Sleep issues and stress are common migraine triggers on their own. Together, they can be even bigger problems.

And that’s not just by chance. If you tend to get migraines, your brain is more sensitive to changes in sleep and stress levels. It can help to keep a close eye on both.

The Sleep-Migraine Connection

Too little sleep can lead to a migraine, but too much can, too. Sometimes one can start while you’re conked out, but other times, sleep can help one go away. Sleep also plays a role in how bad they get and how often you have them.

From jet lag to sleeping in on weekends, almost any kind of sleep issue can act as a trigger. Two of the more common ones are sleep apnea and insomnia. With sleep apnea, your breathing stops and starts throughout the night. With insomnia, you might have a hard time falling or staying asleep. You may also wake up too early or just never feel refreshed in the morning.

About half of all migraines show up between 4 and 9 a.m. These are called awakening headaches. If you get them, they might have something to do with your sleeping patterns.

Stress, Pain, and Migraines

Stress is a common trigger of migraine. Moving to a new home or having a baby are exciting times, but they can be a lot to handle.

Most often, though, it’s the day-to-day things that get you, like balancing work, family, and social time. If you’ve gotten used to high stress levels, you might find you get weekend headaches -- the change from high stress to low can bring them on.

Adding It All Up

Sleep and stress have big effects on each other, too. That can seem like piling on when it comes to migraines. Sleep helps your body and mind recharge. When it doesn’t go well, it affects your judgment, mood, and memory -- and that’s going to affect your stress level.

Going the other way, stress is one of the leading causes of restless nights. Plus, you tend to feel stressed more easily when you don’t sleep well. Then it’s harder to manage your mood, and you’re stuck in a brutal cycle.

One of the reasons for all these links is that headaches, sleep, and mood are all controlled by the same parts of your brain. So when things are off in one area, it has a domino effect on the others. But that works both ways. When you get your sleep back on track and keep your stress under control, you may have a ripple of positive changes instead.

Getting Better Sleep

There’s a lot of science on how to get more restful sleep. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a nighttime routine that helps you relax. A warm bath, soft music, or yoga can all do the trick.
  • Go to bed around the same time each night and wake up the same time each morning. Allow for about 8 hours of sleep and stick to your schedule, even on weekends.
  • Don’t eat anything within 4 hours of bedtime. Have your last drink about 2 hours beforehand so you don’t wake up to go to the bathroom.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. That means no screens, music, or books.
  • Stay away from caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. They can all mess with your sleep.

Managing Stress

This one’s important for everyone, but it’s even more so when you get migraines. You may want to:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
  • Schedule time for fun and connection with people you care about.
  • Stick with healthy foods, and don’t skip meals.
  • Try a daily relaxation exercise, like deep breathing.

WebMD Medical Reference


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