How I Finally Got to Sleep Despite Migraines

by Julie Ryan Patient Advocate

Although I’ve suffered from migraines as long as I can remember, I didn’t begin to struggle with sleep until I was about 30 years old. Around that time the migraines got worse. I can connect both issues to two things: increased stress and a mild concussion.

When my sleep problems began

The increased stress came from a combination of marriage and a new career. Moving in with someone new is difficult when you’ve been used to living alone. We both had some major adjustments to do.

During that first year of marriage, I also managed to hit my head resulting in a minor concussion with major repercussions. For the first time in my life, I began having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The problem worsened and continued for the next 10 years.

During that time, a few things did help me sleep a little better. Before bed, I took warm baths in Epsom salts while drinking a cup of hot herbal tea to reduce anxiety and increase sleepiness. This helped with the stress and improved my sleep slightly, but still didn’t provide the regular sleep my body needed and my mind craved.

Over the years, I tried anything I could to help improve my sleep, usually falling back on sleep aids like Ambien or Tylenol PM. Those seemed to be the only things that would provide a full night’s sleep. But I still often woke up feeling groggy and unrested.

During the early part of 2017, I made several changes that worked together to finally begin allowing me to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.


A year ago January I took a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. This is a nine-week course that introduces the concepts of mindfulness. Initially, I thought that mindfulness was just meditation. I’d tried meditation in the past, and while I found that it could be calming, I didn’t find that it improved my sleep.

Mindfulness is much more than just meditation, although meditation is part of it. In addition to focused meditation, this course taught me the importance of being mindful in all that I do. I learned to really listen to my body, and in doing so, I learned how to redirect my attention away from pain. I also learned how to clear my mind and keep focus on the breath, rather than allowing thoughts to constantly return to the various distractions and stressors in my life.

Through the course I found myself much more relaxed and focused. I was able to lay down with a quiet, clear mind instead of a mind full of distractions and stressors. As a result, I was able to fall asleep easier.

For the first time in a decade, I was sleeping well consistently. Additionally, I began experiencing fewer migraine attacks.

Change in sleep habits

My ex-husband snored. The likelihood that I would fall asleep easily decreased if I wasn’t able to fall asleep before he did. If he fell asleep first, I would struggle to fall asleep due to the noise. I also found that any light in the bedroom, even the display on a clock, would often be so bright that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep.

Early in 2017, I began sleeping in the guestroom. I found that when I slept in the guestroom I would usually fall asleep in less time and sleep better.

Later that year we split up, and while the change in situation was stressful, overall my stress decreased, and that improved both sleep and migraines.

CBD oil

Around the same time that I got divorced, I began taking CBD oil to see if it would help with sleep and pain issues. The difference was both drastic and immediate.

Instead of lying in bed reading for an hour or more before falling asleep and waking up feeling unrested, I began falling asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. Instead of only getting five to six hours of sleep each night, I began getting eight to nine hours on a regular basis. It was an amazing difference.

For the first time in a decade, I was sleeping well consistently. Additionally, I began experiencing fewer migraine attacks. I was no longer experiencing chronic migraines. For the first time in years I not only had enough migraine medications to get through the month, I had a surplus at the end of the month.

In the last year, life has continued to improve. New stresses have found their way into my life – as happens with major life events and changes, but despite the new stresses I’ve continued to sleep well. I’ve continued practicing mindfulness and taking CBD oil. Despite changes in sleep habits, new noises, and unfamiliar beds while travelling, I have continued to sleep well.

Julie Ryan
Meet Our Writer
Julie Ryan

Julie Ryan is a writer, blogger, and health advocate living in Huntsville, AL. Julie lives with a variety of chronic illnesses including chronic migraine, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, cluster headaches, and probably at least one other that she forgot about. She strives to live positively despite chronic illness. Her dream life is to buy an RV and live like a turtle, carrying her house with her wherever she goes. Julie shares her experiences and insights on living with chronic illness on her blog Counting My Spoons.