If you suffer from Migraines, you probably find it more difficult to enjoy quality sleep. A 2017 study found that almost half of individuals with migraine headaches experienced poor sleep quality. By comparison, only around one-third of those with non-migraine headaches and only around one-fifth of those without headaches reported sleep difficulties.
A study published in 2010 surveyed 200 migraine patients to determine whether they recognized any specific migraine triggers. Ninety-one percent reported at least one migraine trigger — and more than half stated that too much or too little sleep was a migraine attack trigger.
What is the link between migraine and sleep?
A 2013 study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain set out to evaluate sleep quality among migraine sufferers.
The study included 126 participants (85 women and 41 men) between 18 and 64 years old. Participants were evaluated by a headache specialist to confirm a migraine diagnosis and sleep quality was measured using polysomnography. Individuals also filled out sleep and headache diaries.
Researchers found that compared to controls, those who suffered from migraine headaches reported:
- Higher levels of anxiety
- More insomnia symptoms
- More feelings of tiredness
- More pain-related sleep problems
Migraines linked to more deep sleep
When researchers analyzed data collected from overnight sleep studies, they found that those with migraines actually experienced longer periods of deep sleep compared to the control group — yet those with migraines were more likely to report difficulties falling asleep and were more likely report spending long periods of time awake during the night compared to those without such headaches.
The authors of the study suggested that the frequent nighttime awakenings associated with migraines may increase sleep pressure and encourage more deep sleep between awakenings as a way to compensate.
Migraines make sleep more vulnerable to disruption
Researchers also found that sleep quality appeared to be more vulnerable to disruption by anxiety or subjective insomnia among those with migraine headaches, compared to healthy controls.
The authors suggested that migraine patients, on average, get less sleep at night than they need — and this is linked to greater levels of anxiety, too.
The pain connection
According to researchers, those who suffered from migraines also tended to have lower pain thresholds — and this can lead to a vicious cycle of pain and sleep deprivation. That’s because the pain associated with migraines can make sleep more difficult and sleep issues are linked to greater pain sensitivity.
Headache frequency plays a role, too
A more recent study, published in 2017, found that more frequent headaches were associated with poorer sleep quality and more symptoms of depression.
The authors suggested that to decrease the frequency of headache attacks, we should focus attention on interventions that reduce the emotional burden of headaches by:
- Improving sleep quality
- Decreasing depressive symptoms
- Promoting coping strategies and cognitive behavioral techniques
What to do if migraines are affecting your sleep
Research suggests that there is a strong relationship between sleep and migraines. Migraine sufferers appear to get less sleep than those who do not suffer from the headaches — and this in itself can lead to an increase in migraines.
The severity of migraine’s impact on sleep also seems to be linked to how well individuals can cope with the associated pain and anxiety; the better you are able to cope, the less impacted your sleep quality.
Because poor sleep habits can trigger migraines (and sleep can stop migraines), focusing on good sleep hygiene and ensuring you are getting an adequate amount of sleep may be the best initial strategy for dealing with moderate to intense headaches.
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Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free insomnia sleep training. His online course uses CBT techniques to teach participants how to sleep better without relying on sleeping pills. More than 5,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.