6 Sleep Tips for People With Migraines
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If you suspect that your migraines are getting in the way of a good night’s sleep, it’s not all in your head. In fact, people living with migraines are up to eight times more likely to have sleep problems than the general population, according to the American Migraine Foundation. And the relationship is complicated.
“Sleep deprivation is commonly reported as a trigger for migraines,” says Timothy A. Collins, MD, an associate professor of neurology and division chief of the department of headache and pain at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
So, if you have migraines and struggle with insomnia, you could get caught in a vicious cycle: The lack of sleep triggers a headache and, if you’re still in pain at bedtime, you may have difficulty falling or staying asleep, says John R. Pettinato, DO, a neurologist with the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an instructor in anesthesia and neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
How can you break free of this exhausting situation?
Revamp Your Sleep Routine
If pain from migraines frequently keeps you up at night, do everything you can to prevent headaches. Document and avoid your migraine triggers. And, if you’re on preventive migraine medication, take it as directed.
In addition, you want to do everything you can to get essential, restorative sleep every night, especially if a lack of shut-eye is one of your migraine triggers.
Here are six tips to try for a better night’s sleep:
Watch what you eat.A heavy meal right before bed can interfere with sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, especially if you’re eating greasy, fatty foods. The jury is still out on which foods are most likely to trigger migraines, Dr. Collins says, though skipping meals can also be a trigger. Keep a headache diary and track whether common foods or ingredients — such as red wine, processed meats, aspartame, and beans — increase your migraines and, if so, avoid them, the American Migraine Foundations suggests.
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule.A regular schedule keeps your brain’s biologic cycles in step so that you feel sleepy at bedtime and awake in the morning, Collins says. Try to get at least 7 (but ideally 8) hours of sleep each night, going to bed and getting up at the same times each day. Don’t skimp on sleep during the week and then try to catch up on the weekends. This can trigger a severe headache, Pettinato notes.
Create a relaxing bedtime ritual.“Many patients who can’t fall asleep tell me they can’t shut their mind off at bedtime, so using a method to relax before bedtime can be very helpful to promote sleep,” Pettinato says. “In my opinion, stress is the most potent headache trigger, and these techniques can also be used for stress management. ”Listening to soothing music, soaking in a warm bath, or practicing mindfulness or meditation can all help reduce migraine frequency and improve sleep, Collins adds.
Turn off electronics.“I believe our stressed-out society is that way because of over-connectivity and reliance on electronic gadgets,” Pettinato says. And using any type of screen just before bedtime can lead to insomnia because the bright light signals the brain to wake up, which makes it difficult to wind down for sleep.
Create the right sleep environment.This is essential for good sleep, which is essential for managing migraines. Use your bedroom for sleep and sex, nothing else — no screens and no work. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet (with a fan or another source of white noise to block distracting sounds), and make sure that your mattress and sheets are comfortable, the National Sleep Foundation suggests.
Be cautious about sleep aids.The right medications to prevent and treat your migraines can help you sleep better, but sleeping pills are probably not the answer. “We generally do not use sleep medications for treating headaches, but some of the medications used for headache prevention do improve sleep, as a side effect,” Collins explains. It’s better to avoid sleeping pills because long-term use can lead to rebound insomnia and dependence, Pettinato adds.
Above all, with whatever steps you take to improve sleep, stick with them and make them part of your routine. Experts say consistency in all lifestyle habits, especially sleep, is essential in managing migraines.
“I often tell patients migraines don’t like change because change in weather (barometric pressure), change in hormones, change in eating patterns, change in stress levels, and change in sleep patterns can all trigger headaches,” Pettinato.
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