How Sleep And Migraines Are Linked
Posted on May 14, 2022

How Sleep And Migraines Are Linked

A link between sleep and migraines has been observed. The full relationship is not fully understood at this time; however, an unbalanced circadian rhythm seems to be the likely culprit. Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle of sleep and wake that controls when your body releases melatonin, the sleepy hormone, and cortisol, the wake-up hormone. Proper circadian rhythm is mandatory for optimal health and optimal wellness.

Circadian Rhythm And Migraines

Circadian rhythm and migraines are believed to be closely intertwined with one another. Migraines are more likely to occur between 4:00 am and 9:00 am when the body starts reducing melatonin levels in the brain. A well-known trigger of migraines is a lack of sleep. Many find that going to sleep or lying still in a dark room will help the migraine stop.

There is one hypothesis that believed migraines to be an extreme reaction by the body to rebalance the circadian rhythm. This is compelling because it is thought that the migraine will force someone to lie still in a dark room as a replacement for sleep. Subsequently, a migraine may also keep someone awake after too much sleep. It is thought that these circumstances may be the body’s effort to put the body’s circadian rhythm back into balance.

There is one familial sleep disorder that is genetic and it is a circadian rhythm disorder. In this condition, sleep onset and waking are shifted to earlier hours. This particular condition is rare but is migraine-associated.  

Migraines are sometimes due to complex changes in neural activity of the brainstem and vestibular systems; this is particularly true for the type associated with vertigo and dizziness. Other mechanisms for migraine include hypothalamic activation, alterations in the thalamo-cortical circuits, altered neural networks, and the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP).

Good Sleep Hygiene To Reduce Migraines

A 2019 meta analysis has concluded that melatonin is a promising alternative for migraine prophylaxis.

Melatonin is a powerful hormone and also an antioxidant. Its use should not be taken lightly and one should always discuss a supplement plan with a physician knowledgeable in such products.

A different 2020 meta analysis also concluded that sleep disorders and circadian regulation are connected to primary headache disorders. Melatonin was found to be better than placebo to treat migraines in adults. It was not found to be any different than some common pharmaceuticals with significant side-effect profiles such as amitriptyline, sodium valproate, and propranolol.  

There is clearly a close link between sleep and migraines; however, this link is not fully understood yet. More research and studies are required. Due to the clear link between the two, good sleep hygiene is an important step in reducing migraines from occurring.

Adequate sleep along with consistent caffeine intake, consistent diet and regular exercise is a good basic approach to prevention. Of note, there is no evidence to date that fully supports any sort of elimination diet to prevent these headaches.

The most important step to good sleep hygiene is maintaining a strict sleep schedule to keep the circadian rhythm in balance. Melatonin is intimately involved in the human body and brain’s biological timekeeping effort. If you find sleep discipline hard, set a bedtime alarm to remind yourself when to go to sleep as well as a morning alarm to wake up to. Try not to stray far from the schedule. Most adults need about 6-8 hours of sleep at night. Avoid even dim lights once ready to sleep. Even low lux levels of light will stop melatonin.

During the day, try to spend some time outdoors in natural daylight to help your body properly regulate melatonin. Make your sleeping environment dark and quiet with comfortable bedding. Avoid your bed when not sleeping. Try not to watch TV, read, or do anything else besides sleeping while in bed. This will help your body fall asleep faster.

Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine especially late at night as your bedtime approaches because these can cause huge negative effects on your quality of sleep.