Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 24, 2022
Do You Have Chronic Migraine?
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Do You Have Chronic Migraine?

Chronic migraine means you have headaches at least 15 days a month for more than 3 months. On at least 8 of those days, your headaches have characteristics of migraines, like nausea or sensitivity to light. You'll likely need medications to prevent and treat them. But healthy lifestyle habits are also an important part of migraine care.

Guard Against Medication Overuse
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Guard Against Medication Overuse

Too much headache medicine can have a boomerang effect. If you take meds to relieve headache pain more than 2-3 days a week, you're at risk of medication overuse headaches. If you find yourself reaching for pills more and more often, get help before you get caught in this cycle. Your doctor can help wean you off the medications that are causing the problem and start you with a fresh treatment plan.

Set Yourself Up for Good Sleep
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Set Yourself Up for Good Sleep

Good sleep hygiene, also called stimulus control therapy, helps keep migraine under control. Check all these boxes every night:

  • Keep wake and sleep times the same, even on weekends.
  • Turn off screens an hour before bed.
  • Do relaxation exercises.
  • Make your bedroom dark and cold (about 65 degrees).
  • Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep.

 Also, skip naps. And get help for sleep disorders like sleep apnea or insomnia.

Make Exercise a Habit
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Make Exercise a Habit

Exercise helps your head as well as your heart. That's because it brings a surge of beta-endorphins, feel-good hormones that are in short supply in people with migraine. Start slowly, perhaps by walking for 10 minutes or so. Try to build up to three to five times a week, 30-60 minutes a day. (You can break this up into shorter blocks of time). Give it at least 6 weeks to see if exercise helps.

Stay on a Meal Schedule
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Stay on a Meal Schedule

Eat balanced meals and snacks at the same times each day -- no skipping. Start with breakfast 30-60 minutes after you wake. While there’s no "migraine diet," ask your doctor if you should try an elimination diet. If you have celiac disease, cutting out gluten can reduce migraines by half or more. Some people may benefit from avoiding salt, fat, or tyramine (a substance found in aged cheeses, cured meats, and beer).

Track Your Headaches
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Track Your Headaches

Use a migraine diary to look for patterns and review with your doctor. A color-code system makes it easier:

  • Red for the worst days
  • Yellow: Pain that limits activities
  • Green: You have a headache but can keep your usual schedule
  • White: No headache 

Track how long migraines last, what meds you took, and if they worked. Prefer an app? The National Headache Foundation suggests BonTriage, Migraine Buddy, Migraine Monitor, or N1-Headache.

Use Proven Stress-Relief Tactics
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Use Proven Stress-Relief Tactics

Stress can trigger or worsen a migraine or even keep rescue medicines from working. Manage it with proven techniques like relaxation training, biofeedback, mindfulness, or cognitive behavior therapy. And swear off multitasking. Not only does it stress you out, but trying to do too many things at once actually makes you less productive.

Turn on the Tap
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Turn on the Tap

Dehydration and migraine are linked. And even if you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day (64 ounces), it may not be enough. One small study found that 2.5 liters, or 84 ounces, might be a better daily target for people with migraine. That's 10½ 8-ounce glasses. Another study pegged the number at 4 liters, or 16 glasses a day.

The Caffeine Question
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The Caffeine Question

The link between coffee and migraine varies from person to person. Some do better without any caffeine. It can affect how well their rescue medicine works. Others are fine with a two-cups-a-day limit. Track how caffeine affects you in your migraine diary. If you love your cup of joe, it's key to keep your daily intake steady. Too little can prompt a withdrawal headache.

Watch Your Posture
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Watch Your Posture

Research shows that people who get migraines have more neck problems than others. So good posture is especially important. Keep hips and shoulders in line when you sit. If you spend lots of time at a computer, have your screen at or slightly below eye level. Take frequent breaks to get up, walk, and stretch. Even short bouts of activity can ease tension and help strengthen the core muscles that help with posture.

Lose Weight, Lose Migraines
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Lose Weight, Lose Migraines

If you’re overweight, you have a higher chance of chronic migraine. Dropping extra pounds could help you conquer those headaches. Ask your doctor about the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes veggies, fruits, nuts, and whole grains and limits sweets, red meat, and dairy. It includes fatty fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to help prevent migraine.

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Cleveland Clinic: “Chronic Migraine,” “Medication Overuse Headaches.”

American Family Physician: “Migraine Headache Prophylaxis.”

Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine: “SEEDS for success: Lifestyle management in migraine.”

Iranian Journal of Neurology: “The effectiveness of Orem's self-care program on headache-related disability in migraine patients.”

National Headache Foundation: “Headache Diary: Keeping a Diary Can Help Your Doctor Help You.”

Pain Medicine: “Stress Is Associated with Poor Outcome of Acute Treatment for Chronic Migraine: A Multicenter Study.”

UCSanDiego Health: “Migraine and Headache Care.”

Journal of Clinical Neuroscience: “Association of Drinking Water and Migraine Headache Severity.”

Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice: “Increased water intake to reduce headache: learning from a critical appraisal.”

Nutrients: “Water Intake, Water Balance, and the Elusive Daily Water Requirement,” “Obesity and the Mediterranean Diet: A Review of Evidence of the Role and Sustainability of the Mediterranean Diet.”

University Hospitals: “Why You're Getting Nothing Done When You Multitask.”

The BMJ: “Dietary alteration of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids for headache reduction in adults with migraine: randomized controlled trial.”

American Migraine Foundation: “How Posture and Sedentary Behavior May Impact Migraine,” "Managing Migraine With Exercise."