Improve Sleep Habits to Cut Migraines
Study Shows Headache Frequency and Intensity Decline as Sleep Improves
Pay attention to your sleeping habits and you'll lessen the odds and
intensity of migraineheadaches, say researchers.
The idea sounds almost too simple, and headache specialists have long
advised their patients to heed what they term "good sleep hygiene." But
a study by a University of North Carolina sleep specialist provides some
scientific evidence that good sleep habits can reduce the number of headaches
and their severity.
Migraine sufferers who cleaned up their act reduced their headache frequency
by 29% and their headache intensity by 40% compared with those who didn't
change their sleep habits, Anne Calhoun, MD, reported at the 48th Annual
Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society in Los Angeles.
"We've been talking about sleep being a problem in migraine for 125
years, but no one has looked at behavior modification to fix it," Calhoun
tells WebMD. Calhoun is an associate professor of neurology at the University
of North Carolina Medical School.
"People with migraine say it affects their sleep," Calhoun says,
"but it may be the other way around. They're having chronic migraines
because they are not sleeping well."
In her study, she assessed 43 women with transformed migraine. That's a
headache pattern in which occasional or episodic headaches become chronic --
defined as at least half of the days of the month. All the women were told they
would be learning how to improve lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, and
Calhoun assigned 23 women to the behavior-modification group. These women
were told to schedule eight hours of time in bed each night, not to read or
watch television or listen to music in bed, and to limit their fluid intake
beginning two hours before bedtime. They also were taught how to use
visualization to fall asleep quickly and were instructed to move dinnertime to
four hours before bed to ensure sounder sleep.
The other women were assigned to the control group. They were told to
schedule dinner at a consistent time each night and were taught to use an
acupressure point that actually had no relationship to headache, Calhoun
All the women recorded their headaches in diaries.
"We instructed them to stop overusing medications," Calhoun says.
"About three-quarters of the 43 women were overusing medications."
While headache specialists point to medication overuse as a factor in
headaches becoming more chronic, "we feel there may be other important
factors involved in the transformation process," Calhoun says. "Sleep
problems may be one of these methods by which episodic headaches become
The women stayed on preventive medication throughout the study but were not
to overuse any medications. And when a headache struck, they were allowed to
use acute medication.
Better Sleep Habits, Less Pain
The results of improved sleep were seen fairly quickly. "At the first
follow-up visit at six weeks, 35% of the sleep habit-modification group
reverted from chronic headaches to episodic," Calhoun says. No one in the
control group reverted, however.