache after employing self-care tips and improving your sleep hygiene, consider visiting a medical professional for an assessment.