by Katie Mannion
Medically Reviewed by:
Deena Kuruvilla, MD
by Katie Mannion
Medically Reviewed by:
Deena Kuruvilla, MD
Cold air, barometric changes, and holiday stress can all contribute to migraine attacks. These tips can help.
Winter is often called the most wonderful time of the year.
Winter is so heavily romanticized — people wax poetic about the beauty of a snow-covered world, the cozy comfort of a roaring fire, and the sweet nostalgia of the holiday magic. For many people who live with migraine though, that winter wonderland can quickly turn into a painful nightmare.
When winter comes, the air gets colder. When there’s a change in the weather, there’s also a shift in barometric pressure. Barometric pressure refers to the weight of the air around us and even subtle changes in this air pressure can trigger a migraine attack.
The holiday season can also be stressful. Between navigating family functions, meal preparation, and shopping for gifts, it can be overwhelming. Stress is one of the biggest migraine triggers.
Unfortunately, unless you live somewhere warm all year round, you can’t avoid winter. And if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is coming. Here are six tips to help you manage winter migraine attacks.
It’s easy to get dehydrated in the summer, with high heat and humidity. But it’s just as easy in the winter.
On top of that, we’re simply not as thirsty when we’re cold. That means it’s even more important to try to focus on drinking enough water. Generally, it’s recommended that people drink between 8 and 10 glasses per day.
Drinking warm herbal tea or hot chocolate can be a good alternative to ice water when it’s cold out. In addition, try adding more hydrating foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, to your meals.
When the weather outside is frightful, most of us reach for the thermostat. Indoor heating makes the air inside even drier, furthering the issue of possible dehydration.
Using a humidifier can be really helpful. Adding extra humidity into the air can help moisturize the respiratory system. This can prevent your nose and throat from becoming too dry. It’s also a good way to keep your skin hydrated.
Some research even found that office workers experienced 25% less stress when they spent the majority of their time at work in workspaces with more humid air.
Remember how adults always told you to bundle up on snow days when you were a kid? Turns out, they had some good advice.
Along with being drier, winter air is, well, colder, and that alone can be a migraine trigger.
This may be due to the fact that when we’re cold, we tense our muscles more. When we tense up, the same tightening is happening internally. Low temperatures cause your arteries and vessels to narrow which can restrict blood flow. This is why your fingers and toes can feel so stiff when you’re freezing.
So, since you can’t exactly hibernate all winter to avoid the chill, it’s a good idea to make sure to keep your body warm. Wear a scarf to cover your neck and face and a hat and gloves.
It’s also a good idea to wear layers. That way, you can make sure you’re equally comfortable when you get inside.
During the winter, days get shorter. It’s still dark when you wake up, and often, by the time you drive home from work, the sun may have already set.
The lack of sunlight can take a serious toll on your well-being. The “winter blues” are a common experience and others experience a more severe form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Decreased sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood and can trigger migraine. Less exposure to the sun can also lead to lower levels of vitamin D which can also contribute to migraine.
Talk with your doctor about taking supplements if you’re concerned about a vitamin D deficiency. You can also boost both serotonin and vitamin D naturally.
Maintaining regular exercise and self-care practices can promote serotonin. Vitamin D can be increased in warmer weather by spending time outside in the sun. In the winter, you can supplement that with a UV lamp. Adding foods to your diet that are rich in vitamin D, like mushrooms, milk, eggs, and fish can also help.
Wintertime may also disrupt your circadian rhythm. Shorter days, colder temps, and less natural sunlight can impact your internal body clock. This can make it feel so much harder to get out of bed in the morning, during the winter months.
On top of that, winter can be even more disruptive thanks to the holidays. Stress levels increase during the holiday season, no matter how much you enjoy it. There’s more to balance, more to plan, and, for a lot of people, more work to catch up on before the holiday break. Also, think about the holiday parties you might be planning to go to.
Alcohol, sugary foods, and staying out late can all make it harder to sleep well at night.
All of these changes can affect your sleeping habits, which in turn, can wreak havoc on your body and lead to a higher risk of migraine attacks.
The best way to avoid this is to stick to a schedule. Make an extra effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Of course, that’s not always possible, but try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Just like getting enough sleep, it’s important to make sure you eat well, and regularly, in the winter.
Those same holiday parties that may negatively impact your sleep can be equally disruptive to your eating habits. Along with excessive sweets, high fat foods, and alcohol, portion sizes tend to be much larger. Sometimes, people skip meals before or after going to a holiday party.
All of this can be problematic for people with migraine.
Skipping meals is another major migraine trigger to watch out for.
So, as tempting as it might be to skip lunch knowing you’ve got a giant Thanksgiving Dinner in the evening, it’s best to eat regular, meals and nutritious foods throughout the holiday season.
It’s also important to work on easing your stress during the holiday season. Keeping your eating and sleeping habits in check will go a long way but it can also help to plan ahead for various holiday tasks to avoid last-minute scrambling.
Practicing various relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness may also lower your stress and help ensure your winter is, indeed, wonderful.
Medically reviewed on October 28, 2022
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About the author
Katie Mannion is a freelance writer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. She works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. Through both her professional work and her writing, she’s passionate about helping people improve their health, happiness, and activities of daily living. You can follow her on Twitter.