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Waking Up with a Migraine…or not!

You know the feeling. Your alarm clock rings and, as you turn over to hit snooze for the first of ten times, you sense that heavy, cottony sensation in your head.

Yep, a migraine is here.

Or is it?

Here’s a conundrum that I hope you’ll be able to identify with: it’s the question of getting up and at ’em when you feel like this. For me I almost always have to get up and start my day (though I’ve been known to climb back into bed an hour or so later when it turns out I can’t face the day after all!).

Sometimes I get up, make coffee, take a shower, and realize that the discomfort I felt upon waking is no more. To my delight and relief, I am migraine-free. Just as often, however, getting up and going through my morning routine leaves me winded, my head pounding and my body getting more nauseated by the moment. In either situation, my bed-head starts out feeling the exact same way: so how I am to ever know if that stuffy head is a harbinger of an unavoidable migraine or not?

If that’s the question, then the only way to test the answer is to get up out of bed and test the waters, no matter how much I don’t want to. To date, I’ve not once been able to guess with any accuracy which way the day’s going to go when I wake up like this.

In my opinion, this particular instance of ambivalence sums up, in a nutshell, what it’s like to live with migraine disease. It’s always around, hovering, ready to set in with or without warning. Sometimes when you fear the migraine the most, it disappears all together—other days when you’re feeling fabulous, it suddenly shows up and ends up forcing you to cancel all your plans.

Do you ever wake up not knowing which way the tide will turn? Do you ever feel as if you have the tell tale signs of a migraine, only to have them disappear on their own?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Cath2013
    6 years ago

    If I wake up with a full blown migraine, i know I am in trouble. It won’t get better and I’ll be unable to keep medication down. I will get my trash can close to the bed, a cold washcloth and a suppository of anti nausea medication. After about an hour, I will be able to keep my medication down though it often will provide no relief because it is too late.

  • AudreyB
    6 years ago

    My least favorite strategy for dealing with my migraines is this one: going to bed and waking at the same time every nigh. But it’s also the most effective.

    Because it ends the migraines I used to wake up with…which are exactly as you’re all describing. Do I get up or stay in bed? Will it go away or get worse? Do I call in sick or go in and suffer?

    Also, talking with my neuro about it got her to re-evaluate my nightly meds. She also ordered a sleep study.

  • lb234
    6 years ago

    I’ll be interested in hearing how the sleep study goes and what the neuro says about your sleep meds. I went to Chiro yesterday and also had a massage. Woke up with headache at 4 a.m. Obviously neither Chiro or massage helped. I don’t get them every night but getting one after yesterday’s appointments makes me think they aren’t helping.

  • Kpandes
    6 years ago

    For a long time my daily wake up with headaches did cause me to use medication when I might not have needed it. Ironically, it was when my new insurance company refused to refill my prescriptions as prescribed by my doctor that I was forced to chance it more frequently, and was thrilled that on some days my headache would not progress into a monster…. My chiropractor also thinks it’s all about my neck — and I’m sure there’s some truth to it, but it’s definitely not the whole story.

  • Randy Sarah
    6 years ago

    More mornings than not. And I can’t tell each time whether this will be the kind of migraine that goes away if I get up and gets worse when I go back to sleep (if I can), or vice versa.

  • lb234
    6 years ago

    I wake up with migraines. My Chiro thinks it is a problem with my neck. I have tried different pillows but that doesn’t seem to make a difference. I usually have these 4 or 5 mornings in a row and then go a couple of weeks without any. Since I’m 68, I don’t think it’s hormonal. I also don’t think the Chiro is making a difference. I take Imitrex and that gets rid of the headache but I do have a lot of restless nights, waking up early and determining whether I have a headache or not.

  • michellespeer
    6 years ago

    I know the feeling all too well. Seems like it’s about every morning. Recently, I was getting pretty sure that one was coming on so I took 3 Aleve to hopefully stave it off. Well, about 5 min. after I took it I felt fine. Now I know that Aleve never works that fast, even on an empty stomach. I told my husband I know my migraines aren’t just in my head but this does make wonder about all the people that say it’s in your head. He said well, everything is in your head in some fashion, we can’t completely separate mind from body, but that my migraines are definitely NOT just in my head. Anyways, it’s just one of the many frustrating things about this disease.

  • marlene
    6 years ago

    If there are so many of us suffering with this terrible disease, why is so little being done to remedy it?
    I am a TWO TIME cancer survivor in good health now except for intractable migraine. IF I HAVE BEEN CURED OF CANCER TWICE, WHY CAN’T THE POWERS THAT BE, CURE OR MAKE MIGRAINES BETTER?

    Is it because the majority of migraineurs are women? Is there no financial “get” for potential developers of medications? Something is wrong when people suffer so desperately and there is very little research to find a cure.

  • Maggie
    6 years ago

    I know that feeling too. Sometimes a shower will help me feel better. I find the bad thing about waking up with a migraine is that nothing will touch it.
    I also suffer from vertigo, so getting up and getting moving can be a challenge sometimes. One time the vertigo was so bad I made my teen age daughter drive me to work, a 20 minute drive in traffic on the highway. I had no other way of getting to work without her. She did find taking side roads home after she dropped me off.
    I have been suffering with migraines since I was three years old. I am using botox now, it is helping some, still not perfect.

  • Carolyn
    6 years ago

    Yes, this is me so often. The trouble is that sometimes I keep going back to sleep because I’d rather do that then wait to find out if it’s a bad one. When it is a bad one, this just makes things worse – lengthening the time until I take my triptans. I’m having the opposite problem lately of headaches at night before I go to bed. Same gamble sort of…will I wake up with the same headache in the morning?

  • Negri Saliceti
    6 years ago

    I know too well the feeling. Just this morning I had that feeling, but today it went away once I got up and started getting ready for work. But last Tuesday, it was one of those days when you are barely beginning to wake up, you start seeing those ugly sparks and the pounding on my forehead is next and all the other symptoms. I felt so miserable. I went to work feeling so awful but at noon i could not tolerate the pain so I had to go home. And the worst, people think we are just making it up. Ugh!
    I’ve been suffering from migraines for more than 40 years now……and still cannot make myself get used to it.

  • Les
    6 years ago

    Yup. So true Janet, so very very true. It has happened to me this morning. I’ve been taking Sudafed to help relive the sinus headaches that usually trigger and cascade into a migraine. It usually helps, but not always.

  • Ann B
    6 years ago

    And I thought I was the only one this happened to! I relish the few days a month when I wake up with a head that is “light”-the only way I can describe the wonderful feeling that it is not going to be a migraine day. Otherwise, I lay there wondering whether or not I should take the triptan, as occasionally the “heavy” feeling dissipates on its own. Sometimes I KNOW it’s a migraine and treat it, roll over and go back to sleep. Other times I actually dream I have taken my Maxalt only to wake an hour later in severe pain!

  • Leigh K
    6 years ago

    Wow this is so me. I wake up this way almost every day. Unfortunately lately the migraine is there and just ready to pounce. I feel accomplished if I just manage to take a shower without having to sit down halfway through it. As a full time college student, this has become a bit disruptive. Feel like my life has been put on hold while we try to figure out how to deal with my defective head.

  • Sue Marie
    6 years ago

    Huh. This is me many days. Unfortunately some of them are work days and the wavering doesn’t tip until the 40 min drive to work is up. By then I’m at work and usually have to turn around and go back home, causing a quick shuffle of staffing and coworkers telling me I should have just stayed home. But how did I know???? Many times it’s gone by then. Some do understand that, most do not. Thanks for so clearly defining this dilemma!

  • Danielle E.
    6 years ago

    I couldn’t have described it better myself! This happens to me all the time. I never know which way things will go and am usually amazed when my bed-head migraine just goes away after I get out of bed and get going with my day.

  • d2ambrose
    6 years ago

    Most days, I wake up with a migraine. It doesn’t feel like cotton stuffing my head. It feels like a full blown migraine and then it’s tough luck. Live with it because nothing you can do, like packing your head in ice, taking your meds, vomiting in the toilet, dizziness, blinding light, awful smells and on and on for hours. Now my neurologist says I’m taking too many meds (no kidding) and I need to stop them. Well, I need to work and his answer to that? Go on disability. Really? That’s the solution? I think not.

  • marg221
    6 years ago

    I have been on migraine preventative meds for 15 years that have helped me a lot. I use triptans when I get a headache, but nausea is always a threat if things do not go right. Waking up with a bad migraine at 4:30am or so was the last horrible problem for me to work on. Two things that have helped me tremendously in the last 3 years. My doctor had me start 20 mg of melatonin before bed in order to prevent me from waking up. I has worked. I rarely wake up with a headache. I also act fast at the first sign of any nausea, I keep Ginger People Ginger Chews in my bedside table. I can reach for one without moving much and the strong ginger acts fast to give my blood sugar a boost and work on nausea. It is a sticky candy you can tuck in your gums and suck. I also use triptans in a shot formula to fight that morning migraine with nausea. If I do start with vomiting – say good bye to the entire day. I have gone from 3 vomit headaches a month about six years ago to maybe just 2 or 3 a year.

  • Kathleen
    6 years ago

    This happens to me very often! I’ll wake up and feel my migraine brain niggling at me.
    I used to head straight to my triptan supply until I realised after a while that the head pain and nausea would sometimes just resolve itself if I got into the shower and started my day normally.
    It’s impossible to know when this will happen or when the migraine just keeps progressing but it has saved me from taking triptans when I didn’t need to!!And avoid all the side effects (groggy, worn out feeling).
    I’m writing from Melbourne by the way so if groggy is a local word it just means thick headed/ cotton wool brain.

  • Lora
    6 years ago

    This is so my life. On most days I wake up with a mild pain that I know can go one way or the other… slight nagging headache throughout the day, or full blown migraine. That’s when the tough decision has to be made. Do I chance it and hope it will get better after I get up and moving? Or go ahead and take my triptan suspecting it’s going to be full blown? Days like today, I woke up with that impending migraine feeling, but it slowly got better. It wasn’t till the afternoon that the actual migraine presented itself. Feel like I can’t win sometimes.

  • Shirleyanne
    6 years ago

    I can go to bed perfectly fine, and then be woken with the crushing pain in my neck and throbbing in the side of my head. Where the heck do they come from. My consultant says that the damage/triggers happened the day before and cause a chain reaction while I sleep. I am then woken with a full blown migraine. These are always so difficult to treat. Even if meds help, your whole day is ruined because of migraine hangover!!!!

  • arden
    6 years ago

    I have learned to abort morning migraines by waking up in the wee hours with the sure signs and taking the triptan right away. A few hours later and I wake up ok. The trick is to be able to wake up and take meds during the night. My body has done me this favor often to save me from a big baddie. Maybe you could program this into your physical/mental equipment and your body will co-operate.

  • 100dollarheadache
    6 years ago

    waking with a migraine have been some of my worst days ever. its pounding usually behind one of my eyes. i attempt to eat but i have to force my self. in all cases i vomit uncontrollable.on on occasion i became so dehydrated i had to go to the ER. once i am into a migraine before waking up, i am sick 2 to 3 days following.i get a warning when migraine strikes, the aura. dark-blind spots, lines, flashes of light. that precipitates the on set of pain and nausea. i literally have seconds to get my triptan needle into my system . it can make the difference between being sick 6 hours or 2 days. i vomit 90% of the time migraine strikes. waking with a migraines has been suffering days. at times taking me 3 days to recover.

  • mmjardel
    6 years ago

    I have this feeling all the time- sometimes not just in the morning. Since my migraines are chronic I just assume “yup here it comes” and start the abort process boy and it is a process. I love the comment ” it’s fine until it’s not”. You really hit the nail on the head. That sums up migraines altogether for me. Everything IS fine until it’s not, then it’s really really NOT.

  • zippy36
    6 years ago

    When I get my migraines, waking up with it is usually how it starts. I know as soon as I open my eyes that it is happening. By the time I get to the bathroom, it is usually pretty obvious that it is true: a light pain in the head, nausea and dizziness. Sometimes if I take my medicine at that moment and lie back down it will subside but even if it does I do not feel right the entire day. If it does not then I am pretty much stuck on the couch the rest of the day. Now that I have joined this site and started reading more about migraines I have been thinking about how I felt before I went to bed on those days I wake up with the migraine. I can recall not feeling quite right. Now the trick is…do I take medication every time I do not feel quite right before I go to bed??? I do not have chronic migraine.

  • Indyjanie
    6 years ago

    I have had the exact same issues w not knowing if that funny stuffy feeling is going to materialize into a full blown Migraine or not. Getting up usually helps & taking excedrin migraine. But for sure if I go back to bed, laying back down makes it pound!

  • Gabymassey
    6 years ago

    Are you me?! It seems so!

  • Elizabeth Key
    6 years ago

    Like you, sometimes I wake up feeling like I have a migraine coming on, but get better after a shower and coffee or breakfast.
    My biggest problem seems to be waking up with a full blown migraine already in progress! Nothing seems to work on these.
    I just have to “tough it out” which means the loss of a day or more.

  • dmae
    6 years ago

    It’s like it’s fine, until it’s not. Like you, I awaken with that familiar uh-oh feeling, but there are three possibilities. The pinch will fade. The pinch will get worse to the point of mild misery, and I slog through the day anyway. The pinch will turn into a full-blown migraine. I get up and go to work in all three cases because not going means there’s so much to clean up the next day. If it turns into a full-blown migraine, I hurry up and get classes covered before going back home. Not knowing puts you on guard.

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