Even though the health benefits of sleep are well documented, the CDC reports that 1 in 3 adults still don’t get the recommended minimum of 7 hours per night. Inadequate sleep can exacerbate any number of chronic medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. An additional, more marginalized group that can suffer due to poor sleep habits are the 40 million Americans, 28 million of whom are women, who suffer from migraine attacks. While poor sleep is one of the most common triggers of migraine headaches, research has shown that establishing and sticking to a regular sleep routine can dramatically reduce the risk of disabling migraine attacks and result in fewer “migraine days” suffered each month, especially for migraineurs who often wake up with a headache first thing in the morning.
There is no doubt that certain foods, changes in weather, menstruation, and stress are some of the many factors that can cause a migraine attack. However, data from migraine tracking app Migraine Buddy shows that the vast majority of migraines – nearly 38 percent – occur in the morning between 6am and noon, indicating that insomnia and poor sleep habits are one of the biggest triggers of headaches and reveal why so many individuals wake up to a migraine in the morning.
That being said, simply “getting a good nights’ sleep” is too broad a goal for migraine sufferers. While research has shown that getting 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep can reduce migraine frequency significantly, not only can lack of sleep (less than 6 hours) cause more frequent and painful migraines, but for many patients, oversleeping can actually be a trigger as well. For instance, I’ve spoken to some patients who have discovered that their migraines are actually worse on the weekends when they sleep in longer than usual and deviate from their normal workweek sleep schedule.
There is no one-size-fits all sleep recommendation for migraineurs, and it is critical that individuals track their sleep to keep a record of both their personal sleep habits and migraine frequency. The more detail you are able to capture in your personal migraine diary – including when you went to sleep, when you woke up, how long you slept for, when your migraines occurred, and what time they started – the more you will start to see recognizable patterns emerge. While this information can certainly be recorded via a written diary, utilizing an app that can track much of this data in the background is ideal, as it will provide a more detailed, accurate picture with far less effort.
After tracking your detailed sleep habits and migraine attacks for a month, patterns will start to emerge. Patients can compare their sleep habits on migraine days, or mornings they woke up with a migraine, to their sleep pattern on non-migraine days. Typically, patients will discover that certain sleep habits, such as going to bed too late, sleeping in too long, or simply not getting the right amount of sleep, will result in a morning headache more frequently. On the flip side, users will be able to identify their optimal bedtime, sleep duration, and best time to wake up in the morning. Migraine Buddy users have overwhelmingly found that identifying – and sticking to – their ideal sleep routine can drastically reduce the frequency and severity of their attacks and result in fewer migraine days overall.
Once you determine your optimal sleep schedule, there are several habits you can develop to help you establish a migraine mitigating sleep routine that you can stick to:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
- Exercise in the morning or afternoon, not before bed
- Eliminate caffeine from your diet, especially in the afternoon and evening
- Eat dinner at least three hours before your bedtime
- Limit or avoid your use of electronic devices before bed
Adopting healthy sleep habits are good for everyone, but migraine sufferers in particular can see tremendous benefits from utilizing technology to track both their sleep and headache frequency and adhering to a data-driven, personalized sleep routine that could be the most successful way to mitigate migraine attacks.