The relationship between sleep and migraine is a complicated one. Too little sleep and also too much sleep can provoke symptoms. There are times when a migraine attack can happen while we’re sleeping causing us to wake up symptomatic. Yet other times, sleep can help us kick out an attack. This means sleep can be both a trigger AND a treatment. According to The American Migraine Foundation people living with migraine are up to eight times more likely to have sleep problems than the general population making poor sleep a real risk factor.
If we want to feel good and stay free of painful attacks, restful sleep is critically important. Getting good, quality sleep might just be the best and most overlooked natural treatment for migraine. Studies show the better you sleep the more your migraine will improve. Quality sleep = fewer attacks. Adversely when you don’t sleep well, you are more vulnerable to attacks. Poor sleep = more attacks. Lack of restful sleep also makes it harder for your treatments to be effective in improving your migraine so you’ll have trouble controlling your pain and turning off your attack too. So let’s talk about how can we get better sleep.
While Migraine Strong writes about the latest in migraine treatments, this is not medical advice. We are patient educators and all information you read should be discussed with your doctor.
Promote Healthy Sleeping Habits During The Day
Here are a few tricks you can try during waking hours to help you stop resisting and get the sleep of your dreams… wink wink.
- Avoid napping. Many people with migraine frequently feel exhausted and will want a nap but, don’t do it. Napping disrupts your sleep pattern which leads to negative consequences down the road. Try setting your bedtime a bit earlier instead of daytime napping.
- Avoid caffeine & alcohol. Alcohol will keep your brain from entering a deep, quality, restorative stage of sleep. The same goes for caffeine. If you drink caffeine, stick to morning hours & avoid drinking it after one o’clock in the afternoon.
- Get exercise. Exercise is beneficial for a good night’s sleep, for overall health and for migraine treatment. For your best quality sleep, morning or early afternoon exercise is best so plan to complete your exercise routine at least 6 hours before your bedtime.
- Spend time outside in the natural light. There is new research coming forward about the benefits of nature bathing. Spending time outdoors feeling the wind in your hair, hearing the birds sing and feeling the sun on your face is good for your overall health. It also helps your brain realize it’s daytime and that it’s time for sleep once it’s dark.
- Use your bed for only sleep and sex and go to bed only after you begin feeling sleepy. This will help your brain connect your bed as only a place for rest and intimacy.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Try to consistently allow for at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Sleeping fewer hours during the work week and trying to catch up on sleep over the weekend doesn’t work when you have migraine. Migraine brains love routine and will reward your consistency with fewer migraine attacks.
Create Evening Calmness
Create a nighttime routine that helps you wind down. I often describe migraine as an inappropriate brain response to stimulus. Migraine brains are hyper-responsive to light, sound, scents, chemicals, movement etc. Your goal in life is to master calmness and help your hyper responsive brain calm down. Your evening routine is a perfect time to do that. To help promote calmness you can…
- Try magnesium foot soaks. I love these magnesium chloride flakes which studies show absorb just a bit better than Epsom salts. I throw a handful into a warm and bubbly foot spa and soak my feet for about an hour before bed in the evening. When I was still dizzy, these foot soaks helped me kick out dizziness that would creep in as the day progressed.
- Dim the lights in the evening hours before bed. Use table side lamps rather than harsh overhead lighting. I really enjoy the soft pink hue of salt lamps like this one.
- Try taking a warm shower to relax and unwind.
- Try essential oils. If they are not a trigger for you, using an essential oil diffuser with calming scents like lavender and vanilla can help ease anxiety and stress reducing tossing and turning during the night. This one is my favorite because it’s so easy to clean and use.
- Turn off your screens at least an hour before bed. If you have to use a device try adding a blue light screen protector or blue light blocking glasses.
- Do anything that personally helps you begin to relax before bed. The key is to lower your blood pressure and quiet your nervous system.
Create A Bedroom Environment That Promotes Relaxation
We sleep our best when our rooms are dark, cool and quiet. As you lay down to sleep pay attention to your senses. What do you smell, hear and see? How’s the temperature? Creating the optimal sleep environment will help you relax and reduce the feeling of restlessness. Here are a few things you can try to ensure your space is ready for sleep.
- Lower the room temperature. My doctor recommends 68 degrees as the optimal sleep temperature to get good quality sleep.
- Change your sheets. Studies show we sleep better in clean linens.
- Get rid of room clutter and remove the visual distractions such as draping clothing, papers, excess furniture, exercise gear and electronic devices.
- Add natural materials and soft colors to make your room an inviting space for sleep.
- Consider a cold pillow. They’re pricey but, they maintain their cool temperature instead of warming up as you lay on them.
Bedroom Accessories That Can Help Improve Sleep
In an ideal world we’d lay our heads on our pillows and immediately drift off to sleep right? Unfortunately for most of us that just doesn’t happen. Instead we toss and turn and go over tomorrows to do lists in our heads. Here are a few products and accessories that can help you get your best rest.
- Block out noise or mask it with earplugs made for sleeping. These are my favorites.
- Try a sound machine. Do you have Alexa? She’ll turn into a sound machine for free. Just say “Alexa, open sleep sounds” and she’ll give you a list of relaxing sounds to choose from. Want to forget tomorrows to do list? Say “Alexa, make a list” and tell her so you can forget about it. I use this one.
- Download the Calm App. If you’re looking for natural ways to improve your quality of sleep, meditation is an important strategy to consider. You can access free meditations that help bring you into a calmer state making you better prepared for sleep. A subscription to calm includes delightful sleep stories and I mean delightful. Seriously, Mathew McConahey will read you a bedtime story. Count me in. Even if you’re not his number one fan, it’s better than counting sheep right?
- Weighted blankets are designed to apply gentle pressure to help you feel soothed and secure, kind of like receiving a gentle hug. They help lessen anxiety and improve feelings of safety. I also really love the new super soft faux fur blankets that have been popping up in stores for the same reasons.
- Block out outside lights with blackout Curtains. Darkness results in more REM time and elevated melatonin levels. They’ll also help keep the temperature of your room cool.
- A clean room includes ensuring clean air. Try an air purifier to rid your room of pollen and dust that may lead to nighttime congestion and sneezing.
- Light blocking sleep mask will give you the same dark benefits of blackout curtains without the higher price tag.
- Wake up gently with this gradual rising light alarm clock that simulates a sunrise. It doesn’t feel quite right calling it an alarm clock…because it’s not alarming, it’s amazing!
How About Pharmaceuticals?
- Melatonin. Many people with migraine have a delayed onset of when melatonin kicks in to help us sleep. That’s an important thing to consider if you’re not sleeping well. Melatonin can be very effective for improving sleep. You can try to encourage natural melatonin by eating or drinking foods high in melatonin like tart cherry juice. Taking a melatonin supplement is also an option and has some research backing it as an effective migraine preventative. According to the Migraine World Summit avoid sublingual, or melt-in your-mouth, melatonin because they usually have additives or an artificial sweetener in them which can trigger a migraine attack. Be aware some experts say it’s helpful to take a break from melatonin supplements every couple of weeks to avoid disrupting your natural melatonin production process.
- Magnesium. Oh how I love magnesium. If you’re taking it and not noticing any difference in your symptoms, please consider changing to a different magnesium form or brand. After researching & trying MANY, I finally found and love, love, triple love Pure Encapsulations magnesium glycinate because it’s naturally calming and it has a calming effect on the brain. Remember, your goal in life is to calm down your hyper-responsive migraine brain. Magnesium helps that to happen. Seriously the first time I tried it I felt like I got a big hug and I found myself doing heavy relaxing sighs shortly after. Their products are clean and free of potential migraine triggers like gelatin and are easy on the tummy. I also love their CogniMag but, that one is best taken in the morning because it’s energizing. Magnesium is one of the top supplements backed by research for migraine prevention because it blocks the glutamate that drives the pain system and calms down the excited pain pathway. If you are interested in learning more about magnesium and its benefits for migraine prevention check out this informative blog.
- Sleeping Aids. Be cautious about sleep aids. It’s best to avoid them because long-term use can lead to rebound insomnia and dependence. Studies show that people who take those medications have no benefit of improving migraine. In fact, many of those medications have been linked to worsening migraine. That said, there are some medications used for migraine prevention do help to improve sleep because they have sleepiness as a common side effect. As a result, they help some people sleep through the night (like amitriptyline and nortriptyline). If you’re having difficulty sleeping consider talking with your doctor about adding one of these preventative medications rather than a sleep aid, to your migraine treatment plan.
Keep your eye out for part two of my sleep series next month where I’ll talk about the challenges of getting restful sleep with vestibular migraine.