Do Your Sleep Habits Trigger Migraines?
Research suggests a link between sleep problems and migraines.
If you suffer from migraines, you may want to pay more attention to your
sleep habits. That's the message from several studies which show that sleep
problems, like insomnia, may actually trigger migraines.
Migraines and Sleep Problems
Migraines begin when hyperactive nerve cells send out impulses to blood
vessels, causing them to constrict, then expand. This is accompanied by the
release of brain chemicals and inflammatory substances that cause the
pulsations to be painful.
In a study published in the journal Headache, researchers conducted a
detailed sleep interview with 147 women with transformed migraines (where
occasional or episodic headaches become chronic at least half of the days of
the month). When asked whether they were refreshed or tired on waking, not one
reported feeling refreshed, and more than 80% said they were tired when they
woke. Complaints about sleep problems were prevalent.
In a second study on sleep habits and migraines, also published in
Headache, researchers provided stronger evidence that good sleep habits
reduce both the number and intensity of migraine headaches. In these findings,
43 women with transformed migraines received behavioral sleep instructions or
placebo instructions in addition to usual medical care. The women recorded
their migraine headaches in diaries. At the end of the study, the women who
received behavioral sleep instructions reported a significant reduction in
migraine headache frequency and intensity.
How Do Sleep Problems Cause Migraines?
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep provokes migraines, says Vincent Fortanasce,
MD, a Los Angeles-based neurologist, psychiatrist, and author of the
Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription. Fortanasce tells WebMD that REM sleep
provokes most powerful migraines that occur five to six hours after sleep
Most of us go through about six sleep cycles with about four stages of
sleep, plus rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The deepest stages of sleep (stages
3 and 4) are necessary for the production of sufficient serotonin and dopamine,
These neurotransmitters are the "feel good" chemical messengers in
the brain, and both depend on adequate sleep; a decrease in serotonin and
dopamine is associated with poor sleep or sleep problems.
One reason for waking with migraines is that REM sleep is most powerful just
before awakening. Sleepproblems can then trigger migraines by causing
instability of serotonin and a lowering of dopamine levels.
Antidepressants, specifically the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
(SSRIs), may help stabilize serotonin membranes and block migraines. These
medications are sometimes used as migraine treatment.