Yesterday, I woke up with an absolutely terrible migraine. My head was splitting and even the slightest amount of light or noise made things exponentially worse.
Of course, when I looked back over the previous week, I couldn’t say that I was surprised that one hit.
With the break from school and the Christmas holiday, my children’s sleep schedule, and therefore my own, has been chaotic, with far more time awake during the night than usual, trouble falling and staying asleep, and extremely early mornings.
If you live with migraines, you may have noticed the same type of pattern between your own sleep issues and your likelihood of ending up miserable, closed in a dark room, and praying for relief. After all, sleep problems and migraines seem to go hand-in-hand.
In fact, nearly half of all patients who suffer migraines report sleep disturbance as a trigger for their headaches.
Yet, despite this clear connection, the relationship between sleep and migraine headaches hasn’t been well understood or even well-studied, leaving migraine sufferers with no information on exactly what type of sleep issues are more likely to cause problems – much less what they can do about it…
Now, thanks to research by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center the specific link between sleep and migraines has been found. And, you now have the information you need to stop the headaches before they start.
Lack of sleep, sleep quality, or interrupted sleep?
The research team conducted the largest study using clear, objective measures of sleep to date to evaluate the relationship between sleep and migraine headaches. They followed adults with episodic migraines and had them complete an electronic diary twice a day, recording details about their sleep, headaches and health habits for six weeks.
The participants also wore a wrist actigraph (a wristwatch that measured their movement) to bed to capture their sleep patterns. And, to ensure that absolutely everything was accounted for, the team adjusted their data for other migraine triggers, including daily caffeine or alcohol intake, exercise, stress levels and more.
And, the results of the study might surprise you…
The research found that there was no connection between getting too little sleep (less than 6.5 hours per night) or having poor sleep quality and the risk of suffering a migraine in the next few days.
However, dealing with what the researchers call “fragmented sleep” or poor sleep efficiency — which basically means that you have times during the night where you wake up, even if only a little, and have to fall back asleep — does lead to migraines.
They found that sleep fragmentation was clearly associated with a migraine, not the next morning, but a day later.
“Sleep is multi-dimensional, and when we look at certain aspects such as sleep, we found that low sleep efficiency, which is the amount of time you’re awake in bed when you’re trying to sleep, was associated with migraines not on the day immediately following, but on the day after that,” said Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH, a physician and clinical investigator in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at the Brigham.
Lowering your risk of fragmented sleep
So, if fragmented sleep leads to migraines, what can you do to rest well and keep those headaches away?
Well, first it’s important to have any underlying conditions, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, taken care of, since these can cause poor sleep efficiency in the first place.
Next, you need to boost your sleep hygiene. You can do this by:
- Setting a sleep schedule and going to sleep and waking at the same time every day
- Sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room
- For one hour before bed, avoid using electronics or drinking alcohol
- Skip the caffeine for eight hours prior to bedtime
Additionally, you need to allow yourself to become sleepy, since people who are tired at bedtime are less likely to suffer from fragmented sleep. This means avoiding napping during the day and working out at least four hours before bed.
Related: 6 alternative sleep therapies
And finally, consider using a natural supplement such as valerian or melatonin that can help you not just fall asleep but stay asleep.
Migraines can steal large chunks of your life so anything you can do to eliminate as many as possible can bring big benefits. With this new study, it’s clear that sleep fragmentation plays a significant role in migraine development, giving everyone with migraines a path to reducing headache frequency.
- Nightly sleep disturbance linked to daily risk of migraines — EurekAlert!
- Fragmented Sleep — Tuck Sleep
- What Causes Fragmented Sleep? — The Sleep Sherpa
- The effects of melatonin on sleep-wake rhythm of daytime haemodialysis patients: a randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over study (EMSCAP study) — British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
- Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for Sleep Disturbances in Older Adults — Clinics in Geriatric Medicine