How Better Sleep Can Improve Migraine

We all know how frustrating migraine attacks can be. The throbbing pain, the sensitivity to light and sound, nausea – it’s enough to make anyone want to curl up in a dark room and just wait for it to pass. But what if there was something you could do to help ease your migraine symptoms? It turns out that getting better sleep may be the answer.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to migraines, research has shown that lack of sleep or poor “quality of sleep” can trigger migraines or make them worse. Also, many people with migraines find that their symptoms worsen when they don’t get enough sleep. Conversely, getting better sleep can often help to relieve migraine symptoms.

What is Migraine?

Migraine is a common neurological disorder that can cause severe headaches and other symptoms, including nausea, light sensitivity, brain fog, visual disturbances and more. While the exact causes of migraine are still not fully understood, it is thought to be rooted in cortical spreading depression, which can cause chronic inflammation and activation of pain receptors in the brain.

Stages of Migraine

There are four distinct stages to a migraine attack. These stages can vary in intensity and length depending on the individual, but they typically include aura, prodrome, headache, and post-drome.

  • Aura Stage: This is when some people with migraine may experience visual disturbances, including flashing lights or zigzag patterns.
  • Prodrome Stage: Patients experience physical and emotional symptoms such as nausea and irritability before the onset of pain.
  • Headache: This stage can last for several hours to several days and tends to be accompanied by sensitivity to light, noise, or odors.
  • Post-Drome Phase: This is where many migraineurs report feeling drained or depressed after an attack has passed. Although each person’s experience may differ somewhat, these four stages remain consistent for all those who suffer from migraines.

Relationship Between Sleep and Migraine 

It is a known fact that sleep and migraine are closely related. According to research, people who suffer from migraines are more likely to have sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. Sleep disorder is prevalent as one-third of adults are affected by poor sleep.

Sleep deprivation and hypersomnia are common triggers for migraine attacks. Here are the main ways that sleep deprivation can trigger migraines: 

  • Low level of serotonin: When you are sleep-deprived, your body cannot produce sufficient amounts of the hormone serotonin. Serotonin is known to help regulate mood and pain perception. Therefore, when serotonin levels are low, you are more likely to experience a migraine attack. 
  • Production of cortisol: Sleep is also essential for maintaining a healthy balance of hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can trigger migraines by causing inflammation in the brain. 
  • Weakened immune system: Sleep deprivation can also weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses, triggering migraines.

Tips for Getting Better Sleep

Adults require 7-8 hours of sleep, and here are some tips to help you practice good sleep hygiene:

  • Have a sleep schedule: Fix a time to go to bed and wake up daily. Keeping to a schedule prevents you from sleeping excessively or getting insufficient sleep. One of my favorite pieces of advice from Ariana Huffington’s book “Thrive” is to set an alarm to go to bed, rather than an alarm to wake up.
  • Don’t drink before bed: Avoid alcohol or caffeine before bed. These substances can affect your sleep quality. 
  • Engage in relaxing activities: listening to music or meditating can help calm your nerves and help you sleep.  

In Summary

Getting adequate sleep is one of the best ways to combat migraine symptoms. A good night’s rest allows your body to recharge and restore critical functions, and it also helps ease stress and worry.

Additionally, studies have shown that insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns are associated with an increased risk of migraine attacks. By creating a more regular sleep schedule and prioritizing good quality sleep, you can help to reduce the painful and debilitating effects of these attacks.

If you’re interested in learning how to better manage your migraines, you can speak with a headache specialist via my company, Neura Health.  In addition to video visits with a neurologist, we pair you with a dedicated care coach, who can be a key partner in helping you achieve your sleep goals. 


  • Elizabeth Burstein

    CEO and Co-Founder of Neura Health

    Liz Burstein is CEO and Co-Founder of Neura Health. She founded Neura Health based on her personal journey with chronic pain, which exposed her to the key challenges of specialist access and care quality that patients face when navigating chronic neurological conditions. Previously Liz led product development teams at digital health companies Maven Clinic and Zocdoc. She started her career in product management at LinkedIn, where she shipped many core products across both the consumer and enterprise side of the business. Liz also spent time as a venture capital investor focused on enterprise AI, healthcare, and consumer technology. She holds dual degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy from Stanford University.