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5 Healthy Habits That Can Cause Headaches

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," www.med.umich.edu, 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," www.hopkinsmedicine.org, 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," www.nlm.nih.gov, accessed April 12,2013.

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

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

University of Minnesota, Taking Charge of Your Health, "Migraines," http://takingcharge.csh.umn.edu, accessed April 12, 2013.
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Member Comments

Great Advice! Report
very good article, thank you. I've noticed I get headaches when I don't drink enough water. I read, somewhere on here, how drinking enough water can reduce or even get rid of headaches, & it's true. Now when I feel a headache coming on it's usually because I've been too distracted to drink my water. Report
I drink decaf coffee with no added sugar. Report
Thanks a lot! Things about which I never thought! Report
Thanks Report
Sleep schedule changes, too much, or too little sleep are all triggers for my migraines. So is exertion. I just have to be extra careful when I exercise to pay attention, not start if I'm feeling prodrome-y, and stop if one is coming on. I also have to be careful not to exercise in any heat. Because if I get a migraine, I'm going to be unable to do anything for a while and that defeats the purpose of being active! Report
Thanks information. Report
Sleep deprivation and off sleep schedule along with red wine are my big triggers. Giving up coffee used to until I decided to just stay with my usual 2-3 cups a day. Report
I have had headaches all my life.
Thanks for the great information. Report
I have experienced headaches from sugar withdrawals. I didn’t know how addicting sugar was until I significantly decreased it. I was irritable and my head would throb. It subsided after a week or two but my gosh my body put up a fight for sugar! Report
Very good article. Also water your body. When I don't get enough water I get very bad headaches. Keep hydrated. Report
Lack of sleep and sinus troubles generally cause my headaches. Report
I noticed recently that chewing gum for more than a few minutes caused a headache for me. I think it's because I tend to push it up against my soft palate with my tongue. Report
I suffered from migraines from puberty to menopause but I also suffered stress headaches and I know I often woke up with headaches when I was smoking. I quit smoking and the headaches were greatly reduced. Now when I get a headache it is usually sinus related. There are many causes but you can help to reduce or eliminate some of them Report
Great article! Most of these have been triggers for me in the past. Report
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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.