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Published on June 8, 2022

Is There a Link Between Headache And Tirednes?

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Is There a Link Between Headache And Tirednes?

Have you been feeling tired often lately? Do you also get frequent headaches? If you’ve been experiencing unbearable headaches lately or your tiredness is already disrupting your daily routine, the best thing you can do is consult a doctor.

Headache and tiredness are common symptoms of several health conditions, and research shows a direct connection between them. There could be a possible link between headache and tiredness, and in this article, I will break down the relationship between these two conditions.

I will also discuss simple tips that can help you cope with constant headaches and tiredness. You will also learn the emergency situations that demand a doctor’s visit.

What’s Considered a Headache?

Headaches are common and don’t indicate any severe illness often. Headache occurs from transmission signals among your brain, blood vessels, and the surrounding nerves. The nerves get activated and affect the blood vessels and send pain signals to your brain.[1]

The main symptom of a headache is pain in your head or face. This pain can vary from individual to individual and can be dull, sharp, throbbing, and constant.[2]

The common triggers for a headache include:[3]

There are several types of headaches, but the three main kinds are the following:

1. Tension Headache

Tension headaches range from mild to moderate and are usually a throbbing and dull kind of pain. They come and go on both sides of your head. It can last hours and can get worse with time, where you might also experience some neck pain.

The common causes of a tension headache are stress, fatigue, and muscle strains.

2. Cluster Headache

A cluster headache is a sudden, intense, and episodic headache that typically lasts for less than three hours and can occur up to several times in a day. Mood swings and changes in sensations, including neck stiffness often precede it.

A cluster headache occurs on one side of the head and is concentrated around the eyes and temple area. You may also experience redness in your eyes, droopy eyelids, a runny nose, and congestion.[4]

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3. Migraine

Migraine is another common type of neurological headache with moderate-to-severe intensity. It is usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound, and odors. You will also experience neck pain, which occurs around the same time as the headache.

Migraine attacks can last for a day or longer. It usually occurs on one side and is focused around the eyes, temples, and back of your head. The common triggers for migraine include stress, poor eating patterns, certain foods, dehydration, and sunlight.

Migraine starts in childhood until middle age. For women, it’s more common after puberty and occurs less often during pregnancy and advanced age.[5]

We usually treat a headache with some effective stress and lifestyle management techniques, and medication if required.[6]

What Is the Difference Between Tiredness and Fatigue?

Often, we relate tiredness with fatigue, and that’s where the problem lies. Being tired and fatigued can seem to mean the same thing, and most people use them interchangeably. But there’s a slight difference.

Tiredness

Tiredness, though a common problem, is difficult to define even among the medical community. Feeling tired does not mean falling off to sleep immediately.

You might feel tired after working out at the gym, and you can reach a point where you can exercise no more. You may need an energy drink or coffee to boost you, but you may not be ready to hit the bed and sleep yet.

Tiredness is usually temporary and can be dealt with by simple lifestyle changes.

Fatigue

On the other hand, feeling fatigued means being more than tired. It’s when you’re severely overtired and that exhaustion can prevent you from waking up and doing your daily activities.

You will experience several signs, such as yawning, tired eyes, tired joints, stiff and aching muscles, restlessness and boredom, the tendency to “nod off” and other sleep cues that indicate imminent sleep. When you’re fatigued, you don’t wake up feeling refreshed even after getting sufficient sleep.[7]

It could imply physical fatigue where you cannot do any activity or mental fatigue where you cannot focus and concentrate, experience memory issues, lack of energy and interest, and are emotionally unstable.[8]

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Fatigue can be linked to a headache disorder, medical and psychiatric condition, poor lifestyle habits, or an unknown cause.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you experience fatigue that lasts for over six months, then it is chronic fatigue, which differs from the condition called chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition where fatigue lasts for at least six months accompanied by flu-like symptoms, cognitive dysfunction, poor sleep quality, and migraine.[9]

If you have constant fatigue or overtiredness, then it’s time to see a doctor, especially when accompanied by severe headache and abnormal bleeding, such as bleeding from your rectum or vomiting blood.[10]

The Connection Between Headache and Tiredness

It is difficult to pinpoint if headache and tiredness directly affect each other or if headache causes fatigue and vice versa. Fatigue often precedes a migraine headache and is an indicator.[11] You could also feel fatigued after a migraine attack.

Those who suffer from chronic fatigue can have an underlying medical condition such as headache, migraine, or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Headache and fatigue have a definite relationship, and both are common symptoms of several health conditions.

Here is a list of some common causes of both headache and tiredness:[12]

  • Migraine
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstruation
  • Anemia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Hypoglycemia (Low blood sugar)
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, bruxism, snoring, and obstructive sleep apnea
  • Flu and the common cold
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Medications, such as diuretics and for blood pressure
  • Caffeine
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Hangovers

How to Cope With Constant Headache and Tiredness

I listed here some simple steps that you can take today to keep your headache and tiredness at bay.

1. Maintain a Journal

Keep a log or journal to identify, track and monitor your triggers, and log in your sleep times, lifestyle patterns, and food choices.

You may notice something that you’ve missed once you write them down. Some missing links might pop up that can help you find solutions for your headache and tiredness.

Maybe you’re not drinking enough water, you’re overworked, you’re not sleeping enough, or drinking coffee triggers your headache.

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Perhaps, your medications are causing headaches and tiredness. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recommends not using over-the-counter pain medications more than twice or thrice a week, as it could lead to rebound headaches.[13]

2. Get Sufficient Sleep and Rest

If you’re not getting enough sleep, then it’s time to adopt good sleep habits, which include:[14]

  • Sleeping and waking up at the same time every day
  • Limiting your daytime naps to not more than 20 to 30 minutes
  • Sleeping in a dark, quiet room at an optimal temperature
  • Switching off all electronic devices at least 30 to 60 minutes before you sleep
  • Having a relaxation ritual before bedtime, such as taking a warm bath, reading, practicing gratitude, or applying an icepack on your forehead
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before bedtime

3. Follow a Healthy Diet

Never skip meals, as they are a vital source of your energy. Have small meals every three to four hours throughout the day to balance the dips in your blood sugar and maintain your energy levels.

Eat foods with a low glycemic index (GI) as the sugars are absorbed slowly and give you lasting energy.[15] Foods with a low GI include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil.

Limit or eliminate sugar, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Alcohol is a sedative, and hence, avoid it when you have to be productive during the day. It can also affect your sleep quality, so avoid it before bedtime as well.

Stay hydrated. Drink enough water and plenty of fluids. Fatigue is the first thing to strike you when your body is short of fluids. You can have caffeine provided that you consume it judiciously as it can affect your sleep and cause headaches and tiredness the next day.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends staying away from caffeine for a while to check if you feel less tired without it.[16] Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, and even in some medications. You may get headaches and feel tired when you stop caffeine, but persist till the withdrawal symptoms are gone.

4. Exercise

Being overweight can be exhausting as it puts an extra strain on your heart, making you tired. Losing weight can stop you from a spiral of constant tiredness and headaches.[17]

Apart from a healthy diet, staying active and having a regular exercise routine can help you maintain an ideal weight.

Take regular breaks from work and get moving every hour. Try to get some fresh air by venturing outdoors. When you walk, pick up your pace and increase your heart rate to earn extra health benefits.

Apart from maintaining an optimal weight, exercise helps you get more energetic as it increases dopamine and helps you sleep better at night.[18]

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However busy your schedule is and you think there’s no time to squeeze in exercise, try to include it. Even 10 to 15 mins of exercise done regularly can boost your mood and make you more energetic.

You can start doing light exercises for small periods and build it up gradually over weeks and months. Aim to exercise daily for at least 30 minutes in the long run, and include stretches to reduce neck and upper body tension.

You can also switch among various exercise forms to make it an enjoyable and challenging activity.

5. Manage Stress

A common reason for headaches and tiredness is being overworked and stressed. Cut down on the workload on your personal and professional front so you can take care of your health.

Plan and prioritize the “must-do” activities and delegate or eliminate tasks that are less and not important.

Beat stress with some relaxation options, such as:[19]

  • Yoga and meditation
  • Tai Chi
  • Working out
  • Listening to music
  • Dancing
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Socializing with friends and family

Talking to a trusted circle of family and friends or joining a support group can help ease stress and anxiety. If this doesn’t help ease your anxiety, then it’s time to talk to a medical professional.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve noted your triggers and changed your lifestyle yet don’t see considerable change, then it’s time to see your doctor.

Visit your doctor if severe, constant, unexplained headaches and tiredness are interfering with your daily routine, and you’re unable to keep up with your personal and professional life.

Your doctor will suggest a personalized treatment plan for long-term management and may ask you to change your medications or their dosage.

Consult your doctor immediately if you experience a sudden, severe headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, confusion, vomiting, vision changes, numbness, or speech difficulty.

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Featured photo credit: Nik Shuliahin via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Headache: Hope Through Research
[2] Cleveland Clinic: Headaches
[3] Harvard Health Publishing: Have a headache? The top 7 triggers
[4] Johns Hopkins Medicine: Headache
[5] Cleveland Clinic: Menstrual Migraines (Hormone Headaches)
[6] Cleveland Clinic: Headaches
[7] Cleveland Clinic: Fatigue
[8] Mayo Clinic: Fatigue
[9] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[10] Mayo Clinic: Fatigue
[11] Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: Migraine Is More Than Just Headache: Is the Link to Chronic Fatigue and Mood Disorders Simply Due to Shared Biological Systems?
[12] PubMed.gov: Fatigue in chronic migraine patients
[13] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Headache: Hope Through Research
[14] Royal College of Psychiatrists: Sleeping well
[15] Harvard Health Publishing: 9 tips to boost your energy — naturally
[16] Royal College of Psychiatrists: Sleeping well
[17] PubMed.gov: Impacts of obesity and stress on neuromuscular fatigue development and associated heart rate variability
[18] American Psychological Association: Working out boosts brain health
[19] Cleveland Clinic: Headaches

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Dr. Arun Villivalam

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