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What is the relationship between sleep and migraines?

What is the relationship between sleep and migraines?

Any person who suffers from migraines can testify that they also have sleep problems. Migraines have a way of disrupting your sleep and making it hard to stay in bed the entire night.  Sleep problems and migraines are closely related, and it may be hard to tell which comes before the other.

The US alone has over 30 million people who suffer from migraines. Such numbers are a clear indication that it is a problem that we need to address. Though doctors do not have an exact treatment for migraines, you can find ways of coping with it and improve the quality of your sleep. Today, we will explore the complex connection between sleep problems and migraines to help you find solutions to these two problems. Read on!

What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

Some people confuse between these two terms, but migraines are more severe and persistent than headaches. Migraines are not easy to treat since they do not calm down even after taking simple painkillers. They mostly occur on one side of the head and may cause blurred vision in patients.

While a headache does not come with other symptoms other than a slight pain in the head, a migraine can cause symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, vertigo, fatigue as well as the lack of appetite. Migraines also last longer than headaches persisting for days. It can interfere with your work during the day and sleep at night.

Most people who suffer from migraines end up self-medicating on pharmaceutical pills as they try to relieve them. It is a primary headache disorder which can be caused by some environmental factors such as the lack of sleep, changes in the altitude or genetics.

Sleep problems and migraines

The sleep disorders that are connected to migraines include sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep bruxism, daytime sleepiness, and restless leg syndrome. Each of these conditions occurs differently and may make the symptoms of migraines severe.

When you are unable to sleep for hours, you have insomnia. It involves sleeping for less than 6 hours a night. Insomnia causes sleep deprivation which in turn leads to anxiety and irritability. Such conditions make your daily life stressful, and depression and stress can trigger a migraine. Sleeping for fewer hours than recommended can make you experience frequent migraines. It also leads to fatigue in the morning.

 sleep and migraines

Obstructive sleep apnea causes noisy breathing in your sleep. It may block or narrow your airways making it hard for you to breathe properly. This condition causes loud snoring and breathing hard which can, in turn, make you sleep deprived, thus triggering migraines.

More than 70% of people who suffer from migraines experience awakening headaches which are also an indication of a sleep disorder. Some old adults above 50 years get a hypnic headache which is a disorder that can keep you awake for almost three hours in the night. Hypnic headaches are consistently occurring between a certain period every night during the rapid eye movement phase of sleep.

What is the science behind migraines and sleep?

Pain and sleep get controlled by the same parts of the brain. The two conditions are therefore interconnected. This means that getting enough sleep can help you reduce pain caused by migraines. Minimal sleep hours, on the other hand, can translate to intense migraines.

Migraines come as a result of not going through the REM phase of sleep completely. Usually, you should transition between light to deep sleep well and go through several sleep cycles in one night. The first stage is the non-REM which lasts for a few hours before paving the way for the REM phase.

When you don’t have enough sleep, it means that you are not spending enough time in the REM phase. If you sleep for 6 hours at night, it means that you spend more time on the non-REM period and less on the REM stage. A problem such as sleep apnea interrupts your sleep cycle and allows your mind to return to light sleep before completing deep sleep.

It is during REM that your body releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which are responsible for pain management. If you don’t spend adequate time in REM, it means you will not receive these chemicals; therefore your migraines may get severe especially in the morning.

How can you boost sleep and reduce migraines?

Now that we know the connection the two, it is safe to conclude that better sleep leads to fewer migraines. You can also reduce the intensity of severe headaches through some behavioral adjustments.

Observe healthy sleep hygiene

Start by understanding your sleep needs. Do not wake up before you feel like you’ve had enough rest. This can prevent you from experiencing migraines in the morning.

If you have the habit of sleeping for less than 6 hours, try to extend and make your sleep environment comfortable through different things. For instance, you can block any light or noise at night to prevent them from interrupting your sleep. Purchase a new mattress from Puffy mattress and get soft bedding to help you relax and remain in bed for the recommended hours.

Enjoy the sun

During the day, you need to spend some quality time outdoors to receive enough natural light from the sun. It helps your brain to tune according to the internal biological clock so that you can maintain healthy sleep patterns. The sun is also a good source of vitamin which can prevent you from some illnesses.

 sleep and migraines

Maintain a headache and sleep diary

Migraines are not limited to less sleep since sleeping more than you should, can also trigger them. You, therefore, need to keep a headache and sleep diary so that you can monitor the number of hours you sleep and how they affect your progress.

Take note of any awakenings you get during the night as well as all your migraine symptoms. You can share this information with a sleep specialist and receive help through treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy.


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