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Strategies for Better Sleep With Migraine

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Migraine attacks can significantly disrupt your ability to achieve restful sleep, which in turn can impact the frequency and intensity of attacks, along with other symptoms like brain fog. This vicious cycle may seem impossible to break out of, especially if you live with chronic migraine, but it is possible.

Understanding Migraine and Its Impact on Sleep

Sleep disorders and migraine often have a bidirectional relationship, where one can exacerbate the other. Poor sleep quality or specific sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea can trigger migraine episodes or increase their severity. On the other hand, frequent migraine can disrupt typical sleep patterns, leading to sleep disturbances. This interconnection suggests that managing sleep issues can be crucial to managing migraine.

  • Disrupted sleep patterns: Migraine pain often makes falling or staying asleep difficult. The intense throbbing or pulsing sensation in the head, typical of a migraine attack, can be exacerbated when lying down, leading to restless nights and interrupted sleep.
  • Sleep disturbances: Many people with migraine report frequent awakenings during the night. This disrupted sleep pattern not only affects sleep quality but can also exacerbate migraine symptoms the following day, creating a vicious cycle of pain and sleeplessness.
  • REM sleep and migraine: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a crucial phase of the sleep cycle, can be affected by migraine. Disruptions in REM sleep are associated with more frequent and intense migraine episodes.
  • Insomnia and migraine: Difficulty in falling or staying asleep is a common complaint among those living with migraine, and this lack of restorative sleep can trigger more frequent or severe migraine episodes.
  • Physiological impact: The pain and discomfort of a migraine attack can lead to increased stress and anxiety, particularly related to sleep. This heightened alertness can further impede your ability to relax and fall asleep.

Ensuring adequate and quality sleep, addressing sleep disorders through medical intervention, and establishing a consistent sleep routine can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine. Consult with a health care provider if you suspect a sleep disorder is contributing to your migraine episodes.

Preparing Your Sleep Environment

A migraine-friendly sleep environment can minimize the likelihood of a migraine attack at night and ensure restful sleep. Here are some key aspects to consider for your bedroom setup:

Optimal Room Conditions for People with Migraine

To enhance sleep quality and provide migraine relief, optimal room conditions are crucial:

  • Controlled lighting: Soft, dimmable lighting is ideal. Avoid harsh, bright lights as they can trigger migraine. Use warm-toned bulbs for a soothing effect.
  • Darkroom: Blackout curtains or shades can effectively block out street lights and early morning sunlight, creating a dark, soothing environment conducive to sleep.
  • Temperature regulation: Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. Typically, 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6-19.4 degrees Celsius) is recommended. A slight chill in the air can help alleviate migraine symptoms and promote better sleep.
  • Noise reduction: A quiet environment is essential. Consider soundproofing or using a white noise machine to block out disruptive noises.
  • Comfortable bedding: Some people with migraine find that certain fabrics can trigger skin irritation and discomfort, disrupting sleep. Opt for hypoallergenic and breathable materials. Invest in comfortable linens, mattresses, and pillows that properly support your neck and back to reduce physical strain that could exacerbate migraine.
  • Clean and fresh air: An air purifier can help remove allergens and other irritants that might trigger migraine.

Relaxation Techniques Before Bed

Incorporating relaxation techniques before bed can help in alleviating migraine pain and preparing your body for sleep:

  • Deep breathing: This helps calm your mind and ease tension in the body.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Gently tense and relax your muscles, starting from your toes and moving upwards. This technique can be particularly effective in releasing physical stress that might contribute to migraine.
  • Mindfulness meditation: Engage in mindfulness meditation to focus your thoughts and alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies migraine pain. This practice can help in achieving a state of relaxation conducive to sleep.
  • Guided imagery: Listen to guided imagery or relaxation audio tracks. These can redirect your focus from pain to more calming thoughts, aiding in relaxation before sleep.

These relaxation techniques can be a valuable part of your pre-bed routine, helping to lessen migraine pain and promote a more restful sleep.

Gentle Yoga Poses for Better Sleep With Migraine

Incorporating these gentle yoga poses into your evening routine can aid in relaxation and potentially reduce the severity of migraine-related discomfort.

  • Child’s pose (Balasana): This pose helps to relax the nervous system and can alleviate tension in the back, shoulders, and neck, areas often affected during a migraine attack.
  • Legs-up-the-wall pose (Viparita Karani): Elevating your legs can promote relaxation and reduce stress.
  • Cat-cow stretch (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana): These gentle movements can help relieve tension in the spine and neck, which are commonly tense during a migraine episode.
  • Forward bend (Uttanasana): This pose aids in calming the brain and relieving stress, which can help manage migraine symptoms.
  • Corpse pose (Savasana): Ending your yoga session with Savasana can deeply relax the body and mind, setting the stage for a restful sleep.

Remember to practice these poses gently and listen to your body. If any posture exacerbates your migraine pain, stop and rest.

Dietary Considerations and Timing

Diet plays a significant role in managing migraine, especially concerning sleep quality. The type of food you consume and the timing of your meals can influence migraine intensity and sleep patterns.

Foods to Avoid Before Bed

Certain foods and substances are known to trigger migraine and should be avoided, especially before bedtime:

  • Caffeine: It can disrupt sleep patterns and may trigger migraine. It is in chocolate, coffee, tea, and dark-colored soft drinks.
  • Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine, can induce migraine and impair sleep quality.
  • Aged cheeses and processed meats: These contain tyramine, which can trigger migraine.
  • Sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates: These can cause blood sugar fluctuations, potentially leading to headaches and disrupting sleep.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Common in processed foods and certain seasonings, MSG can trigger migraine in sensitive individuals.

Avoid these foods in the evening to minimize the risk of a night-time migraine attack and promote better sleep quality.

Hydration and Migraine Prevention

Proper hydration can be a simple yet effective tool in preventing migraine and ensuring a restful night’s sleep.

Ensure adequate water intake throughout the day. Avoid excessive water intake right before bedtime to prevent sleep disturbances due to frequent bathroom trips.

Consider non-caffeinated herbal teas like chamomile or peppermint in the evening. These can aid in relaxation and hydration without the risk of triggering migraine.

Medication and Natural Remedies

Several medication options are available to help manage migraine during the night:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can provide relief from migraine pain. Use them cautiously to avoid overuse headaches.
  • Prescription migraine medications: These include triptans or gepants designed to treat migraine attacks.
  • Preventive medications: For chronic migraine, doctors may prescribe preventive medications you take daily to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.
  • Medications for sleep: Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe medicines like melatonin to aid sleep if insomnia is a significant issue.
  • Natural remedies: Magnesium supplements, riboflavin (vitamin B2), essential oils, and herbal tea (chamomile, lavender, peppermint, valerian root) can help soothe your mind and get better sleep.

Lifestyle Adjustments for Long-Term Relief

Adjustments in daily routines, stress levels, and physical activity can significantly impact the frequency and severity of migraine episodes.

Chronic stress is a well-known trigger for migraine. Breathwork, mindfulness, meditation, and even therapy can reduce stress. Finding activities that relax you, like reading, gardening, or listening to music, can also help manage stress.

Physical activity is beneficial in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine. Walking, cycling, swimming, or yoga can be helpful. Exercise helps reduce stress and improves overall health, which can lead to fewer migraine episodes. Choose activities that you enjoy and do not exacerbate your migraine symptoms.

Consistent Sleep Schedules

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is crucial for managing migraine:

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This regularity helps regulate your body’s internal clock and can improve your sleep quality, reducing the likelihood of migraine.

Develop a calming pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it’s time to wind down. This might include reading, light stretching, or a warm bath.

Try to avoid caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals close to bedtime, as these can disrupt your sleep and potentially trigger migraine.

Ask for a sleep study if you suspect that lack of sleep impacts your quality of life. Consult with your health care provider before starting any new medication or supplement for migraine, particularly to avoid interactions with other drugs and to tailor treatment to your specific needs.

Getty image by Adene Sanchez

Originally published: November 14, 2023
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