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Improve Sleep Habits to Cut Migraines

Study Shows Headache Frequency and Intensity Decline as Sleep Improves
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Changing Behavior continued...

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 chronic."

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.

Then the women in the control group were switched over to the true behavior-modification group for the rest of the study -- another six weeks. At the end of the 12 weeks, 58% of the original behavior-modification group had seen their headaches drop from chronic to episodic and 43% of the women who were switched to the true behavior-modification group did, Calhoun says.

"It's a very difficult thing to get someone to revert," Calhoun explains.

She found that paying attention to sleep habits appears to be an all-or-nothing package to obtain improvement in headaches. "Of the people who fixed all their sleep habits, only one did not revert to episodic." If the women kept three or more bad sleep habits, they did not revert from chronic to episodic.

Back to Basics?

The study underscores the need to pay attention to lifestyle, says Stephen Silberstein, MD, president of the American Headache Society and professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

"We've known for a long time that going to bed at the right time [and] getting up at the same time are things we have always taught our headache patients to do [to avoid headaches]," Silberstein tells WebMD. "I think it is a good study and it's important. What it really tells us is patients with migraine need regularity in their lives."

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