One of the questions I am asked most as a naturopath, who also lives with migraine, is what I do personally to keep my own migraine attacks at bay.
I’ve lived with migraine for 30 years now, and I’m grateful to have been able to manage them to the point where they rarely affect my day-to-day life – something which feels like a miracle as I approach the “danger time” for migraine - approaching menopause.
So here are the things I do personally to prevent migraine attacks. I don’t get it right every day as sometimes my life can be a bit of a hot mess (which happens when you work full time, run a business and have a small child!).
But honestly, these little adjustments I make to my routine mean that I can spend more time doing all the things I love, and less time struggling with a nasty migraine attack.
And there you go – those are the things I include daily to keep the migraine attacks away.
I don’t always get it right, some days stress, work, travelling or just being super busy means I have to take shortcuts sometimes (like a takeaway dinner) but I find that if I take care of myself 90% of the time, my body can handle 10% of indulgence.
If you would like a little help to investigate what YOUR migraine prevention routine could look like, then feel free to book in for an appointment. My treatment plans are perfectly designed for people with migraine, and I’d love to help you.
You know how it gets when you are in the middle of a migraine attack and you can barely lift your head from the pillow or open your eyes? Well, at the point in time, all you can really do is lay low, try some drug free strategies and just get yourself through to the other side of the attack.
But what about when you feel OK again? What can you do then to reduce the frequency and severity of future migraines?
All too often, the focus when it comes to managing migraine is to consider just 2 or 3 things. Often, these are medication, avoiding food and drink triggers and perhaps some musculoskeletal therapy – perhaps chiro, massage or physio.
But, there is so much more we can consider. This is where I often introduce my Migraine Circle of Self-Care to clients.
The Circle looks at various groups strategies we manage to give ourselves the best chance of reducing the frequency and severity of migraine.
And it's a great place to start to build your toolkit to prevent migraine attacks in the future.
The toolkit you use to manage your migraine condition will vary from someone else living with migraine – and this is where I can help guide you towards what will be most likely to help YOU.
For example, we might look at food intolerance testing to help identify foods to avoid, or we might look at your hormonal health or nutritional status for clues on supplements that might be best for you.
You can start using the Migraine Circle of Self-Care right now to identify perhaps 1 or 2 things in each area that you would like to consider trying for your own migraine management toolkit.
And of course, reach out and book an appointment if you need any support in this area.
I wanted to share a case study today of a real-life client of mine from last year, as it demonstrates a point I often make about Naturopathy: when we address the causes of one condition, we often clear up other issues at the same time.
Mandy (not her real name but she has provided permission to share her case here) was 37 when she came to see me about her worsening migraine. She told me that she previously used to get a migraine once a month – just before her period – but now she was getting 3 or 4 migraines a month.
She thought this had starting happening a year ago after a particularly stressful event. She had tried different medications and painkillers from her GP – which helped for a while – but then the regular migraines would re-occur. She had also seen a neurologist and had been referred for an MRI, but no abnormality in the brain was found. The next step was to go on a preventative medication, but she was concerned about the side effects, and so came to see me.
Mandy had other health concerns as well. She was experiencing PMS which hadn’t been an issue before and noticed that she was anxious about things that wouldn’t usually bother her. Since having her second child two years ago, she had been overweight, and was finding it difficult to find the motivation and energy to eat well and exercise. Mandy reported recurring thrush and sometimes said her lower abdomen felt uncomfortably bloated at the end of the day.
Mandy was having difficulty sleeping and was tired all day. She felt “so stressed, overwhelmed and like she was close to having a breakdown”.
She had tried avoiding citrus, coffee and chocolate, because she had heard they caused migraine – and also tried to go gluten-free for a couple of weeks but didn’t notice a difference in her migraines. Mandy had also experimented with a magnesium she purchased from the chemist but hadn’t noticed a difference. She was concerned about sugar cravings and did not know how to eat less sugar because she craved it so much, particularly after meals.
Based on Mandy’s presentation, and following food intolerance testing, microbiome testing and hormonal profiling, I started her on a customised food plan which I created to be easy to follow and also could be simply adapted for family meals. For the first week we started by making gradual changes to make the transition easier. This program involved avoiding all refined carbohydrates, while eating lean protein, plenty of vegetables and high quality fats to fuel her brain and body.
As her migraine seemed to be driven by stress and hormones, I also prescribed an individual treatment protocol consisting of herbal and nutritional supplements for:
- Nervous exhaustion
- Hormonal support
- Plus a liver and digestive microbiome support for the thrush and bloating
I replaced her ineffective off-the-shelf magnesium supplement with one that was better absorbed and indicated for migraine. Finally, I suggested some daily habits she could implement for migraine prevention and stress management.
Mandy returned for appointments every 2 to 3 weeks for 3 months.
After four weeks, Mandy reported that her anxiety was considerably lower. She felt that her energy and mood had improved. She reported a headache around her period, but it was no where near as severe as previous migraines. The bloating had not occurred again either.
By week 6, Mandy was sleeping better, and had not had another migraine. She had lost a little weight, and her clothes were fitting better. She commented on how much more energy she had, and that she felt more able to cope when stressful events happened. She was enjoying work more and had more energy for her family.
At week 12, she had not had a significant migraine attack. At times she had thought she might be getting one – particularly if it had been a big week at work - but had used some of the strategies I had provided to help manage a potential migraine. She had lost 6 kilograms and reported that she felt “so much happier in my own skin”. The PMS was not noticeable anymore – her last period had arrived without any moodiness, bloating or migraine.
Mandy said that she was enjoying her food plan now, and felt that her family was healthier as well, as she was cooking more nutritious foods. She was enjoying experimenting with clean food recipes. She no longer craved sugar as much as before either.
Mandy was such a pleasure to work with, as she was so dedicated to following her treatment. She committed to her follow up appointments.
It’s a cliché – but the results really speak for themselves in this case. And it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help people turn their health around. *happy dance*
If you have been thinking of seeing a naturopath, but not sure if I can help, then feel free to book in for a free 10 minute chat. You might also be interested in my VIP package, which provides the same level of support I was able to provide for Mandy including ongoing food plans, supplements, testing and email/text support.
Today, I’m talking about hormones.
In 60% of women who live with migraine, changes in hormone levels – particularly fluctuating oestrogen levels - is a major trigger for a migraine attack. If you get a migraine that hits around menstruation, ovulation and menopause, you are likely experiencing menstrual migraines. This can often be due to oestrogen dominance (when oestrogen is too high – or the ratio between oestrogen and progesterone is not quite right).
So, when I see a client exhibiting signs of oestrogen dominance, we look at ways to gently even out excess oestrogen. Here is how we do it:
Our hormone health is incredibly important. You can get started today by starting to swap out any chemical cosmetics for natural products; and look into a paleo or keto-style diet.
Take care, my migraine warriors.
Migraine is not just your run of the mill headache; it can have a severe impact on your daily life. If you suffer from migraine headaches, then you know how tough this can be. Maybe you’ve tried medication or other treatments but still aren’t getting relief. Thankfully, there is still hope! New research has revealed that yoga can be an effective complementary treatment option for migraine. Yoga is a natural health treatment practice that taps into the nervous system, shifting your mind and body into “rest or digest” mode, thereby providing a deeper level of relaxation and relief from migraine headaches.
The Science Behind Yoga for Migraine
Yoga practice is not just a standard form of exercise; yoga targets the mind, body, and soul all at once, promoting greater overall relaxation. The primary way that yoga affects migraine is through the nervous system and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a major cranial nerve that connects your digestive system to the brain and controls the switch in your nervous system from rest or digest mode (parasympathetic nervous system) to flight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system). Yoga acts on this nerve by improving vagal tone and encourages a shift into rest or digest mode, helping you to relax your body, relieve any tension, and ultimately provide relief from migraine.
There is also solid scientific research confirming the beneficial effects of yoga on migraine. A recent research study published in May 2020 found that migraine patients who underwent a 3-month yoga program had a significant reduction in headache frequency, headache intensity, and the need for medication. A study in 2014 also found similar results, in which participants had a substantial improvement in vagal tone, reduced fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) activity, and general improvement in migraine symptoms.
5 Simple Yoga Practices to Provide Relief from Migraine
When practicing yoga for migraine relief, it is crucial to focus on calming practices rather than fast-paced exercises. Yoga styles, such as Restorative Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Yin Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, can be particularly beneficial for migraine headaches because they promote greater relaxation. Focusing on breathing exercises and meditation in your yoga practice can also further stimulate the vagus nerve and encourage relaxation, especially when you make your exhalations longer than your inhalations. If you are interested in more tailored relief, you can also reach out to a trained yoga therapist who can more effectively guide you on treatment options. To help get you started, see below for the top 5 yoga poses for migraine relief:
Yoga is a highly effective natural health treatment option that can provide significant relief from migraine headaches. So, if you suffer from migraine, try to give this holistic practice a try and see if it works for you. If you are interested in more tailored advice for gaining relief from migraine, then make sure to reach out to me for a private consultation. As a naturopath, I specialise in migraine treatment and can help you find the best natural treatment option to get your health back on track.
I have something a little controversial to say.
Medication is not the only effective way to manage migraine.
I get why some might think that medication is the only answer for migraine. Everyone and their mother will tell you about the newest migraine drug.
And many medications can make a positive difference to those who suffer migraine.
But, you can manage migraine without relying on just medication.
In fact, in some cases, the most used migraine drugs make migraines worse.
Scratch beneath the surface and you will find migraineurs who manage their migraine with evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle approaches. Basically, by taking very good care of themselves.
There is a catch though, everyone is different, and you need to take the time to find out what works for you. And sometimes, like any change, it isn't easy. You can't undo years of migraines or chronic migraine overnight. When it comes to migraine, there is simply no silver bullet or long term cure.
But there is hope and you can reduce the frequency and severity of migraine. This is where I can help. Through helping you understand more about your migraine story, and with the help of functional testing and evidence-based nutritional and supplement advice. Sometimes you still might need to take your migraine medications. And that is OK. But if we can reduce your reliance on drugs, then that is a good thing - right?
And I know what is possible, because I have helped myself go from chronic (almost daily) migraine to the more occasional migraine.
My role is not to cure or fix everything. What I can do though is empower clients with knowledge and guidance to manage their own health. The type of information I cover over several appointments is:
• An introduction to my migraine circle of self care
• How a migraine develops and strategies to manage migraines at each step
• Why your hormones play a role, and how to balance hormones
• Managing hydration and electrolytes for migraine prevention
• What to do when you feel a migraine coming on
• Environmental causes and triggers
• The importance of nutrition in preventing migraine, and a simple eating protocol to reduce your migraines
• Recipes and meal plans
• Natural pain management
• A guide to give to family and friends to help them support you when you have a migraine
• Supplements for migraines which have been clinically proven to help
• How movement and gentle exercise can help migraine
• How to build a team of health professionals for a holistic approach to migraine management – where you are in control!
To find out more
If you haven't already, download the Manage Migraine Naturally Starter Guide. It is a good place to start.
If migraines are a problem for you, and you would like help to create your own migraine prevention plan, do feel free to book in for your first appointment. Appointments are available online for residents of Australia and New Zealand. I’d love to help.
Yours in good health,
Josie Carin x
I’m involved in quite a few different migraine groups on social media, and one of the most common frustrations of migraine sufferers is medications and treatments not working. It is always heartbreaking to read about these disappointments. Especially when nothing else seems to work either.
And I get it. Migraine is incredibly disabling, and it is natural to pin your hopes on something new which may be the cure, once and for all.
But, one thing I’ve learnt over the years – from personal experience and working with my clients in naturopath practice, is that there is no magic cure for migraine.
Absolutely, you can experience relief, and manage migraines to the point that you hardly ever get one…but there is no one single thing that will achieve this for you.
This is where, as a migraine sufferer, you need to become the project manager of your own health.
First, assemble your own personal health team. There is a vast array of health practitioners to choose from, and your team will look different to someone else’s – depending on your personal healthcare preferences, type of migraine, budget, locality etc. Here is what my team looks like:
- Two GPs
- Massage therapist
- Yoga teacher
In addition, I read books written by naturopaths, neurologists, nutritionists and researchers which help guide me through creating my own health plan (along with, of course, my naturopathic training).
I know that having a team of health professionals seems expensive. But, if you can, it might be time to look at what you are prioritising in life. Are migraines affecting your ability to work, be productive, socialise, how you participate in your family? What price do you put on your health?
You most likely won’t need to see all practitioners ongoing, and you don’t have to see them all at once, but it is worthwhile setting aside time and budget to put your health first so you can give yourself the best chance to overcome migraine.
For example, the list of practitioners above I have consulted with at some point in the last 5 years, and many I now only see once a year or every second year, just for a check-in.
You can also focus on practitioners which bulk bill, and you may also be able to find community or subsidised student clinics in your area.
Overall, it is important to not give up your power to just one medical or health professional. I even say that to my own clients who come to see me as a naturopath. I encourage clients to keep in touch with their GP and other health professionals when they are consulting with me.
Nobody knows your health better than you, and I find a good approach is to appoint yourself as the “manager/decision maker” and everyone else as your “team of advisers”.
Next, you need to look at all aspects of your health. Don’t just focus on medications, but also consider and research:
- Hormone health
- Physical therapies
- Hydration and electrolytes
- Mental health – especially stress
- Your home environment
- Your work environment
- Understand your triggers
- Light and sound
Make sure you address each part, and make changes in that area to minimise migraine. This might involve (as an example):
- Removing fluorescent or harsh lighting at work; or using a stand up desk or ergonomic chair
- Setting time aside each day to move and stretch
- Avoiding toxic people or situations, or being more assertive
- Adopting a cleaner way of eating and avoiding processed foods
- Establishing a regular sleep routine
- Taking a magnesium supplement
- Changing from high intensity to gentle exercise – swimming, walking, yoga
- Reducing or changing medication
- Taking a supplement to balance hormones
- Looking at any other health conditions you have
Check out my Migraine Circle of Care to make sure you cover all bases.
What I love about naturopathy is that we are across many different modalities and systems of the body, and also love to help clients address each area of their life (“holistic” view) and recommend other types of health practitioners that can help.
The key thing to remember is that you are a whole body, and everything is connected. Your brain is connected to your digestive system, and is influenced by hormones and neurotransmitters. Your senses deliver information to your nervous system and your brain. What happens in one system or part of the body, affects the whole body.
And finally, like any project that you manage, you may need to become a time and resource management ninja. Diarise times to prioritise your health, learn to say no to things that don’t support your health, take notes and record what you do in a diary.
Ultimately, consider managing your own health the most important role you will ever play in your life. That is how you get on top of migraine.
Keep well and take care,
PS. If you feel ready to take control then I can help. I’m available for online naturopathy appointments if you need someone to help you set up your own health project plan. Book online and let’s get started.
There is so much I wish I know about minimising and avoiding migraines when I first started experiencing regular migraines. Here is what I would tell my 17-year old self:
1. The migraine brain is sensitive and needs special care. There will be times when you won’t be able to push yourself as hard as others. You need to find a balance between work, play and rest.
2. Food is your best friend. And also your worst enemy. Be careful with alcohol and caffeine. And sugar. Especially sugar. Your brain can’t handle wild blood sugar fluctuations. Be careful with artificial sweeteners, even stevia. Eat regularly, focusing on quality protein and vegetables. Avoid processed crap. Get to know and understand your food intolerances.
3. Anxiety is normal with migraine. Practice self-care and self-love. Be gentle with yourself. Ensure you are well nourished with zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.
4. People around you may not understand your migraine. It is up to you to ensure your environment is migraine friendly with lighting, seating, noise levels, odours. If your work has artificial or fluorescent lighting, feel free to take out the light bulb above your desk and replace it with a soft desk lamp. Take days off when you need them. Avoid toxic people and toxic environments. Do whatever you need to keep your environment low-trigger.
5. Understand your early warning signs for migraine. Yawning. Change in mood. Cravings. Eye disturbances. Anxiety. Keep an eye on upcoming weather changes. As soon as you notice the signs, stop and take care of yourself. Protect yourself from triggers.
6. Build a team of health professionals around you. A good GP. A neurologist. Naturopath/nutritionist/herbalist (of course!). Physiotherapist. An understanding personal trainer or Pilates instructor. Chiropractor or osteopath. Not one single practitioner will have a cure or all the answers, but each will have something to offer which will help. Be responsible for your own health, but seek advice widely.
7. Keep hydrated, and your electrolytes balanced with mineral salts. Always have salt and ginger handy to stop an early attack. Drink extra water when you feel a migraine coming on.
What can I eat?
When I first began to see the real link between what I ate and migraines, I was really confused about what I should eat to help manage migraines. Even though I was a qualified nutritionist!
Some research showed me to just avoid trigger foods. There were also lots of diet recommendations out there for migraine – low carbohydrate, keto, anti-histamine diet, anti-inflammatory diet, plant-based and paleo. What diet was best for migraine? Were sugar-free foods okay? What about carbs?
I was overwhelmed and felt paralysed.
Through my extensive research into the right foods to nourish and heal my body, I learned that food is medicine. I began avoiding processed foods, reducing trigger foods and aiming for proteins and vegetables as the base for most meals.
I found that the best approach was to keep blood sugar levels balanced with low carbohydrate foods and aim to include anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables, blueberries, ginger and fish.
Amazing things happened. Less migraines, clarity returned and I just felt better. I transformed into a healthier, clearer, and happier me.
You can too.
Baby steps are the key.
Start small - with breakfast.
I tell all my clients that a low sugar, nutrient-dense smoothie is a good place to start
I don’t mean the smoothies you find at cafes and juice bars – you know – the ones that are more a dessert than nutritious.
No, the best smoothie is one you make yourself. Done right, smoothies are the quick, delicious and portable way to start your day off on the right note.
If you use the right nutrient dense ingredients, a good breakfast will:
• Keep your blood sugar balanced
• Provide protein to keep your energy level high and even
• Give you fibre to nourish your digestive system
• Get you off to a great start by including your all-important leafy greens first thing in the morning
• Start your day off right so you are less likely to throw in the towel by lunch
If you are ready to try this approach, I encourage you to start with one of these easy, super quick recipes which I’ve designed especially for migraine nutrition.
DOWNLOAD THE 5 BREAKFAST RECIPES
These recipes reduce or avoid common migraine triggers, and reduce inflammation while being low carbohydrate so you won’t have blood sugar fluctuations throughout the day.
Another great quick option is the chia seed pudding which you can make the night before for a quick grab and go breakfast. The other recipes are also super quick to make.
Ready to really heal?
I'd love you to make an appointment for a private consultation.
In good health,
My son turned 5 years old not too long ago. We had LOTS of party balloons left over from his birthday party. A couple of days later, something strange happened.
The balloons started to randomly burst. Not just one or two, but at least five balloons popped in ten minutes.
After calming my shattered nerves, I started to investigate.
Looking out the window, I found the answer. A storm was coming in, pressure in the air had changed, and now balloons were popping all over the place.
For migraineurs, our heads can be a bit like those balloons at times, with many linking a change in weather to a migraine.
The answer is that we are not quite sure. In fact, researchers, clinicians and scientists are still working to completely understand how and why migraines develop during a change in weather or storms.
One theory is that weather changes can cause changes in our brain chemicals – such as serotonin.
Another theory is that changes in atmospheric pressure can cause a pressure difference between the sinus cavities, the structures and chambers on the inner ear, and the world outside.
This variation in pressure between inside the head, and outside the head, may also cause blood vessels to dilate resulting in abnormal blood flow to the brain.
There is also some research to show that magnetic field changes can activate the trigeminal brainstem complex (part of the nervous system which is linked to some migraines). Could changes in force fields which occur during electrical and thunderstorm activity be a trigger for migraines?
So far, studies in to how the weather affects migraine show varying results. Some pieces of research are inconclusive, while others do seem to show that weather can be a migraine trigger. Migraines are difficult to research as there are so many individual factors and triggers which can influence whether you get a migraine.
Many migraineurs have linked weather changes to their own migraines. So it is worthwhile considering if this could be a factor for you.
If you don’t already, it can be super helpful to keep a “migraine diary” to help track whether the weather seems to be a trigger for you. Online migraine apps – such as Migraine Buddy - can also make it easy to record migraines, and even alert you to atmospheric pressure changes.
Try monitoring the weather, and if a change is on the way, then it might be worthwhile stepping up your migraine prevention strategies.
As always, if migraines are a problem for you, and you would like help to create your own migraine prevention plan, do feel free to book in for an appointment. I’d love to help.
PS – Oh, and I did feel a migraine come on when that storm arrived! An afternoon of rest and following my “oh no, I think I have a migraine coming” health plan and I felt fine the next day.
Headaches are never normal.
They are a sign from your body that something is not right, and you need to pay attention.
It could be as simple as you haven’t had enough water that day. Or perhaps you have spent too long in glare, or looking at a computer screen.
Could it be a hangover? Perhaps not enough sleep last night. You might be stressed, or skipped a meal.
Maybe your blood sugar is too high. Or your blood sugar is too low. Perhaps you have eaten something that you are intolerant too. Possibly your liver is not functioning as it should.
It could be that you have a nutritional deficiency, or excess.
Maybe you have an infection.
Perhaps your back and neck muscles are tight, or your hair is pulled into that bun too tightly. Possibly it is dental problems.
You may have a hormonal imbalance. Or perhaps your medication is responsible.
Or, a headache can mean something more serious.
Either way, headaches should be investigated.
Painkillers can help mask the pain. But they rarely address the real cause. In fact, pain killers can make the problem worse – causing “medication rebound headaches”.
Of course, I'm an advocate for natural medicine when it comes to managing headaches.
If you are worried by headaches, a naturopath can take a holistic approach and help you work out what is going on in your body to cause headaches.
And then address the root cause with gentle and effective methods – such as nutrition, herbal medicine, lifestyle counselling or referral to other practitioners who can help.
As a qualified naturopath, helping clients with headache and migraine is a special interest of mine. I’ve been there and know how frustrating it can be to not get answers or figure out what is going on.
Please feel free to get in touch and book an appointment. I’d love to help you too.
Curious about whether supplements can reduce the severity and frequency of your migraines,? Or lookint to reduce or avoid pharmaceutical treatments? Supplements may deserve a place in your migraine management strategy.
Many supplement ingredients researched have evidence that supports their use as a preventative treatment - although not so much for an active migraine. The exception to this is ginger, which can help settle nausea during a migraine, and perhaps even stop a developing migraine if taken early enough.
Diving into research papers and clinical trials, these supplements have proven to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines, when taken regularly:
- Butterbur herb (not readily available in Australia)
- Magnesium (particularly magnesium diglycinate)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- and possibly Feverfew herb*
With migraine, it is important to remember that what works for one person, will not work for another. For example, some forms of magnesium will actually trigger a migraine for me, but will work well for other people.
As a practitioner, I also take a personalised approach and look at the overall health picture and possible drivers of migraine in each individual. So, I might consider which herbs and nutrients would work together to address imbalances in the following areas:
endocrine system (hormones)
digestive system (including liver)
cardiovascular system or
Just like our fingerprints, the supplement regime prescribed is different for every single individual - I’m fairly certain I’ve never given the same prescription twice. (This is why after an initial consultation i spend at least an hour preparing just one client treatment plan as each case is complex, with many factors to consider.)
And, as I always say when talking about supplements, it is important to consult with a qualified practitioner who really knows their stuff - such as a naturopath (trained in both nutrition and herbal medicine), herbalist (trained in herbal medicine) or nutritionist (trained in nutrition). Please don’t take a supplement based on internet articles or because a friend “swears by it”. Supplements vary greatly in quality, potency, effectiveness and safety, and it is important to work with a qualified practitioner to get the best results and avoid possible side effects. Never buy supplements from overseas sites as they may bypass strict Australian quality controls.
Take care and feel free to reach out if you would like a consultation to consider which supplements may work for you.
*Feverfew herb is a traditional herbal medicine for migraine. Some studies show it is effective, while other studies have failed to show this. In clinical practice, I find it does tend to enhance the action of other supplements and herbs, and you will often find it in a combination remedy. (In fact, this is often the case for many herbal medicines - herbs seem to work best in synergy with other herbs, which is why herbal medicine formulas are highly prized in both Western and Eastern herbalist practices. Herbal medicine truly is both an art and a science!)
Managing sleep is a vital, yet complicated, aspect of migraine treatment which is often overlooked.
Too little sleep can trigger a migraine attack. Too much sleep can also trigger a migraine attack. Sometimes a sleep (particularly in the early stages of an attack) can treat a migraine. Getting good quality restful sleep can help prevent migraines. Yet migraine sufferers often have difficulty obtaining good quality restful sleep.
Yep! It sure is complicated.
Let’s unpack a few things here.
Firstly, people living with migraine (according to the American Migraine Foundation), are between 2 and 8 times more likely to experience sleep disorders, compared with the general public.
This insomnia can stem from conditions which are often associated with migraine – such as anxiety and depression, stress, pain, teeth grinding and sleep apnoea.
And yet - and this is really not fair - not getting enough sleep can increase the number of migraine attacks, creating a cycle of sleep problems – which leads to more migraines – which leads to more sleep problems.
This is why addressing those factors which impact on sleep is often a priority in the natural treatment of migraine.
Too much sleep – such as sleeping late on holidays and weekends, or afternoon naps - can also trigger a migraine.
So, the key is to work on balance and consistency when it comes to sleep:
• Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time every day – even on weekends. The best number of hours varies from person to person – but aim for 7-8 hours. If you are a young person, you may need more sleep than this. If aged 50 or older, you may need less sleep.
• Create a calming bedtime routine. Avoid technology at least one to two hours before going to bed, try a warm shower or warm bath with Epsom salts, diffuse lavender oil, turn down the lights.
• Avoid naps. If you have a migraine attack and or need extra sleep that day, try aiming for an earlier bed time in the evening instead of an afternoon nap.
• Keep the bedroom for sleep. Don’t watch TV, scroll, talk or text on your phone, study or eat in the bedroom. Keep clutter out of the bedroom and use natural bed materials. Consider an air purifier or Himalayan salt lamp.
• Try a sound machine or sound app – I like Sleep Stream.
• If you find yourself awake during the night, don’t watch the clock – it will make you anxious and more frustrated if you can’t sleep. Get up for a little bit, have something to eat (often migraine sufferers get low blood sugar during the night), try a guided meditation or deep slow breathing.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
• Spend some time outside during the day in natural light. Morning sun on your face is particularly good for helping to regulate sleep patterns. If you can exercise gently in the sunlight in the morning, even better.
As a naturopath, I also often prescribe specific sleep supplements to help establish a sound sleep routine, or improve the quality of sleep.
1. Change the lighting
Light actually hurts during a migraine. It’s known as photophobia. You can help by turning off bright (especially fluorescent) lights and closing the curtains. If a little light is needed, then soft or low lamps are better than ceiling lights.
2. Be mindful of perfumes and strong-smelling foods.
Strong smells can nauseate a migraine sufferer, who are thought to also has a heightened sense of smell. Which smells and odours cause problems can differ for individuals – check which ones affect the migraine sufferer in your life.
3. Keep it quiet.
The migraine sufferer is very sensitive to noise. Just like it is believed they have a super sense of smell, they also can seem to hear sounds that others can’t. What sounds quiet (or even normal level) for you can be deafening to someone who has a migraine. Speak softly and gently, and avoid any unnecessary sounds such as television, music and loud conversations.
4. Send a text. Don’t phone.
Talking can be difficult for a migraine sufferer on many levels. Firstly, their speech can be affected or they have trouble finding the right words or following a conversation. And secondly, the sound of talking can hurt. Also understand that it might be a few days before they feel up to returning your call.
5. Understand when they cancel social or work commitments.
As a migraine sufferer myself, I’ve had to cancel so many plans which results in feelings of guilt. Plan another event or outing with them in the future to show that you understand and are still there for them, no matter what. Check in on what is fun for your migraine sufferer.
6. Ask how you can help.
Offers to babysit, cover a work project, pick up a prescription or supplement, tidy up or help around the house, drive to appointments or pass on messages on a migraine sufferer’s behalf will be gratefully received.
7. Be supportive of their self-care.
Whether it is a change to diet or a need for quiet time, help them by not tempting them with foods or alcohol they are trying to avoid or crowding in on their downtime.
8. Understand that migraine is not just a bad headache.
Migraine is a whole collection of often debilitating symptoms which makes it difficult to function and think straight. Migraines can strike anytime, and some people get them weekly (or even daily).
Take the time to understand their symptoms, triggers and early warning signs that a migraine is on the way.
Treating and preventing migraine naturally is a special interest of mine. Book in a call or consultation if you would be interested in a naturopathic consultation to help you, or someone you know with migraine.
When it comes to managing migraines, it can be tempting to focus on avoiding just one trigger. We also have a tendency to pin all our hopes on that one thing which will keep us migraine free – such as a new medication or one single diet.
The reality is that reducing migraines is about finding the balance between avoiding a whole heap of triggers, while working on incorporating as many strategies as we can to manage migraines. And, the triggers and treatments are unique to each migraine sufferer.
In Dr Josh Turknett’s book, The Migraine Miracle, the analogy of balloons and weights are used to describe the balance we need to aim for to reduce migraines.
Imagine that you are in a basket, to which you can attach balloons to lift up into the air. When in the air, you have a “safe zone” to float about in – but if you elevate too high past your safe threshold, then you will come into migraine territory.
The balloons are your triggers. Some are big balloons, and some are smaller. You can attach a certain number of balloons and still stay in the safe zone. But add one balloon too many, and you will fly up past the threshold and – bam! You have a migraine.
You also have weights to attach to your basket to keep you within the safe zone. Yep – you guessed it - the weights are the strategies you use to manage your migraine – such as diet, medications, supplements and lifestyle.
For example, here are my balloons:
• Change in weather
• Irregular sleep
• Irregular blood sugar levels
• Caffeine and alcohol
• Heavy exercise
• Exposure to chemicals including scents
I can experience a few of these things, and still be OK. But add in one too many, and sure enough, I’ll develop a migraine about 4pm that day.
The weights I use to help keep me safe are:
• Supplements or medication
• Herbal medicine to manage stress, keep liver healthy and balance hormones
• Regular sleep
• Nutrition and diet
• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
• Gentle exercise and movement every day
• Stress management techniques
• Using natural products
• Modified lighting
• I’m afraid I can’t change the weather, but managing all the other factors can mean barometric pressure changes don’t affect me as much as they once did.
Over time, the balloons and weights can change. For example changes in hormonal profile, digestive health, work situation and so many other factors can influence how we need to manage migraines.
A good place to start to manage your own migraines is to write down all your balloons and weights. Check in each day whether you are still in the safe threshold and whether you might need to check you have enough weights to keep you in the safe zone.
And if you would like some support to help you work out the cause/s of your migraines, or come up with treatment strategies, why not book in for an online consultation and we can figure it out together.
Anyone who experiences migraines (or is close to someone that does) knows that migraine is so much more than a headache. We all know about nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise and smell – but there are many, many other migraine symptoms which are often overlooked.
For example, my partner used to be able to tell I had a migraine on the way when one of my eyes would water, or the eye would become smaller. If I have trouble talking or finding the right word, then I take that as a sign to put into place my migraine-avoiding strategies.
Migraine.com asked their Facebook community for their “strangest” migraine symptoms:
Sore eye lashes
Vibrations in arm or chest
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
Symptoms source: www.migraine.com.
As we all experience migraines very differently, it can be useful to start keeping a diary of your own migraines, and write down as many symptoms that you notice before, during and after a migraine. Understanding your early symptoms and treating your migraine as soon as you notice them, is your best chance of avoiding a full-blown migraine
For many chronic migraine sufferers, particularly where migraines are inherited and experienced by many family members, migraines and headaches are simply “a fact of life”.
Something to be put up with.
If you do regularly get migraines and headaches, you might have not stopped to consider the impact they can have on every area of your life.
The Migraine Disability Assessment Test
The MIDAS (Migraine Disability Assessment) is used by healthcare to help measure the impact of headache on your life, and find the best treatment for you.
Please answer the following questions about ALL of the headaches you have had over the last 3 months.
Select your answer in the box next to each question. Select zero if you did not have the activity in the last 3 months.
You can take the completed form to your healthcare professional.
1. On how many days in the last 3 months did you miss work or school because of your headaches? ___________
2. How many days in the last 3 months was your productivity at work or school reduced by half or more because of your headaches? (Do not include days you counted in question 1 where you missed work or school.) ___________
3. On how many days in the last 3 months did you not do household work (such as housework, home repairs and maintenance, shopping, caring for children and relatives) because of your headaches? ___________
4. How many days in the last 3 months was your productivity in household work reduced by half of more because of your headaches? (Do not include days you counted in question 3 where you did not do household work.) ___________
5. On how many days in the last 3 months did you miss family, social or leisure activities because of your headaches? ___________
Scoring: After you have filled out this questionnaire, add the total number of days from questions 1-5. Total _______________ (Questions 1-5)
MIDAS Grade Definition MIDAS Score
• Little or No Disability 0-5
• Mild Disability 6-10
• Moderate Disability 11-20
• Severe Disability 21+
If Your MIDAS Score is 6 or more, please discuss this with your practitioner.
What your healthcare practitioner will also need to know about your headache:
A. On how many days in the last 3 months did you have a headache? (If a headache lasted more than 1 day, count each day.)
B. On a scale of 0 - 10, on average how painful were these headaches? (where 0=no pain at all, and 10= pain as bad as it can be.)
You can also download the questionnaire as a PDF here.