Health & Wellness Articles

5 Healthy Habits That Can Cause Headaches

These Good-for-You Habits Might Be a Pain in the Head

Headaches can be frustrating, popping up when you're tense, stressed, dehydrated or otherwise unbalanced. It's easy to blame them on the obvious culprits: a late night, a skipped meal or an insane work schedule. But some of your healthiest habits could be to blame for that recent headache, too. Here are five good-for-you habits that can be a real pain in the head.

Catching Up On Sleep
Lounging in bed until well after the sun rises—especially if you usually get up early—may help you catch up on some much needed sleep. However, alternating high-stress days with stress-free "veg" sessions can trigger changes in the amount of stress hormones in your bloodstream. As these hormone levels change, your blood vessels constrict (narrow) and dilate (widen), which can trigger a headache—especially if the shift is sudden.

Sleeping in is always going to be tempting, but shifting a bit of your weekday workload to a weekend or another "off" day can help even out stress levels, preventing headaches in the process. Don't punish yourself after a long workweek by staying up late and then sleeping until noon. Instead, try to spread your workload throughout the week. If you need to grab some extra shuteye, try a short nap instead of a marathon sleep session.

Kicking Caffeine
A 2004 meta-analysis of research about caffeine withdrawal found that headache symptoms were among the most common effects of giving up the stimulant. That's no surprise to anyone who has ever tried to kick their morning coffee habit or to ignore the urge to grab a caffeinated soda after lunch.

If you're determined to go cold turkey, be prepared to face a few headaches. This withdrawal symptom tends to hit the hardest 12-24 hours after you stop consuming caffeine, peaking in intensity approximately 1-2 days after you quit, and typically subsiding after 2-9 days.

Of course, the greater your daily consumption of caffeine used to be, the more severe the headache symptoms will be when you quit. If you want to avoid headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal, decrease your intake slowly, allowing your body to gradually adjust.

Drinking a Glass of Wine
Recent studies have touted the benefits of drinking one glass of wine each day, but if you're prone to migraines, red wine may be hurting more than it's helping by triggering these painful episodes. Red wine—and foods such as aged cheese, smoked fish and even some beans—contains a substance called tyramine that can trigger migraines.

If you want to prevent headaches, but not the benefits of light alcohol consumption, experiment with different drinks, such as white wine instead of red, to see which ones, if any, trigger your symptoms. Also note that most health experts agree on one thing regarding alcohol and health: If you don't already drink, you shouldn't start. There are many other habits that promote heart health that don't involve consuming alcohol. 

Packing Your Lunch
While brown bagging is great for your wallet—and can help you avoid empty calories, sodium and fat from fast food havens—the lunch meat in your sandwich may contain nitrates, another migraine trigger. Check labels for this ingredient as you shop, and search for "nitrate-free" versions of sliced meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and other processed meats. Ready to experiment? Try a soy-based meat replacement or craft your sandwich from fresh roasted turkey or chicken—not the packaged deli slices. Get more healthy lunch ideas.

Hitting the Gym
Regular exercise can help prevent chronic illness, boost your mood and lengthen your lifespan, among a host of other benefits. But while consistent sweat sessions are great for you, they can also trigger head pain if you've increased your workout intensity quickly, worked very intensely or become dehydrated. Overall, regular exercise has been shown to help diminish recurrent headaches, so don't limit your trips to the gym. Instead, keep an eye on your fluid intake, especially when increasing the length or intensity of your sessions.
Headaches are a nuisance to some and a truly debilitating health conditions for others. Treatment can take time, because many of the successful prevention strategies rely on careful trial and error. If your headaches are migraines, dietary triggers may be a key, whereas other types of headaches may be more likely to be triggered by dehydration, tension and other habits. Not sure? If headaches persist, be sure to speak with your physician.

Department of Internal Medicine: Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes, "Hypoglycemia (Low Book Sugar) in People without Diabetes,", accessed April 12, 2013.

Drescher, MJ;  Elstein, Y. "Prophylactic COX 2 inhibitor: an end to the Yom Kippur headache," Headache, 2006 Nov-Dec;46(10):1487-91.

Johns Hopkins Medicine News & Information Service, "Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized as a Disorder,", accessed April 12, 2013.

Juliano, Laura M.; Griffiths, Roland R. "A Critical Review of Caffeine Withdrawal: Empirical Validation of Symptoms and Signs, Incidence, Severity, and Associated Features." Pyschopharmacology (2004) 176: 1-29.

Medline Plus, "Migraine,", accessed April 12,2013.

NHS Choices, "10 Surprising Headache Triggers,", accessed April 12, 2013.

Sam Houston State University Counseling Center, "Headaches,", accessed April 12, 2013.                                                                                                                     

University of Minnesota, Taking Charge of Your Health, "Migraines,", accessed April 12, 2013.

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Member Comments

    I'm fortunate that I don't get many headaches.
  • I get headaches regularly. Been to so many doctors, can't find reason.
  • good information
  • I have never had a migraine but do get sinus headaches. I use mucinix for that kind and it helps greatly!
  • I used to have the caffeine problem related to headaches.
  • As a sufferer of migraines, I can attest to the information given by Tzuzen, Sifuslim, and Shulamit58. I didn't know about the celery nitrates, thank you. I've been doing the intermittent fasting type of diet for about 7 months and have lost 20 pounds and noticed the frequency of my headaches have been reduced. The weather also plays a big part of triggering a headache for me. I found if I take a Magnesium suplenment every day it helps decrease the intensity of all my headaches.

    As each of us is different, these are only my observations of what triggers my headaches and what helps prevent them.
  • One other issue for headaches, including migraine, is the *weather*.... I've basically *never* had a headache when the weather is lovely-- *all* my headaches are when the weather is grey, overcast, low-air-pressure, type days. I'm grateful the weather service I use now has 'migraine weather forecasts' included-- yesterday my headache disappeared 'miraculously' once the weather shifted and became beautiful ;-). While other 'triggers' need to be in place on 'crummy weather' days for a headache to start, it's sort of like the weather gives me 'lots of migraine possible points', allowing the least stress to 'tip' me over. It's a reminder to be especially *good* to myself on 'crummy weather' days, and do pre-emptive strategies to relax to *avoid* getting a migraine ;-).
  • A lot of good information. I will try some of these suggestions to get rid of headaches.
  • This is not a critique of well-intentioned writers. It is definitely an observation on sharing some 'final words' on workable and genuine wellness practices.

    If you seek wellness answers, ask a true wellness person. I don't hold myself out to be a scientist though I read a lot of science and do plenty of experiments. Most of the studies and wellness articles are developed by people who are not 'natural wellness' people. Most people are too busy, have too many responsibilities, are too sedentary, and spend too much time indoors to be considered natural wellness people. Generally, I see people looking through a lens that is fogged by the modern era of fixing problems, not thriving with a natural or intuitive pattern euphoria (from the Greek 'euphoros'--to be well).

    Those are big statements but stand by them I do. Natural wellness takes time and takes some uncontaminated nature. Natural means diurnal living and plenty of downtime, not to mention a myriad of other things including intermittent fasting. One of the ways I write is standing at a high desk. Every hour, I take a stretch or exercise break. This happens throughout the day and helps to provide what native people enjoyed, including, overall wellness, energy (including brain energy), blood flow, biomechanical invigoration, and lymph fluid movement.
    Aloha from my laptop, from where I am connected to my grounding pad.

    See SedentaryNation.c
    om for more.
  • So-called "uncured" sausages and luncheon meats that have the characteristic coloring found in "cured" versions actually contain nitrates naturally occurring in celery juice. USDA requires labeling sausages and luncheon meats using celery juice, instead of direct nitrites which undergo curing to becomes nitrates, as "uncured". The color is a dead giveaway.

    Cook's Illustrated has tested the so-called "uncured" bacon from well known brands at places like Whole Foods and the levels of nitrates vary since celery juice is not standardized to deliver specific dosages. Direct add nitrites (which become nitrates during curing process) have a max limit and is carefully controlled. Cook's Illustrated's article on the topic confirmed this consistency.

    Note that foods have standard of identity as noted in the Code of Federal Regulations. This indicates what is and is not allowed in foods. For a company to label a product as "natural Swiss cheese" there are requirements what can and cannot be in that food to allow it to be called "Swiss Cheese" on the front panel of the product.

    This is a very deep topic and if you really want to know what a 'beef enchilada' can contain, google 'beef enchilada CFR'. Food labeling is much more complex than many realize.
    Headaches have become an everyday issue for me since trying to be healthier. None of the reasons given are applicable to me. I'm getting very frustrated, I'm tired of feeling bad.
  • The headaches from quitting caffeine are so bad it helps me remember why I no longer drink it. don't want to go there again!
  • Two major migraine triggers for me are over-sleeping and caffiene withdrawals. I like my coffee too much and loathe migraines enough that I don't plan on giving that up, but I never lounge around in bed long enough to trigger a headache anymore. Mostly my triggers are allergy related now.
  • I experience the sleep one.
  • Thanks for sharing. Good information.

About The Author

Robin Donovan Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and magazine journalist with experience covering health, medicine, science, business, technology and design.
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