- Are sleep problems a migraine trigger for me?
- Why do migraine attacks wake me up?
- How can I get better sleep?
If you have migraine and you have trouble sleeping through the night, you’re not alone. People who have migraine are also 2 to 8 times more likely to experience sleep disorders, most commonly insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep).
However, researchers still haven’t pinned down the connection between migraine and sleep. It seems that migraine may cause disruptions in sleep, but sleep disruption may also trigger migraine. Or, one study notes, “migraine and sleep disruption may be symptoms of an unrelated medical condition, or they might be two intrinsically related phenomena with shared pathophysiological mechanisms.” Clear as mud, right?
Here’s the good news: Getting better sleep can potentially improve your symptoms. Here, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about sleep and migraine.
How do I know if sleep problems are a migraine trigger for me?
Even if scientists can’t agree on the underlying reasons sleep is linked to migraine, it can be really helpful to figure out how your own sleep patterns affect migraine. How? Start by gathering data.
- You might want to get a sleep tracker, such as the Fitbit, the Oura ring, or a pad that slips under your mattress. These trackers generally monitor several different aspects of sleep, including:
- How long you sleep each night
- The quality of your sleep — do you wake frequently? Toss and turn?
- The phases of your sleep, from light to deep to REM
- Environmental factors affecting sleep, such as the ambient temperature
- Lifestyle factors affecting sleep, such as exercise and caffeine
Once you have better information about how much and how well you’re actually sleeping, pair that with data about your migraine attacks. Download the free CeCe migraine management app, which makes it easy to log attacks and identify trends and triggers.
Armed with data about your sleep and your migraine attacks, you’ll see patterns emerge. Maybe you’re more susceptible to attacks when you stay up late for a few nights in a row. Maybe oversleeping on the weekend is to blame.
You also can consider doing a sleep study. This is when you actually spend the night in a sleep center while medical staff monitor your brain waves and analyze your sleep cycles. They may identify a serious underlying problem, such as sleep apnea (when you stop breathing at intervals throughout the night).
Why do migraine attacks wake me up in the early morning?
Do you often wake up with migraine pain? The reasons why can be complex. If you take medication at night, it may wear off overnight, causing migraine pain in the morning. Caffeine withdrawal, too, may be the culprit. Other possible causes can be dropping endorphin levels, dehydration and — you guessed it — sleep disturbances.
To identify the reasons for your morning migraine attacks, keep logs of your daily routines: food, drink, medication intake, sleep times. See if there’s a strong association between any of these factors and the incidence of morning attacks.
How can I fall asleep when I’m experiencing a migraine attack?
Sometimes sleep is the best remedy for migraine. In one large study, 85% of people with migraine said they chose to sleep or rest because of headache, while 75% were forced to sleep or rest because of headache. But when your head is throbbing and you’re nauseous, it’s not easy to drift off. These strategies may help.
- Play soft classical music: This gives your mind a gentle distraction to focus on. Or, try a meditation or sleep-story app.
- Put a cold pack on your pillow: This is a favorite tip for many people with migraine.
- Take melatonin: Melatonin is the “clock factor” that governs circadian rhythms in humans. Several studies have found that melatonin can have a positive effect on migraine, as well as aiding sleep.
- Take prescribed medications: Talk to your neurologist about the best pain and sleep medications for someone with migraine.
How can I get better sleep when I’m living with migraine?
Pay close attention to light levels. As the CDC explains, being exposed to bright light two hours before bedtime will shift your sleep cycle later, “so you will tend to get sleepy and fall asleep later in the evening and will wake up later in the morning.” Being exposed to bright morning light does the opposite: it adjusts your sleep cycle earlier, so you fall asleep sooner.
If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, dim the lights in your house in the evening, or wear dark sunglasses inside. It’s especially important to avoid blue light — the light emitted from phones and screens.
Adhere to a set sleep routine. Try practicing good headache hygiene. This means sticking to healthy, predictable routines for eating, drinking, exercise, and sleep, including going to bed at the same time every night.
Try using your CEFALY’s PREVENT mode before bedtime. It produces a mild sedative effect in many users, helping them fall asleep. When the 20-minute PREVENT mode is used daily, it gradually desensitizes the trigeminal nerve to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
Cut out caffeine and alcohol. Not only are both substances known migraine triggers, but they can disrupt sleep as well. One recent study found that the odds of having a migraine increased for those drinking three or more caffeinated beverages per day, but not for those consuming two or fewer per day.
Upgrade your sleeping environment. If your mattress is sagging or just not supportive, you might want to invest in a new one. New pillows, fresh linens and cozy blankets all can help, as well as a fan for air circulation and white noise. Light-blocking shades are a must.
Try non-pharmacological migraine treatments. Medication can affect your sleep cycle, whether by making you drowsy or waking you up when it wears off. Consider a clinically proven alternative to medication: the CEFALY device.