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.