The relationship between sleep and migraines is somewhat illogical— excessive sleep causes headaches, sleep deprivation causes headaches, sleeping relieves headaches and sometimes sleeping can cause migraines.
How can sleep be a relief AND a culprit of migraines?
It is not uncommon for migraines to occur during the night, sleep and/or upon awakening.
The preferential nighttime timing of migraines is commonly referred to as “nocturnal migraines.”
The relationship between a migraine and sleep is complicated and requires a holistic diagnostic approach. But, new clinical evidence has shown some biological and lifestyle correlations to after-dark migraine timing.
Read on to learn more about these interesting new findings and some ways to get relief from nocturnal migraines.
What causes migraines at night?
As you may have read in some of our other blogs, the human body is a network of integrated systems under the influence of our circadian rhythm, or biological clock. Our circadian rhythm is based on the timed release of hormones in the hypothalamus (a part of the brainstem) triggered by various environmental and biological factors. As discussed in previous Engineering Radiance blogs hormonal imbalance can be a cause for a migraine, but another function of the hypothalamus is to control the REM phase of the sleep cycle.
The emergence of migraine attacks in REM sleep has been polygraphically documented. Both sleep regulation and migraine generation appear to be located in the brainstem, and it is speculated that a strongly reduced misfiring rate in neurons during REM sleep may trigger migraine attacks. Too, if nocturnal migraine attacks are occuring at a consistent time of night, this further supports the migraine onset is controlled by a timing mechanism — the circadian rhythm.
Some migraineurs report elation, irritability, depression, hunger, thirst or drowsiness during the 48-hour period preceding a migraine, which also indicates a hypothalamus origin of the migraine.
Each person has a unique chronotype, or internal clock and rhythm, which biologically determines the time of day your body is best equipped (physiologically speaking) for activity or requires rest and sleep to recover. A desynchronization or impairment of your chronotype creates stress on your circadian rhythm and may attribute to the severity or frequency of migraine attacks. This could be as innocent as staying up late, jet lag or working night shifts.
Your quality of sleep can also be triggering migraine attacks. Studies have found a correlation between poor sleep quality and higher migraine disability. Sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, is also linked with a higher migraine frequency.
Addressing conditions like sleep apnea and strengthening circadian rhythm (a critical part of the 3-month Migraine Freedom program) are important to improving sleep quality.
What’s in a Number?
While nocturnal migraines can occur at any age, one study has discovered an increase of sleep-related migraines with age. Especially in those middle-aged or older.
Other sleep and migraine correlations:
One interesting link to the occurrence of nocturnal migraines was drug withdrawal (prescription or recreational drugs).
Other studies have found correlations between nocturnal migraines and diseases and disorders such as:
- temporal arteritis
- oxygen desaturation
- primary and secondary neoplasm
- subdural hematomas
- subacute angle-closure glaucoma
- vascular lesions
If your migraine frequently happen at night or wake you up, be sure to discuss that detail with your doctor so that they can rule out other conditions.
Where can I find relief?
There is still a lot of research to be done on nocturnal migraines, including the right type of treatment or prevention.. The MayoClinic recommends three possible treatments for nocturnal migraines that you could discuss with your physician:
- Caffeine: A caffeine tablet or beverage taken before bed
- Lithium (Lithobid): a bipolar disorder medication
- Indomethacin (Indocin): a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication
Also be sure to address sleep apnea, snoring and other sleep disturbances. Review our Ultimate Sleep Guide for natural and holistic was to improve your quality of sleep.
Migraine attacks are personal — an individualized and holistic approach to discovering the root cause of your migraine is essential for a real cure. Migraine are symptoms themselves of deeper health issues, and the Engineering Radiance Migraine Freedom Plan is designed to eliminate your migraine headaches – not just treat the symptoms – by finding the internal stressors at the core of the issue.
Book your first appointment with our team of migraine specialists here.
- Preferential occurrence of attacks during night sleep and/or upon awakening negatively affects migraine clinical presentation
- Sleep quality, chronotypes and preferential timing of attacks in migraine without aura
- Sleep-related migraine occurrence increases with aging
- Associations Between Sleep Quality and Migraine Frequency: A Cross-Sectional Case-Control Study
- Nighttime headaches: How can I get relief?
- Unusual Headaches