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Why Does My Throat Hurt When I Wake Up? 9 Possible Triggers

Wondering why your throat hurts when you wake up? Eliminate culprits like dehydration and dry air to improve your sleep and minimize sleep debt for better energy.
Published
2022-07-04
Updated
13 MINS

A sore throat when you wake up isn’t just unpleasant. It also dampens your mood and productivity because its culprit(s) likely challenged your sleep. Throat discomfort, while often medically benign, is a warning signal you likely didn’t get enough healthy sleep the previous night, leading to sleep debt. This is the quantity of sleep you’ve missed in the past 14 days relative to your sleep need, which is the genetically determined amount of sleep your body needs.

Many of us often notice our throats feel dry in the morning when we wake up. This is due to the natural fluctuations in the circadian rhythm (the internal body clock) when less saliva is produced during sleep. That said, if your throat is drier than usual and shows other troubling signs, such as pain, difficulty swallowing, and a hoarse voice, there may be other underlying triggers.

Finding the answer to why your throat hurts when you wake up can be a little challenging, as there are many reasons for the discomfort. Below, we share the common causes of a sore throat. While many aren’t serious from a medical perspective, they are absolutely worth getting to the bottom of. That’s because anything that has your throat hurting in the morning likely disrupts your sleep at night, meaning you’re less likely to feel and function at your best when awake.

1. Dehydration

Not drinking enough water during the day results in a dry mouth and throat during sleep that persists till the next morning. If you recall, your body already releases less saliva during sleep.

Alternatively, sweating during the night can cause your body to lose more moisture than it retains, resulting in dehydration. Night sweats may be triggered by a too-hot sleep environment (see next point), menopause, and the common cold.

What to Do:

If dehydration is the culprit behind your throat pain when you wake up, make sure to consume enough fluids during the day. Focus on drinking as much water as you can from morning till late afternoon. Bonus: Staying hydrated also keeps you energetic and focused on important tasks, with the side benefit of a reduced lunchtime appetite for those looking to lose weight.

From late afternoon onward, slow down your fluid intake. That said, you don’t want to completely cut off your water consumption before bed as dehydration is linked to a shorter sleep duration of less than six hours. As long as you’re not drinking more than a few ounces, it’s always better to drink water at night if you’re thirsty rather than not out of the fear that you’ll need to wake up to go to the bathroom. If it helps, keep a glass of water by your bed at night.

For health issues that incite night sweats, consult a licensed healthcare professional on treatment options that help limit the odds of dehydration and a sore throat in the morning.

2. Dry Air

When the air in your bedroom is too dry (particularly during the colder seasons), your throat inevitably becomes parched in the morning. Remember, your body clock slows down saliva production during the night, so dry air only worsens your throat discomfort.

Some may think the fix is to turn up the heat. Unfortunately, hot, dry air not only makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, but also increases the risk of night sweats that lead to dehydration.

What to Do:

Thankfully, the solution is simple. All you have to do is use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends keeping indoor humidity within 30-50% to discourage mold growth. It’s also best to keep your bedroom cool, specifically between the temperature range of 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help you sleep better at night and keep sleep debt to a minimum as you recover from your throat irritation.

You can use our Sleep Guide and the RISE app to help prepare the ideal sleep environment every night. Just add the “Check Your Environment” habit to your Energy Schedule for a personalized reminder.

3. Breathing-related Sleep Issues

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are some common breathing-related sleep issues associated with a sore throat when you wake up.

When you snore, you almost always engage in mouth breathing. Unsurprisingly, the constant airflow dries out your mouth, and you wake up feeling like your oral cavity and throat are dehydrated. Snoring also vibrates the tissues in the back of your throat. The irritated tissues then act up in the form of throat pain in the morning.

Snoring is also linked to sleep apnea, a commonplace sleep disorder in which your breathing patterns repeatedly start and stop during sleep. Recent research shows a dry mouth is a clinical hallmark of OSA. In fact, the sensitivity and specificity of using mouth dryness to diagnose sleep apnea are 81.70% and 42.10%, respectively. Mouth dryness is invariably linked to throat dryness when you wake up.

On top of that, the common cold and sinusitis typically block the nasal passages, so you have difficulty breathing and find it more challenging to drift off to sleep. It’s also worth pointing out that these conditions disrupt your sleep patterns, so you’re less likely to meet your sleep need. In other words, you incur sleep debt that deflates your daytime energy levels.

What to Do:

Depending on which sleep-related breathing problem you have and its root cause, there are various treatment options to resolve it and alleviate the resulting throat discomfort. For instance, snoring due to mouth breathing may be corrected with simple tweaks like teaching yourself how to breathe through your nose and using accessories like nasal strips and anti-snoring mouthpieces.

Meanwhile, snoring due to sleep apnea may need professional help. Your doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes (like regular exercise), a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, or even surgical interventions in more severe cases.

4. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

The “Avoid Late Meals” habit in the RISE app tells you when to stop eating large meals in the few hours before bed.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), colloquially known as acid reflux, is infamous for making your throat hurt when you wake up. It happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus (the tube connecting your stomach and throat). Chest pain due to GERD (also called heartburn) may spread to your neck and throat. You may notice other symptoms like hoarseness, nausea, vomiting, bad breath, and tooth erosion.

On top of the throat discomfort when you wake up, acid reflux at night can also challenge your sleep patterns. Scientific evidence notes “shorter sleep duration, difficulty falling asleep, arousals during sleep, poor sleep quality, and awakening early in the morning.” The research also highlights that while GERD causes sleep problems, sleep debt can also trigger this gastrointestinal disorder.

What to Do:

To avoid the vicious cycle of acid reflux, throat pain, and sleep deprivation, take steps to manage your condition.

Depending on the severity of your condition, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications like antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may help. You can also try simple lifestyle modifications to reduce the likelihood of acid reflux. For example, steer clear of trigger foods that are spicy, salty, and greasy. Try raising the head of your bed by 6-8 inches to help stomach acid flow back into the stomach instead of toward the esophagus.

The previous study also highlighted that the “avoidance of a late night meal plays a role in prevention of nighttime reflux.“ Use the “Avoid Late Meals“ habit in the RISE app to remind you to stop eating the recommended 3 hours before your target bedtime.

5. Allergies

Common allergens like mold, pet dander, dust, and pollen cause uncomfortable symptoms that disrupt sleep. Think watery eyes, a runny nose, and a scratchy throat. Other signs of allergies like sneezing and coughing further aggravate throat discomfort and fragment nighttime sleep.

Aside from environmental allergens, seasonal allergies like hay fever (medically known as allergic rhinitis) can produce the same symptoms, too.

What to Do:

Identify which allergens set off your immune system and take steps to avoid them. For instance, if pet dander is causing your nose to run and your throat to itch, take care to not be around pets.

It also helps immensely to stay on top of personal hygiene and keep your surroundings dust-free. If need be, invest in an air purifier with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. According to the EPA, HEPA filters can ”theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles” you’re allergic to. Maintaining optimal indoor air quality may help reduce the odds of allergic reactions that irritate your throat. This, in turn, can help you sleep better at night to keep sleep debt low and help you stay synced with your circadian clock. 

Besides that, check with your doctor if you need to take medications like antihistamines to manage your allergy symptoms. On a side note, antihistamines may cause mouth dryness in some individuals that could worsen throat discomfort upon waking up. Also, some people experience insomnia with these medications, which exacerbates existing sleep debt.

6. Air Pollution

Similar to allergies, air pollutants like cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes vex your nose and throat, creating sore throat-like symptoms when you wake up. A national population-based study in South Korea showed that increased air pollution intensifies the risk of chronic rhinosinusitis and septal deviation linked to throat irritation.

If you already have asthma or allergies, breathing in polluted air can worsen your condition. This makes it even harder to get the rest you need at night.

What to Do:

There are various ways to tackle air pollution, and they boil down to improving indoor air quality. For instance, open windows and doors to encourage better airflow. Use an air purifier and vigilantly clean your surroundings at home and work to minimize dust. It may also help to clear out smoke-emitting accessories like cigarettes and candles.

With better air quality, you’re less likely to be plagued with throat discomfort that keeps you up at night, preventing you from meeting your sleep need.

7. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections can make your throat hurt when you wake up. The most notorious is strep throat caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes. Aside from throat pain, you may experience:

  • A fever, headache, and/or body aches
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Inflamed tonsils that appear red and swollen
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck area 
  • Small red spots at the roof of the mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting

What to Do:

Healthcare professionals typically prescribe antibiotics for bacterial throat infections like strep throat. Your primary doctor may also give you pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to tackle the accompanying fever and aches.

Besides medications, gargle with salt water to help reduce throat discomfort associated with bacterial infections. You should also drink plenty of fluids and eat a soft diet to help moisten the throat. For older children and adults, cough lozenges and pain-relieving throat sprays are commonly used to alleviate throat pain. Meanwhile, fruit popsicles may appeal to young children.

8. Viral Infections

Various viral infections such as the common cold, measles, chickenpox, croup, and even mononucleosis (aka mono) affect the throat. This is why your throat hurts when you wake up.

Your throat may feel scratchy, irritated, or even painful when you talk or swallow. Depending on the type of viral infection, you may also have other symptoms like a high fever, coughing, body aches, a runny nose, swollen tonsils, and hoarseness. For viral infections like measles, chickenpox, and mono, expect skin rash and fluid-filled blisters.

What to Do:

Viral infections usually clear up with proper rest and adequate fluid intake. Home remedies like gargling with salt water and sucking on lozenges may help soothe the throat. You may also be prescribed pain relievers to address fevers and aches. Take note that aspirin should not be used for people with chickenpox as it’s been linked to a disease known as Reye’s syndrome. Instead, your doctor may give you non-aspirin drugs like acetaminophen.

9. Smoking

Smoking is a well-known trigger of throat pain that persists beyond waking up in the morning. On top of a dry, irritated throat, research evidence indicates an increased likelihood of other upper respiratory tract problems in smokers like:

  • Cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Acid reflux
  • Bad breath
  • Toothache
  • Congested nasal passages
  • Nasal discharge
  • Snoring

Unsurprisingly, these other adverse effects of smoking only intensify sleeplessness. After all, it’s harder to fall asleep and sleep through the night if you’re struggling with a hacking cough and a stuffy nose. It’s also worth noting that secondhand smoke can induce the same unwanted symptoms in non-smokers.

What to Do:

The best plan of action is to quit smoking. While it won’t happen overnight, the effort is well worth it as you’re less likely to go to sleep and wake up with your throat hurting.

As you work to become smoke-free, home remedies like gargling with salt water can help assuage throat pain and excess mucus that add to your discomfort. Healthy lifestyle habits like drinking plenty of fluids, eating a healthy diet, and regularly exercising are beneficial, too.

Don’t Let Throat Pain Take Over Your Sleep and Life

Stay on top of your sleep debt with the RISE app as you work to seek relief from your sore throat.

There are many reasons why your throat hurts when you wake up. For the most part, they aren’t life-threatening, but they can very much disrupt your sleep and affect your waking moments. Fortunately, they can be easily remedied once you identify the cause and seek appropriate treatment. 

Aside from home remedies and accessories like air purifiers and throat sprays, the RISE app is another tool to consider. It helps you hone good sleep hygiene to guard against the sleep-detracting effects of throat pain as you work through the discomfort to obtain relief. Get the RISE app today for better sleep for better days.

Wake up and feel energized:

Summary FAQs

How can I stop waking up with a sore throat?

Firstly, identify the trigger(s) behind your sore throat. Once you know the exact cause, you’ll be able to find the right treatment for it. For example, to combat dehydration, you’ll need to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Meanwhile, dry air in your bedroom would require a humidifier to moisten the air and lower the odds of throat irritation in the morning. If need be, consult a licensed healthcare professional for your throat pain.

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