Getting a restful night’s sleep is an essential part of migraine management. It is often overshadowed by concerns about food and environmental triggers. Yet its importance cannot be understated. According to the American Migraine Foundation, people who live with migraine and other headache disorders are at greater risk for sleep disorders than the general population. Almost half of all migraine attacks occur in the early morning hours.
When migraine attacks occur early in the morning, it is often a sign of a comorbid sleep disorder, any of which can be a migraine trigger. As with migraine itself, getting a proper diagnosis is the first step. Once you and your doctor know what type of sleep disorder is present, then you can begin treatment toward both a better night’s sleep and fewer morning migraine attacks.
I used to wake up at 3:00 a.m. every morning with a cluster headache attack. While not migraine, these attacks disrupted my sleep, which then triggered a migraine attack before noon on most days. I thought I had to live with these symptoms until one day a doctor asked me if I snored. My husband was present at the appointment and confirmed the doctor’s suspicions. She immediately referred me for a sleep study which confirmed that I had both obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. I started using a CPAP and taking medicine to control the RLS symptoms. Almost immediately, I stopped getting both cluster headache and migraine attacks in the mornings. I could finally sleep well and wake up rested and migraine-free.
Changing bad habits
I also learned about sleep hygiene. As with migraine management, the medical treatment was only part of the answer. I had to make some changes, too. Even if you don’t have a sleep disorder, incorporating these healthy habits can improve your sleep quality and reduce your sleep-related migraine triggers.
Darkness promotes sleep.
Keep the bedroom dark. Any source of light can disrupt the release of melatonin, triggering wakefulness. Using black-out curtains, covering digital clocks, and the use of a sleep mask are all good strategies. Don’t forget to avoid watching TV or using a cell phone or computer in bed as these can also keep you awake.
White noise may be your friend.
Noise can keep you awake, too. However, some people find that white noise, such as the hum from a fan or humidifier can enhance sleep. Experiment with ear plugs, fans, or other white noise to see which is most beneficial.
Keep it cool.
The ideal sleeping temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Farenheit. Avoid getting too hot or too cold.
A comfortable mattress and pillow can greatly improve your sleep quality. Body position (especially neck position) is especially important. The wrong sleep position can cause back pain and trigger migraine attacks.
Routine is essential.
Go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day, regardless of weekends or holidays. Try to avoid sleeping too much or too little. Give yourself enough time to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Create a relaxing routine in the hours before bedtime that encourages sleep by:
- avoiding alcohol and nicotine
- avoiding screen time (TV, computer, cellphone, etc.)
- avoiding heavy or rich foods
- limiting fluids
- keeping it dark
- using the bed only for sleep and sex
Daytime habits matter, too.
Get plenty of exposure to natural light during the day. This promotes the suppression of melatonin, making it less likely to experience daytime sleepiness. If you must nap during the day, limit naps to 20-30 minutes.
Get at least 10 minutes of exercise each day. Some people find that exercise helps to promote sleep, while others find it too stimulating. Experiment with the timing of your exercise for best results.
Watch your caffeine intake. Too much caffeine, especially late in the day, can disrupt sleep. Avoid caffeine late in the afternoon or evening to promote a restful night’s sleep.
Try these tips from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine when you can’t sleep or wake up too soon.
- Get out of bed if you are still awake after 20 minutes.
- Avoid turning on lights.
- Avoid any stimulating activity (TV, computer, etc.).
- Return to bed as soon as you begin to feel sleepy.
More Helpful Articles:
1 Rains, J. Sleep Disorders and Headache. American Migraine Foundation. Accessed January 12, 2017.
2 Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation. Accessed January 12, 2017.
3 Healthy Sleep Habits. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Accessed January 12, 2017.
Reviewed by David Watson, MD.
© Tammy Rome, 2017.
Headache disorders advocate, blogger, and mental health therapist, Tammy maintains a private practice specializing in behavioral pain management, as well as writing for her own blog, Brain Storm. She also volunteers as Vice Chair of the American Headache and Migraine Association and as President of The Cluster Headache Support Group. You can read more of Tammy’s work on her blog and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.
Headache disorders counselor and advocate Tammy Rome maintains a private practice specializing in treating clients with Migraine and other headache disorders. She also volunteers as vice chair of the American Headache and Migraine Association and as president of The Cluster Headache Support Group. You can read more of Tammy’s work on her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.