Long-time migraine sufferers know that there is a close link between migraines and sleep, and this understanding is actually backed up by science. Migraine Pal cited a study involving migraine patients which revealed that over half struggled with getting to and maintaining sleep. The same research showed that sleep disturbances triggered migraine attacks for half of the respondents.
But what, exactly, is the connection between the two?
There are different theories that attempt to explain how sleep affects migraines. One is that lack of sleep can trigger the pain. A study by Missouri State University’s Center for Biomedical & Life Sciences revealed that REM sleep deprivation can increase the levels of proteins P38, PKA, and P2X3, all of which are related to initiating and sustaining pain. This explains why lack of sleep can result in headaches, or worse, migraines. Attacks are more likely to become more severe if people fail to sleep regularly over a prolonged period of time.
The link appears to go both ways. People who complain about frequent migraines are also likely to suffer from difficulty in falling and staying asleep. Neurologist Dawn Marcus states that roughly one in three migraine sufferers also have sleep problems. However, there are no definitive studies that indicate why this is the case.
Surprisingly, migraine attacks are not just triggered by lack of sleep, but also when there’s an excess of it. Migraine Trust explains that the condition is one of the regulatory mechanisms of the body to address the imbalance between sleep and wakefulness. Attacks are more likely if people have an inconsistent schedule, such as sleeping for 12 hours on certain nights or days but getting only 3 or 4 hours of sleep on others. These fluctuations can throw the body’s hormones off-balance, thereby causing a migraine.
As for other notorious triggers, teeth grinding has been identified as well. A previous Migraine Savvy article talked about powerful muscle contractions while asleep, which happen around the jaw for an hour or so. The amount of pressure exerted by clenching the teeth may be strong enough to produce migraines.
While there may be different theories on the connection between migraines and sleep, specialists are united in their belief that maintaining good sleeping habits is the most effective remedy. This tip was also echoed in 'Easy Migraine Home Remedy Alternatives', which indicated that the key to avoid or minimize migraine attacks is consistent quality sleep.
If you find yourself getting a migraine attack, try to seclude yourself in a dark, quiet room to rest. As for the pain, over-the-counter medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help.
Migraine Relief Through Quality Sleep Resources:
1. MigrainePal Blog (2016) "15 Reasons Why You Wake Up With A Migraine" http://www.blog.migrainepal.com/blog/why-do-i-wake-up-with-a-migraine. Accessed 04/01/2018
2. American Headache Society. (2010, June 23). REM sleep deprivation plays a role in chronic migraine. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 3, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100623085528.htm
3. Marcus, Dawn MD "What is the link between lack of sleep and migraines?" https://www.sharecare.com/health/migraine-headache-causes/link-between-lack-sleep-migraines Accessed 04/01/2018
4. The Migraine Trust "Sleep and Migraine" https://www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/coping-managing/sleep/ Accessed 04/01/2018
5. Leesa Blog (2017) "How to Fall Asleep Fast: Our 25 Best Tips" http://blog.leesa.com/how-to-fall-asleep-fast-our-25-best-tips/ Accessed 04/01/2018