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How to Treat and Prevent Migraine Hangovers

Managing Migraine

January 16, 2024

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Photography by Jenny Jungle/Stocksy United

Photography by Jenny Jungle/Stocksy United

by Nandini Maharaj

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Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

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•••••

by Nandini Maharaj

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

•••••

•••••

Migraine hangover is also known as the postdrome phase. Symptoms can include brain fog, fatigue, nausea, and muscle aches. There’s no cure, but some tips may provide relief.

In the morning after a migraine attack, I’m reluctant to get up too quickly for fear that my headache is still lingering. Sometimes, the throbbing pain is less intense around my eyes, but I feel drowsy and physically drained.

What I’m describing is the postdrome phase of migraine or what’s known as the migraine hangover.

During a migraine hangover, you may notice a decline in the intensity of headache, but you aren’t fully recovered. A migraine hangover can last for a few hours or even up to 2 days.

Fortunately, you can shorten your recovery time and prevent symptoms from recurring.

What causes a migraine hangover?

The postdrome phase of migraine follows the first three phases: the prodrome, aura, and headache phases.

A small 2016 study suggests that postdrome symptoms occur after more than 80% of migraine attacks with non-headache features.

These symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • muscle aches in the neck or shoulders
  • nausea
  • discomfort
  • pressure in the head

Experts aren’t sure what causes the postdrome phase. They suspect it may involve areas of the brain responsible for thinking, arousal, and self-regulation.

For example, it’s possible the aura and headache phases of an attack lead to changes in blood flow and brain activity. These changes could possibly trigger a migraine hangover.

A small 2021 study suggests that the prodrome and postdrome phases tend to be similar for the individual but vary from person to person. However, more research is needed since postdrome symptoms are still not clearly recognized and are mostly self-reported.

Although migraine hangovers are fairly common, not everyone experiences them the same way. Some people feel fatigued, while others seem more energized after their headache subsides.

When my headache phase lasts more than 2 days, it’s hard to notice the start of a migraine hangover. In other instances, I’m so relieved that my headache symptoms have eased that I don’t give myself enough time to recover from postdrome symptoms, making this phase last longer.

Regardless of what causes the migraine hangover, getting back to my usual routines too quickly can be tempting.

However, it can also prolong your symptoms or increase your chances of having another migraine attack.

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How to deal with a migraine hangover

A migraine hangover doesn’t happen after every attack. The postdrome phase may be over quickly, or it may go on for 2 days.

If this phase does occur, learning to spot the signs and symptoms can be helpful. One thing I’ve tried is keeping a migraine diary to track postdrome symptoms like fatigue, depressed mood, and difficulty concentrating.

Here are some other ideas that help me manage postdrome symptoms.

Get some rest

This might sound obvious, but giving yourself time to rest can help you feel better. Often, it’s hard to fall asleep during the headache phase, so whenever possible, I try to sleep in or nap the following day.

Keeping the lights off or reducing screen time is a good idea if you have light sensitivity.

When you’re recovering from a migraine episode, it’s best to avoid physically and mentally exerting yourself. This includes work, chores, and exercise.

Minimize stress

I can’t help but roll my eyes when my doctor tells me to reduce stress, but stress management in combination with rest is often the most effective strategy.

The first thing I do after a migraine attack is turn off the sound on my phone and try to lie still while taking deep breaths.

When I’m able to resume working, I prioritize tasks that require an immediate response. Sometimes, this means fighting my perfectionist tendencies and negotiating new timelines for less pressing tasks.

Manage pain

For me, neck pain is usually the most noticeable symptom during a migraine hangover. I’ve found applying a topical medication for muscle aches or using a heating pad helpful.

If heat isn’t helpful or comfortable, you can try using cold packs or migraine caps, which you chill in the freezer. Gentle stretching or massage can also provide relief from muscle aches or stiffness.

Regarding medications, it’s wise to chat with your doctor to see whether they suggest an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication for pain relief.

Stay hydrated

I replenish my fluids with water or sports drinks to ease me back into regular activities.

Having a warm and nourishing meal can also help with your energy level, so long as it’s not a migraine trigger for you.

Soups and stews can be a warm, soothing option and can also increase your hydration.

How to prevent a migraine hangover

If you’re like me, some days it feels as if I’m two steps behind my migraine attacks. What helps is having consistent habits and routines like the following:

  • Eat at regular intervals.
  • Choose foods that don’t spike your blood sugar (i.e., avoid fruits and sweets).
  • Develop a calming bedtime routine.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Go for a walk outside.
  • Take breaks throughout the day.
  • Relax or cuddle with loved ones or pets.
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Frequently asked questions

More questions? Get the facts on migraine hangover below.

How do you get rid of a migraine hangover?

There’s no cure for a migraine hangover. Instead, the goal is to make yourself as comfortable as possible with sleep, medication, gentle stretching, and hot or cold packs.

How long can migraine hangovers last?

According to the American Migraine Foundation, a migraine hangover, or the postdrome phase of migraine, can last up to 2 days. This can include symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, nausea, and more.

Why are migraines so exhausting?

Fatigue isn’t just a result of the mental and physical effects of a migraine attack, which can mean a loss of sleep. Migraine is a neurological disease, so fatigue is likely a result of physiological changes caused by the condition.

Should I go to work the day after a migraine?

Deciding when to return to work depends on the individual. For some people, a migraine hangover can be as debilitating as the headache phase, while it may cause less impairment for others.

Should you sleep after a migraine?

Sleeping or napping can be beneficial for improving a migraine hangover. Lying down and resting during and after an attack can help you recover even if you’re not able to fall asleep.

Takeaway

A migraine hangover doesn’t happen for every person or after every migraine attack. When it does occur, it can last for up to 2 days and be accompanied by mental and physical exhaustion.

There’s no known cause of postdrome symptoms, but they can be managed with rest, pain relief medication, relaxing activities, and adequate hydration.

Medically reviewed on January 16, 2024

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About the author

Nandini Maharaj

Nandini Maharaj, PhD is a freelance writer covering health, work, identity, and relationships. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and a PhD in public health. She’s committed to providing thoughtful analysis and engaging wellness content. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, American Kennel Club, Animal Wellness, Introvert, Dear, and POPSUGAR. She is a dog mom to Dally, Rusty, and Frankie. Find her on Twitter or her website.

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