Should I Study with a Headache?


Headaches are one of the most annoying commonplace ailments we can get as humans. There are all different types of headaches that can range to migraines, and they all make it difficult for you to get things done. You may just feel like being down for the count and taking the rest of the day off, but sometimes that is simply not an option. One of those reasons could be studying. Just because you have a headache does not mean that the need to study disappears.

The question is: Should you study with a headache? Ideally, you should not study with a headache. Instead, you should take steps to reduce or eliminate the headache before attempting to study.

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25 Essential Study Tips to Maximize Academic Performance

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What is a Headache?

First things first, what even is a headache, and what causes it? A headache can occur in any part of the head, on both sides, or just one. (Source) Primary headaches are standalone illnesses, whereas secondhand headaches come on due to another cause. For example, a hangover, dehydration, or sleeping in an awkward position. Examples of headache types include:

  • migraines
  • cluster headaches
  • tension headaches

I have suffered from headaches since I was very young. I remember being in elementary school at recess, wishing the other kids would quiet down so my head would feel better. As I got older, I started getting migraines as well. These are horrendous, and I wouldn’t wish them upon anyone. Migraines are not just bad headaches. Migraines include blurred vision, light-headedness, nausea, as well as sensory disturbances known as “auras.”

For some teens, hormonal changes can also cause headaches. Some girls get headaches just before their periods or during their monthly cycle. (Source)

According to TeensHealth, “Most headaches happen in the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that cover a person’s head and neck. Sometimes the muscles or blood vessels swell, tighten, or go through other changes that stimulate the surrounding nerves or put pressure on them. These nerves send a rush of pain messages to the brain, and this brings on a headache.” (Source)

So even though it may feel like it, the ache is not actually in your brain.

How do you relieve a headache?

The most common ways of treating headaches are rest and aspirin. I personally also get headaches if I don’t drink enough coffee/caffeine. So, for some people, a Cola or Latte can cure their headache as well. Yet, pain relief medication and a nap will cure headaches for most.

Start by lying down in a cool, dark, quiet room and close your eyes. It may help to put a cool, moist cloth across your forehead and eyes.

Should I Study if I have a Headache?

When it comes down it, it honestly depends on how bad your headache is and what the cause of the headache. If your headache is stressed induced, then you should not, because it will only cause more stress. If it’s because you are dehydrated, try drinking some water and taking aspirin before beginning your study session.

I know from personal experience that migraines will have you down for the count for up to a week. Yes, a week! This lingering amount of time can be detrimental when it comes to your classes and studying. If you suffer from migraines, you need to visit your doctor so they can help you avoid them in the future. When you have a migraine, you can’t even turn on a light, let alone conduct a full-on study session.

If you are going to study while you have a headache, make sure to do so in a calm and quiet environment. Don’t study with others or listen to music. Just take it slow and simple so that your headache will not worsen.

How do I avoid having to study with a headache?

Leaving yourself some room for “sick days” from study sessions can save yourself from situations like a headache without allowing you to fall too far behind. For example, read one extra chapter and take notes on it on a day that you are on a roll while studying. This consistent schedule allows you to skip a day if something like a headache arises. Just don’t use that advantage to skip a day of studying when you simply don’t feel like it. Your future self who is suffering from a headache will thank you.

If you do have a headache, but still need to study that evening, try to alleviate the pain before you begin your study session.

You can try to take a power nap, take an Epsom salt bath, drink a ton of water, aspirin, or take a walk to get some fresh air. If you can make your headache even slightly less painful, you may be able to have a much more beneficial study session. Don’t “power through” it right away. Take even 15 minutes to try to find relief beforehand.

Headaches and migraines can occur due to stress, even educational stress. If you feel one of these ailments coming on because of your stress over your next big math test, try to find ways to relieve that stress. Getting a headache or migraine is only going to make it harder for you to prepare for the test, so once you let the problem out of your hands, you will allow yourself to feel better for studying.

Can Cramming Give you a Headache?

We all know to cram before a big test is not wise for several reasons. Is getting a headache one of them? Absolutely. Studies have shown that college students are more vulnerable to headaches because of their busy schedules and extreme workload.

Eyestrain is something that can occur when staring at a computer for too long. Eyestrain can quickly arise when cramming after staring at your laptop screen all night long. Eyestrain is known to cause headaches.

Stress is also a known trigger of headaches and migraines. Pulling an all-nighter can cause tension headaches as well as migraines due to an increase in stress and anxiety.

Lack of sleep is another trigger of headaches, which is a distinct part of pulling an all-nighter.

If you are going to pull an all-nighter (even though I don’t recommend it) but want to avoid getting headaches to make sure to stay hydrated, take breaks to prevent eyestrain, and sit in a comfortable chair/position to prevent tension headaches. Still, get enough rest to avoid having a headache when taking your exam because no one wants that.

Why am I getting a headache?

If this becomes a commonplace occurrence in your life, it is essential to discover your headache triggers and how to avoid them. Some questions to ask yourself to identify your headache triggers include:

  • Are you overly stressed? 
  • Do you not drink enough water? 
  • Do you sleep in a weird position? 
  • Do you drink too much alcohol? 
  • Do you eat a poor diet?

Try to figure out how you trigger yourself or consult with your physician to help you. It may take a bit of trial and error, but you will be thankful when you no longer have to deal with constant headaches that can put a damper in your education.

I get chronic headaches; how do I cope when trying to study?

If you get at least a few headaches a week or deal with migraines every month, here are some tips on how to cope with them while you are in college and trying to study.

  • Take short breaks while studying, but don’t look at your smartphone. Take a quick walk or get some fresh air.
  • Eat snacks throughout the day.
  • Drink water throughout the day – 64 oz!
  • Highlight important notes so you can just study the basics if you feel too horrible actually to study.
  • Fill out disability accommodation papers with your university. This way, your professors have to let you take tests on a different day if you have a migraine on the day of the test.
  • Auras can cause some issues cognitively. Always have someone else proofread your work and essays for you.
  • Keep up to date on visits with your medical doctor.
  • Stick to a routine to lessen stress levels.

It may feel impossible to achieve your degree when dealing with chronic headaches and migraines, but it’s not, trust me.

How do I avoid a headache before a big exam?

Midterms or Finals coming up? You are already worried enough about the big exam, don’t let a headache make it worse. Don’t cram the night before the test, get plenty of sleep and rest. Keep electronics off to avoid eyestrain and maintain focus. Get some exercise; it will keep you alert and ward off stress. Eat a proper diet, and don’t skip meals. Eat breakfast on the day of your test, no matter what. Drink a lot of water the day before as well. Again, hunger and dehydration can cause headaches.

If you can’t avoid cramming the night before, check out our article on how to prepare last minute for an exam at the link below:

How to Study Last Minute for an Exam Effectively

You can’t altogether avoid all headaches no matter what, but making sure you check these off your list will help lessen the probability that your head will hurt on exam day.

Be Honest with Yourself and those around you.

You may just want to power through your pain, but this is not always the smart thing to do. As always, you are your judge. If you know your headache is there but you are still able to function, then do so. If you are bedridden, then do not push it. Be honest with yourself, your study buddies, and your professors; life happens, even when school is still in session. If you have a migraine on the day of the midterm, explain your situation to your professor. As long as you don’t try to get out of every test with this excuse, they should understand. Also, it may sound scary, but don’t be afraid to get a disability note from your university. This medical note will force those professors who are not so forgiving to let you have more time. You may also be able to take your tests in a more private, quiet setting, which could be super beneficial if you are recovering from a headache or migraine.

Don’t go to a study session with friends because you feel like you have to. If you have a headache and know you would do better studying by yourself in silence, then do so, because it is what’s best for you. They will understand if you explain your situation. You aren’t letting down anyone but yourself if you push it.

Don’t downplay your condition or be too hard on yourself; it will only make you feel worse. Your illness is valid, and you should treat it as such. Pushing and powering through very well may make you even sicker.

Honesty is critical in all of this. Only you know how you truly feel. Being honest with yourself, your study partners, your doctors, and your professors will help you better manage your illness and be more successful in day to day life as well as your educational career.

In Conclusion

Headaches may sound like a common type of illness that some aspirin can ward off, but they can be so much worse than that. There isn’t just one type of headache. There are tension headaches, cluster headaches, or migraines.

Several different triggers and actions can also cause them. Stress, hunger, dehydration, hangovers, awkward sleeping positions, lack of sleep, and exposure to loud environments are just a few of the causes and triggers of headaches.

These can all be hard to manage while in college. Being overworked, broke, and under pressure is going to result in some of these triggers occurring in your day to day lives. Trying to manage as many of these as possible will lessen the likelihood that you will have to deal with a headache.

You are the one that will ultimately have to decide if you can study with a headache. Determine the intensity of pain truly can help you determine if you will be able to focus and learn during your study session. If you have a headache, try taking some aspirin and doing some essential studying. If you have a migraine, you can’t even look at your phone screen without wincing, so studying is probably not an option in the cards.

Be honest with your professors, parents, those around you, and yourself about how you feel. Tell your university that you suffer from this ailment, let your professors know, and visit your doctor for advice. No one should have to suffer alone in silence. Speak up so you can get support from others and better manage your illness. Getting a headache isn’t the end of the world, but it can sure feel like it when you have midterms and finals coming up. Your peers and professors will understand this. After all, you’re only human. Life doesn’t stop because school is in session.

So do I study if I have a headache???

The answer to this question? Yes and no. It all depends on what type of headache you have. If there were only one type of headache, there would be a more definitive answer. Yet in actuality, there are several, and they can all have different effects on you. Some headaches are annoying but easy to function with, while others have you down for the count and in bed by 4 pm.

Being honest with yourself will help you to answer this question for your current situation. Just remember not to push yourself and make things worse.

Like I mentioned earlier, try to prepare for days like these and study ahead on days when you are on a roll and in the mood to learn. This preparation allows you to take a day off, no matter the strength of your impending headache.

Drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest, and relax. Even though it may seem so at times, school and your education will not get the best of you. You will prevail and obtain your degree; not even a migraine can stop that. It may be able to sidetrack you, but through careful analysis and honest evaluation, there will no longer be a problem in no time.

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Should You Study with a Headache