Migraines & Sleep – What you can do!

We are approaching that time of year when many of us feel increased stress – to grab those Black Friday Bargains, to order the turkey on time, to get everything ready by 24th December etc. This can often lead to stress, loss of sleep and even migraines. So what are migraines and can sleep help reduce them?

A migraine tends to be a very bad headache with a throbbing pain on 1 side of the head.

And who better than The Migraine Trust to help us understand what’s going on when we get one “Scientists and doctors think migraine is the result of abnormal brain activity affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. We don’t know what causes this brain activity, although for many people there is a link to their genes. If you are sensitive to migraine there are certain triggers which can have an impact. These include stress, skipping meals and low blood sugar, alcohol, hormonal changes (such as periods or menopause), lack of sleep and the environment you are in (lighting, temperature).” Sometimes you will get other symptoms just before a migraine, such as feeling very tired, yawning, craving certain foods, feeling thirsty, mood swings and even a greater need to pee! In addition, you can also suffer from ‘aura’ – early warning signals of a migraine – sight issues, numbness/pins and needles, dizziness or impaired speech.

Depending on the migraine, they typically last from two hours to three days, and seem to get less frequent with age, unlike most ailments! However, treatment of migraines is a real challenge, especially as many ‘over-the-counter’ painkillers contain caffeine, which can adversely affect our need for sleep. And whilst you should consult your GP if any of these symptoms persist, one question to explore is whether sleep can help migraines or not.

Frustratingly, the answer seems to be mixed. For example, if you go to sleep at night with an untreated migraine and find you can sleep you can actually wake up with an even worse one. ‘Migraineurs’ who are sleep deprived can expect more migraines, yet oversleeping does not help either! Like much of sleep-related science, we’ve been studying such things for less than a century and this seems to remain a paradox for now.
What is clear is that good routines appear to reduce migraines, and also aid quality sleep. So regular sleep schedules and meal times should help, and seeking expert treatment as soon as possible.

My personal experience is that if I have a headache, a full 90-minute sleep cycle nap may well cure it. However, if I wake up and the headache is still there – mercifully rare these days – then I probably have a migraine, and it can easily last two days whatever I do to relieve it. So I hydrate regularly and postpone some activities if I can until the migraine passes, which it always does eventually.

In summary, it appears that migraine attacks may be both caused and relieved by sleep, as well as being a cause of too much and too little sleep! So you are probably best to seek medical advice, as well as prioritising the usual pillars of wellness – good diet, regular exercise, activities that seem to help your mental health and – of course - quality sleep!