Migraines, Triggers, and My Sleep Study

Nancy Harris Bonk Health Guide
  • We have numerous conversations on our site about Migraine and sleep issues. Teri and I answer many questions regarding this topic and often find ourselves suggesting that people who find themselves waking with Migraine and/or headache look into having a sleep study done. Many are surprised when they hear how important sleep is to a Migraineur. Disrupted sleeping patterns such as sleeping too much or too little, or not maintaining a regular sleep schedule can be a powerful Migraine trigger. 


    There are mornings when I wake with head pain, despite my best efforts to maintain a sleep schedule and not over/under sleep. This has been occurring for a while, so my doctor and I decided that a sleep study was in order. The study was set up within a fairly short amount of time, and I was sent a packet of information to fill out and bring along to the appointment. The packet included questions regarding my insurance coverage, medical history, sleep patterns and the medications I took.  

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    I arrived at the facility at 8:20 p.m. for my 8:30 p.m. appointment and checked in. The receptionist took my insurance card and co-pay, handed me more papers to fill out and asked me to have a seat. Some of the questions on the papers included:  

    • Did I nap that day or typically during the day and for how long?
    • Did I have any caffeine to drink that day?
    • Do I have insomnia?
    • Do I have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep?
    • Have I ever been told I snore?
    • Do my legs move frequently or do I experience itchy, tingling, achy legs during the night?
    • Do I feel tired and sleepy during the day? 

    After my paper work was complete, my attendant, Mariola, who had a heavy accent, introduced herself to me and we walked to my room. It was a small room - about eight feet by 10 feet, and had an attached bathroom including a nice shower area. It looked and sounded great until she told me I would be sharing it with the person in the adjoining room. Mariola told me about locking the bathroom door when I used it, and when I was done, it needed to be unlocked. Okay, that sounded easy - so far, so good. Mariola then asked me to change into my sleep wear while she gathered the sleep study equipment, telling me she may be about twenty minutes or so. During the time it took her to gather the equipment, I was free to watch TV or read, but at no time was I to fall asleep as this would interfere with the study.  


    Just as she said, 20 minute later, Mariola came into the room with a cart full of equipment and wires. She asked me to sit down in a chair, rather than the edge of the bed, so she could begin attaching the pads to my body, which would take between 20  and 30  minutes. There seemed to be a tremendous amount of wires and pads, but Mariola explained the wires were sectioned off and connected to separate pads, each pad having its own set of wires. The pads were then attached to different areas of my body and were connected to the device that picks up the data for the study. She placed a belt around my waist with wires attached to it and another belt around my underarms, with wires attached to that. At first I thought the belts would be terribly uncomfortable, but they didn't dig or rub into my skin in any way. The next step was attaching the pads to my head and face. Mariola marked the spots on my head where the pads were to be placed with a red crayon and began dabbing my head with a clear, gluey, sticky substance on the marked spots and stuck the pads to them. She placed nine pads on my head (my hair felt wonderful - NOT) and put three pads on my chin, one on my left cheek, one on my right temple and three across my upper forehead. Now she said I could get into bed and get comfortable. Really?


    It actually wasn't too bad, and I was able to get comfortable fairly quickly. Mariola came over and began to attach the wires to the equipment that would record my data and said I would be recorded all night with the camera across from the bed - that kind of freaked me out -what if I did something weird during the study? Mariola mentioned she needed to do a few more things and put a pulse oximeter on my index finger (this measured my oxygen level and heart rate) which was very uncomfortable. I asked if I could switch fingers and she was very happy to accommodate me and my ring finger. Then things got a bit more difficult when she attached the oxygen tube around my head and inserted the little tubes into my nose so more oxygen levels could be recorded. Now this was uncomfortable -I don't particularly like having things in my nose that don't belong there. To finish off my discomfort, Mariola attached more pads - two each onto my calves, and two onto my ankles. It  was official. I was now uncomfortable. Mariola said if I needed to use the bathroom, or get out bed, call out her name and she would be right in - of course, they were recording me. She also said if my oxygen level dropped below a certain point she would be in with a CPAP machine, or if wires got detached. Other than that she said "sleep well."  

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    I closed my eyes and started to get anxious, so I set out to do some relaxation. I picked my favorite spot and worked hard to "be" there in mind, body and spirit. And it worked, I drifted off to sleep and the next thing I knew Mariola was telling me one of the pads on my leg had moved and she needed to reattach it, which she did quietly and quickly. I fell asleep again, had a weird dream about my son, and then Mariola was there waking me up.


    It was time to take the pads off, which for the most part was not problematic, although the pads on my face did tug at my skin a bit. My head was a mess from all the goop she used to attach the pads, and Mariola asked if I wanted to shower there, but I declined because the only thing I wanted was a hot shower in my own bathroom and a nap.


    Two weeks later I met with the doctor who ordered the test to go over the results. I don't have sleep apnea and therefore don't need a CPAP machine, even though my oxygen levels do down a bit during the night, but not enough to warrant treatment. I seem to move around a lot when I sleep and the doctor wanted to know if I had any symptoms of restless leg syndrome. The take home point was to sleep on my side and maintain a regular sleep schedule.


    If you wake with morning Migraine or head pain, please discuss with your doctor the possibility of having a sleep study done.





    Rains, Jeannetta, PhD. "Sleep Disorders and Headache." ACHE: The Fred Sheftell, MD Education Center. 2011. 


    Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



    Thanks for reading and feel well,







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    © HealthCentral Network, 2013.
    Last updated January 29, 2013.

Published On: January 29, 2013