The afternoon headache. It’s a thing. You may well have experienced this phenomenon yourself, wherein you start feeling some serious tension in the head, neck, and shoulder area as the day begins to wind down. But chances are, you can treat the returns of this rather annoying physical guest, as the common causes of an afternoon headache are not too hard to get rid of.
“A headache happens as the result of inflammation, which tells your body that something is wrong,” nurse Ashley Wood, RN, BSN of Demystifying Your Health, LLC, tells Bustle, and many people get them at the same time during the day as a result of a specific issue. But the good news is, usually the causes of these headaches are not too terribly difficult to pin-point if you pay a little attention to your habits.
As for what to do in the moment when they do come on? Wood says it’s good to try things until you find what works for you.
“Some people find that placing an ice pack on their head or neck for about 15 minutes helps,” Wood says. “Other people find that a warm compress or heating pad is better for them. Over-the-counter pain relievers, like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen are good for relieving headache pain, too.”
Another good way to start combatting the ache right now? Try as best as you can to relax and take a little break. Wood says that taking a few minutes to do some meditation or deep breathing can be helpful.
Below, take a look at what the pros have to say about what is causing your afternoon headache.
1. You Might Be Dehydrated
It always comes back to water, doesn’t it? “Dehydration is thought to trigger headaches because blood vessels in your head attempt to make up for the lack of fluid volume within your body by constricting,” Wood says. “This narrowing can decrease blood flow to your brain, which limits how much oxygen it’s getting.”
To keep on top of this, simply drink plenty of water.
“A way to make sure that you’re getting enough is that you don’t feel thirsty and your urine is light yellow or clear,” Wood says. “Cutting back on the amount caffeine you drink and reducing the amount of sugar and processed foods you consume can also be helpful.”
2. You Might Be Tired
Yes, friends, it’s time to implement that sleep hygiene. If you aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours a night, this might be the culprit of your afternoon headache.
“If you don’t get enough sleep, you could end up with a headache because when you sleep, your body uses the time to heal and repair itself,” Wood says. “If it’s unable to do this, your hormone levels can be unequal and this can lead to headaches.”
Trying to create a wind-down ritual and getting to bed around the same time every night are good steps towards getting your sleep on track, but if you’re struggling to get the Z’s, contacting your healthcare provider is a good idea.
3. It Could Definitely Be Stress
If you are in the midst of feeling lots of emotional tension, or going through periods of this through out the day, this might be why you’re feeling the ache.
“An increase in stress or a subtle let down of stress can cause headaches,” Deena Kuruvilla, MD, a Yale Medicine neurologist who specializes in headache disorders, tells Bustle.
If this resonates, Kuruvilla recommends contacting a health professional to help you with lifestyle modifications such as the management of stress, increasing exercise, and implementing a sleep schedule.
4. What You’re Eating And Drinking Definitely Plays A Role
“Diet can also play a big role in developing a headache,” Wood says. If you like coffee or tea and drink it every morning, for example, don’t be surprised if you have a headache in the afternoon as the caffeine wears off.
“If you eat food that is high sugar and eat a large amount of processed foods, it can throw off your blood sugar and hormones, which can lead to having a headache,” Wood says. Keeping on top of that hydration, observing how caffeine affects your body, and making sure you aren’t skipping meals all help keep the ache away, as well.
5. Your Posture Might Be The Culprit
Your teachers told you to sit up straight for a reason.
“Most people spend a good portion of their day sitting at their desk and because they don’t have good posture, it can lead to your muscles, especially those in your neck, becoming strained, which can result in a headache,” Wood says. The amount and way you sit is definitely something to consider.
“Another thing that can help you is to consciously think about your posture and self-correct when you notice that you’re hunched over,” Wood says. Getting up throughout the day to walk and stretch is also a good idea.
6. Not Taking Certain Medications Regularly
“If you take medications, like blood pressure medications, antidepressants or anti-seizure medications, make sure you take them regularly,” Wood says. “If you miss a dose, you can end up having a headache,” Wood says.
It can be hard to keep on top of it all, but it’s worth it to avoid unpleasant side effects. One way to remember is to set a reminder on your phone to take your medication when you’re supposed to, Wood says. Additionally, sometimes medications can cause headaches as a side effect, and if this is true for you, contact your healthcare provider to talk about treatment.
7. Underlying Health Issues Or Connections
While not the most fun thing to think about, there are both underlying issues that might cause your habitual headaches, or they also might be connected to other things going on in your body, like your period.
It is imperative to first rule out any dangerous causes for headache before confirming a primary headache diagnosis such as migraine or tension-type headaches, Kuruvilla says.
“Menstrual migraine is a common headache disorder that can start two days before the first day of bleeding or while bleeding occurs,” Kuruvilla says, as an example. With the help of your neurologist or primary care doctor, you can discuss this and a plan for possible treatment.
There is no doubt that having a headache every day, or almost every day, is the pits. But rest assured you can figure it out with a little investigation and help. You’ll be clearheaded all day long before you know it.