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How Can Better Sleep Hygiene Help You Manage Migraine?

Managing Migraine

December 17, 2023

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Photography by Johner Images/Getty Images

Photography by Johner Images/Getty Images

by Clara Siegmund

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Medically Reviewed by:

Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH

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by Clara Siegmund

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Medically Reviewed by:

Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH

•••••

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Good sleep may help you better handle migraine symptoms. Here’s how to improve your sleep hygiene to get the best sleep possible.

You may have already noticed that the sleep you get at night can impact the way you experience migraine in the days that follow.

You might have noticed times when you don’t sleep well for a few days and then find yourself faced with a migraine episode. Or when you spend a night tossing and turning, boom — you wake up with prodrome symptoms.

If this sounds familiar to you, rest assured that it also makes sense scientifically.

It turns out that sleep and migraine have a deep relationship, and it goes both ways. Migraine can change the way you sleep (by messing with your sleep quality), and sleep can change your experience with migraine (by making you more susceptible to a migraine attack).

So, if sleep and migraine influence each other, can you influence sleep to influence migraine? The answer is yes!

Improving your sleep hygiene — aka doing things to make sure you get the best sleep possible — may help you manage migraine. Here’s how.

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What’s the connection between sleep and migraine?

Sleep and migraine are related. We know this through research, clinical studies, and the lived experiences of people with migraine.

What’s less clear, however, is why sleep and migraine are related and the physiological link between the two.

Their relationship is complex, and research into the connection is ongoing.

Recent research, such as this 2020 review, suggests that sleep regulation and migraine may be related to some of the same neurotransmitters and central nervous system structures. Put differently, dysregulation (or impairment) in these overlapping pathways can lead to both migraine and sleep problems or even sleep disorders.

Though a cause-and-effect relationship is difficult to establish, the shared physiological pathways between sleep and migraine seem to suggest that migraine influences sleep and sleep influences migraine.

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Tips for sleep hygiene and migraine management

If sleep and migraine are related, it stands to reason that good sleep hygiene may be able to help people with migraine manage their condition.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you build healthy sleep habits in the hopes of providing migraine relief:

Get enough sleep

Easy, right? No, but research has shown that too little sleep can lead to migraine. In fact, sleep deprivation may even be one of the more frequent causes of migraine attacks in the morning.

A 2012 study on stress and sleep in people with chronic headaches — including people with chronic migraine — found that participants frequently had headache pain after two consecutive nights of too little sleep.

On the flip side, two consecutive nights of getting enough sleep was protective, meaning that participants reported fewer head pain days.

By making sure you get enough sleep each night, you may be able to help stave off migraine episodes.

How much sleep is enough sleep? That depends on you and your needs. It can vary according to factors like age and current physical health. In general, experts recommend around 7–9 hours of sleep a night for adults and 8–10 hours for teens.

Aiming for somewhere in that range should help you figure out what feels best for you.

Don’t sleep too much

While it’s important to get enough sleep each night, it’s also important to avoid sleeping too much.

In older research from 2007, sleeping late (in other words, oversleeping) was reported to be a migraine trigger by 32% of participants with migraine.

In a Goldilocks-like cruel twist of migraine, both excessive sleep and sleep deprivation seem to be two of the most frequent causes of morning migraine attacks.

Again, the definition of “too much” sleep varies depending on your body and your current circumstances, including age, physical health, and how much you’ve been sleeping recently. However, experts generally recommend no more than 9 hours a night for healthy adults and 10 hours for healthy teens.

Make a sleep schedule and stick to it

Research suggests that changes in sleeping patterns may trigger migraine attacks.

Sleep disturbances, including sleep deprivation, oversleeping, or irregular sleep patterns, may even be a factor that can turn episodic migraine into chronic migraine.

To help maintain a regular rhythm and avoid both under and oversleeping, try making a sleep schedule. As much as you’re able, go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning — even on weekends.

Sometimes, disruptions to your sleep schedule can’t be helped, like if your work or school schedule changes, if you’re jetlagged, or if you’re sick. But for the days when you can control things, the more you’re able to maintain regular sleep patterns, the more you may be able to avoid migraine attacks.

If you keep a migraine journal (which is a great way to keep track of triggers and symptoms during your episodes), consider noting your sleep and wake times and how you feel in the morning. This may help you figure out the sleep timing that works best for you, then stick to that schedule.

Create a cozy sleep environment

Sleep quality — meaning how well you sleep — can be a contributing factor to migraine frequency and intensity. By the same token, improving your sleep quality may help manage migraine.

One way to make sure you’re getting quality sleep is to create an environment conducive to sleeping. This can be particularly helpful if you struggle to fall or stay asleep.

The best, coziest sleep environment is all about personal preference. General recommendations for optimal sleep include:

  • complete darkness
  • silence
  • cool (not cold) temperatures

For darkness, try blackout curtains. Consider eliminating all lights, including streetlights, blue light from screens, or artificial light from electrical objects like clocks.

For noise, try ambient noise machines or earplugs. For temperature, try air conditioning or fans (which can also be good substitutes for ambient noise machines).

If you keep a migraine journal, try including information about the way you create your sleep environment to track how your body reacts to different setups. If you wake up feeling fresh and rested, you’ve likely found a good one.

Establish a bedtime routine

A relaxing bedtime routine can help you wind down after your day and prepare your body and mind for sleep.

Some strategies you can try for winding down include:

  • Eat early in the evening so your body has time to digest before lying down to sleep.
  • Avoid drinking lots of fluids a couple of hours before sleep to help reduce nighttime bathroom trips.
  • Stop your screen time an hour (or earlier) before bedtime to avoid blue light disruptions to your sleep rhythm.
  • Read, meditate, or listen to calming music to bring on drowsiness and help your mind and body relax.
  • Drink a small cup of a hot or soothing (non-caffeinated) drink, like an herbal tea — chamomile tea, for example, may improve sleep quality and help you fall asleep faster.

Creating a bedtime routine may help your body associate that routine with feeling ready for bed and getting sleepy. Plus, winding down before bed may help you fall asleep faster and get a better night’s rest.

Better sleep quality may, in turn, help manage migraine.

Other strategies

Other strategies you can try to improve your sleep hygiene include:

  • moving your body regularly
  • avoiding exercise in the evening
  • limiting alcohol intake before bed or skipping it altogether
  • avoiding naps as much as possible, especially in the afternoons

If you find that you consistently have problems sleeping or sleep poorly, consider talking with your doctor about getting tested for sleep disorders.

With a specific sleep diagnosis, your doctor can help make a treatment plan to improve your sleep hygiene — which, in turn, may help you better manage migraine.

The bottom line

The connection between sleep and migraine is a two-way street: each affects the other.

When you improve your sleep hygiene and get better sleep, that high quality rest can help you manage migraine.

Strategies like getting the right amount of sleep, following a regular sleep schedule, and creating the ultimate sleep environment can help you boost your sleep hygiene and get your best sleep.

Medically reviewed on December 17, 2023

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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