Even small changes to your routine, like irregular sleep, exercise, or eating, can make migraines more frequent or painful.
Create consistency in your schedule and lifestyle habits to ease migraine pain and even prevent these headaches.
This is also called “headache hygiene.” Create a plan for your daily routine and overall lifestyle and stick to it. This helps you prevent migraines or make them less serious.
Don’t skip meals, delay meals for a long time, or fast. Eat consistent amounts of food throughout the day instead. Space out several small meals each day. Get a balance of lean proteins, healthy fats, and fiber, and limit processed foods to steady your blood sugar levels and prevent migraine attacks.
Have a snack if you can’t eat a meal on schedule or if you feel very hungry. Keep snacks at your desk or in your car to keep hunger at bay.
Drink water regularly throughout your day to prevent dehydration, which can also set off headaches. Keep a water bottle or sports drink with you when you are at work or out of the house.
It’s OK to drink a small amount of caffeine each day, like one or two cups of coffee. Keep your coffee habits consistent -- both in the amount you drink and when. Have your coffee at the same time each morning or afternoon.
Set a sleep routine
Create good sleep hygiene: Changes to your sleep routine like oversleeping, not getting enough sleep, or naps, can trigger migraines. Set regular sleep habits to help you get a good night’s rest every night. Limit naps to 30 minutes.
Set fixed times when you get into and out of bed each day. Go to sleep at the same time every night, including on weekends. Set a regular time to wake up each morning too. Try to get a consistent amount of sleep each night.
Make your bedroom a place for sleep or sex only, not a place where you do work, talk on the phone, watch TV, or catch up on the news. Don’t watch TV in bed or use your phone or tablet computer when it’s time to go to sleep. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and as quiet as possible. This will help you get consistent, restful sleep.
Before bedtime, do something to wind down and relax each night. Take a warm bath, read a book, or listen to music.
Steady exercise habits
Regular exercise can prevent migraines or make headaches less frequent and painful. Plan to do about 40 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise 3 days each week. Intense workouts may make migraines worse or cause muscle pain, so steady, gentle exercise is better.
If you sit most of the day at a desk job, don’t try to tackle all of your housework or yardwork on the weekends. This sudden, intense burst of exercise could trigger a headache. Try to spread out physical activities evenly.
Short, regular sessions of exercise improve your physical fitness and help you manage your weight. This helps you keep your blood sugar levels steady to avoid migraines. Exercise also releases brain chemicals called endorphins and encephalins that help control pain. Steady amounts of exercise can help you manage stress too.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, start with small, gentle activities at first, and gradually increase your fitness. Try low-impact, aerobic exercises like walking, riding a stationary bike or elliptical machine, swimming, or yoga.
Manage stress with a regular routine
Set a consistent schedule to stay calm and not feel rushed or overwhelmed.
Stick to your schedule, so you have plenty of time to do your exercise, eat regular meals, and enjoy relaxing activities that keep you from stressing out.
- Create a schedule of daily tasks like laundry, paying bills, or responding to emails. Plan to do them at the same time each day or evening.
- Check your schedule and to-do list each week. If you think you won’t have time or energy to tackle every item on your list, see what you can cut. Delegate some tasks to family members or ask for help.
- Plan family meals for the week ahead that are easy to prepare, so you can spend a set amount of time to cook or heat up a meal and not stress out figuring out what to have for dinner.
- Schedule a consistent amount of time each night to watch TV or catch up on the news. Binge-watching TV or news programs for hours can be stressful. When your screen time is up, turn off the tube or tablet.
How Can I Plan Ahead to Manage Disruptions to Routine?
You can’t predict or avoid all disruptions to your routine, but unexpected changes can trigger headaches. Do the best you can to plan ahead, especially when you travel:
- Take food and water with you on trips to prevent hunger and dehydration. Pack an eye mask and neck pillow in your carry-on bag, so you can sleep on the plane.
- When you’re on vacation or a business trip, try to stick to your regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Download a white noise app to your phone or bring earplugs that muffle annoying sounds.
- Give yourself enough time to get to your destination without stress or exertion. If you’re driving or waiting on your flight in the airport, take some breaks to stretch.
Photo Credit: adamkaz / Getty Images
American Migraine Foundation: “Lifestyle Changes for Migraine Management,” “Headache Hygiene: What Is It?” “5 Holiday Travel Tips from our Migraine Community.”
Cedars-Sinai: “Managing Migraines Amid COVID-19.”
National Migraine Centre: “Migraine Triggers?”
Mayo Clinic: “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain.”
Annals of Translational Medicine: “Physical exercise and migraine: for or against?”
Piedmont Healthcare: “Why Routines Are Good for Your Health.”