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Dry Mouth, Headache, Breathlessness and More: 5 Health Issues You May Feel in the Morning Explained

Not everyone wakes up feeling rested. Experts warn if you experience certain things waking up, you may have an underlying health condition. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Getting a good night's sleep and waking up feeling rested is not only a great feeling, but something our body really needs. But waking up refreshed can be more difficult for some people. Most experts recommend getting at least seven hours of quality sleep, but an alarming amount of people still feel tired. According to Statista, "45 percent of Americans sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night reported feeling tired or fatigued up to three times a week. 27 percent of people said they wake up tired on 4 or more days per week."

For people sleeping less than the recommended amount of hours, Statista states the results were as you'd expect.  "Those only managing six hours sleep or less each night are, quite unsurprisingly, the most tired. 54 percent of people getting six or less hours sleep wake up tired 4 or more days a week." Sleep is incredibly essential for our brain and the National Sleep Foundation states, "An insufficient amount of sleep can lead to serious repercussions. Some studies have shown sleep deprivation leaves people vulnerable to attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reactions, and mood shifts."

But lack of sleep can also lead to other serious health complications. The National Sleep Foundation says, "Additionally, lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk for certain diseases and medical conditions. These include obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health, and early death."

In addition to not feeling rested, many wake up feeling a wide range of symptoms that when experienced on a regular basis could indicate an underlying health issue you should seek medical attention for. As always please consult your physician for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why It's Important to Pay Attention to How You Feel Waking Up


Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies states, "It's been a long work day, dealing with a challenging coworker and boss, and you fall asleep before your head hits the pillow. When you settle down on the couch with your significant other to watch a movie on the weekend, you fall asleep before the opening credits. You, like many other people, assume that this is pretty normal. But you may not realize that if you're feeling this way, it could be a sign of a serious sleep disorder.

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night's sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when throat muscles relax, and central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. Treatment usually involves lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or avoiding alcohol, sleeping on your side, or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

One of the most important things to pay attention to when considering your sleep health is how you feel upon waking. Many people do not feel rested or experience strange symptoms after a night's sleep and attribute this to simply not getting enough sleep. However, there are some concerning signs upon waking that could be indicative of a dangerous sleep disorder. One such sign is called sleep paralysis when a person wakes up but cannot move or speak for a few minutes. This can be a frightening experience and may be accompanied by hallucinations. Another sign to look out for is body jerks, and sudden muscle spasms just as a person falls asleep. These can often be disturbing and may make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you experience either of these signs regularly, it is essential to talk to a doctor as they may indicate a more severe sleep disorder.

Other concerning sleep disorders include insomnia, which is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; restless legs syndrome (RLS), which is an irresistible urge to move your legs; and narcolepsy, which is a condition that causes you to fall asleep suddenly and unexpectedly during the day. These disorders can be caused by physical or mental health conditions, medications, stress, anxiety, or other factors. If you're having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor to find out if you have a sleep disorder and get treatment.

You must see a doctor if you find yourself dozing off during the day or falling asleep at night. This is especially true if you're noticing other symptoms, which I will discuss. Here are a few signs of the more common disorder, sleep apnea, that if you feel when you are waking up, this might be dangerous."


You Wake Up With a Dry Mouth

young woman holding face in bed in the dark dealing with insomnia or poor sleep

Dr. Mitchell tells us, "Waking up with a dry mouth is more than just an annoyance. It can signify a serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. This interruption in breathing can cause dry mouth and other symptoms such as loud snoring, restless sleep, and daytime fatigue. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. If you wake up with a dry mouth regularly, you must talk to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea. With treatment, you can get the restful sleep you need to stay healthy and avoid serious health complications."

Houston Methodist states, "More often than not, waking up thirsty isn't so much a medical concern as it is an inconvenience. However, dry mouth can lead to poor dental health if you're not maintaining good oral hygiene. And, in some cases, dry mouth can even be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Health conditions associated with dry mouth include:


Yeast infection (thrush)


Alzheimer's disease

Sjogren's syndrome

Nerve damage"


You Wake Up with a Headache

woman trouble sleeping while dealing with menopause

Dr. Mitchell says, "Waking up with a headache is often an indication that there is a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders can cause a variety of problems, including headaches. When you wake up with a headache, it could be a sign that you have sleep apnea. This is a disorder where your breathing is disrupted during sleep. It can cause you to snore loudly, and you may also experience pauses in your breathing. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Another possibility is that you are suffering from insomnia. This is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia can be caused by stress, anxiety, or depression. If you regularly wake up with a headache, you must talk to your doctor to help you determine the cause and find the best treatment."

Another reason for waking up with a headache could be because of a dental issue, the National Sleep Foundation states. "Sleep bruxism, or teeth grinding or clenching during sleep, can make you wake up with a headache. This forceful and excessive movement also leads to tooth wear, muscle pain, and gum damage. Causes of sleep bruxism include having an irregularly shaped jaw, stress and anxiety, sleep disruption, alcohol use, and coffee. A dentist can determine if you have sleep bruxism. Treatment often involves wearing a mouthguard at night. Your dentist may also prescribe drugs for pain management and recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to manage stress and anxiety."


You Wake Up Gasping for Air

man stressed in bed that he can't sleep

The National Sleep Foundation says there's several reasons why someone can wake up gasping for air. "Waking up gasping for breath can be frightening, and if it happens often, it may negatively impact sleep quality. There are many reasons why someone might wake up gasping for air, including sleep-related breathing disorders or panic attacks. If this is happening to you regularly, it is worth looking into so you can seek treatment for the underlying cause."

The organization also says, asthma, acid reflux, heart failure and post-nasal drip can also cause gasping for air. 

"Waking up gasping for air every once in a while is not uncommon, and it may have an obvious cause, like a bad dream or a cold. Many conditions that cause nighttime gasping for breath can be treated by improving sleep habits. However, if you regularly wake up gasping for air, or if you notice other symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. They can look for underlying conditions and help you work out a treatment plan. If you experience chest pain or have difficulty breathing normally, seek medical care immediately."


You Wake Up with Numbness in Your Hands

man awake in the middle of the night
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It can be common to wake up feeling a bit of pain or numbness in your hands if you slept wrong or in a position that cuts off circulation. But if it's a regular occurrence then it could be an issue to speak to your physician about. The National Sleep Foundation says, "Numbness in your arms or hands is a loss of sensation that can occur due to a variety of causes. Your hands or arms might become numb — or "fall asleep" — because a nerve was compressed, your circulation was cut off by your sleeping position, or because of an underlying cause. Sometimes numbness is followed by a tingling or pins and needles sensation, called paresthesia. Like numbness, paresthesia can occur during sleep as a result of certain sleeping positions. Both numbness and paresthesia are also associated with nerve compression and certain underlying health problems."

In addition to nerve damage and carpal tunnel syndrome, the National Sleep Foundation says, "Compressed nerves aren't the only reason you may wake up with numbness in your hands. These other medical disorders can also cause numbness:

–Cervical Spondylosis:  A chronic degenerative disease that impacts neck muscles, tendons, and bones, cervical spondylosis is fairly common. It is more often seen in older adults. Common symptoms include neck pain and stiffness, as well as pain and numbness in the arms, shoulders, and fingers.

–Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: This disorder involves compression or irritation of blood vessels in the upper chest due to anatomical variations of the muscles in that region. Most cases of thoracic outlet syndrome are caused by whiplash or other neck trauma. Sometimes the disorder is caused by repetitive motions or, less commonly, by having an extra rib.

–Diabetes Mellitus: More commonly known as type 2 diabetes, this disorder is characterized by an inability of the body to use or create insulin adequately and can result in nerve damage. Nerve damage can cause numbness and tingling sensations in the hands and feet."


You Wake Up Anxious

Woman awakened lying in bed with her eyes open.

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Many people associate sleep apnea with snoring, but other signs can indicate the presence of this condition. One of the most common is waking up feeling anxious. This is caused by the brain being deprived of oxygen during periods of apnea, which can lead to feelings of panic and anxiety. If you regularly wake up feeling anxious, it's important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea. 

Dr. Mitchell adds, "Other signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, periods of silence followed by gasping or choking, and excessive daytime fatigue. If you have any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment." 

Cleveland Clinic states, "Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S., affecting about 40 million people. Research suggests that most people with mental health disorders such as anxiety also have some form of sleep disruption." 

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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