Hypnic Headache is a rare, treatable severe headache, first described in 1988, which has a unique characteristic.
It only ever starts during sleep, and never during a time when you are awake.
In fact you go to bed pain free, and about the same time almost every night you waken up with this awful pain in the head.
The astonishing fact about this headache is that it is treatable in almost every case.
(The simplest way to get a detailed understanding of this condition is to search Amazon.com for my review of Hypnic Headache, and you can read at leisure on your Kindle or via the Kindle app on your iPad etc).
I have managed to obtain copies of all known cases of Hypnic Headache (using the principle of a "Systematic Review", where I try to use a standard method to identify and include as many cases as possible).
To date I have managed to find 147 published cases with information about their symptoms, causes, treatment and outcome.
Based on my own practice, where I have treated almost a dozen cases
in the last 8 years, I estimate that there at least a quarter of a
million sufferers worldwide. That is based on my experience of about 1% of specialist headache clinic attenders had this problem.
It is a curious thing that
information is only available on 147 cases worldwide, when the true number of sufferers is much greater.
This rare headache disorder has been reported in over a dozen countries to date.
Remember that this headache will waken you from sleep and only from sleep - which is why it is also called 'Alarm Clock Headache'.
It does not start while you are awake. 7% of published cases reported onset during daytime naps, but 93% did not report this - it was only during usual night-time sleep that the pain started.
Other headache conditions can waken from sleep - e.g. cervicogenic headache (especially if your pillow is poor quality), migraine headache or cluster headache, but these headaches will occur during the daytime as well.
The pain can affect any part of the head, but it is usually quite intense - usually rated at least "7/10" when people are asked to rate the pain.
However, in most people, the headache is diffuse and bilateral, and there is no specific part of the head that is most likely to be affected.
The pain usually has a dull quality, although the original paper in 1988 (by Professor Raskin from University of California, San Francisco) described throbbing pains.
Throbbing can occur in hypnic head pains, and about one quarter of people will report nausea or intolerance of light or noise. Vomiting is rare.
Autonomic symptoms like tears flowing, nasal congestion or reddening of the eye are not common (no more than 5% of the 147 published cases), and if they occur cluster headache or paroxysmal hemicrania should be considered as causes of headache instead.
Here's more detail on hypnic headache symptoms.
In most people brain scans are normal, although the most common abnormality identified is non-specific small vessel changes. In 9% of published cases a cause was identified.
The classic treatment is Lithium Carbonate - which can be very effective at switching off hypnic pains. My published review found that the most widely used and effective intervention was to drink strong coffee. Other drugs that were reportedin individual cases include Indomethacin, Melatonin and Amitryptiline.
Of the 147 cases I identified, 61 cases had follow-up information available. 69% of people were controlled with medication, 23% went into remission and did not need medication, and 8% has severe difficulty controlling the pain.
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If there are no references listed, please notify me, as this box should contain a list of information sources, or a link to a 'Systematic Review' of the topic discussed on this page.
The full reference list is published in my Kindle compatible eBook - Hypnic Headache: Your Definitive Guide. This version is downloadable from Amazon and can be read immediately on any electronic device with a Kindle App, which includes iPad and iPhone.
Raskin NH The Hypnic Headache Syndrome. Headache 1988;28:534-6 (The first case report)