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When Sleep Abnormalities Worsen Migraines and Vice Versa

In many cases, insufficient sleep can trigger a migraine attack so individuals suffering from the health issue exert the necessary effort to get the recommended amount of sleep. Experts suggest 6 hours at least and 8 hours at most of restful sleep at night – too little and too much can become the precursor for migraine that even a few hours of sleep during the day cannot dissipate in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration.

But sleep abnormalities are a different story than chronic lack of sleep for other reasons.  The relationship between migraines and sleep abnormalities, both of which are complex conditions, is a vicious cycle wherein one precipitates and even worsens the other.

Sleep-deprived, Migraine-afflicted

Several studies have shown a close link between sleep deprivation and migraine frequency.  In a study published in the 2012 Journal of the Neurological Sciences, individuals with non-aura migraines have a higher prevalence of sleep abnormalities in comparison with the general population.

In another study published in the Headache journal, patients with chronic migraines, sleep less in terms of the number of hours and the difficulty in both getting to and staying asleep than patients with episodic migraines. Chronic migraines refer to 15 headache days in a month while episodic migraines pertain to less than 15 headache days within the same period.

In another study published in the Neurology journal, 14% of subjects reported transitioning from episodic to chronic migraines.  The prevention of said transformation partly lies in addressing sleep disturbances, which can be achieved with the assistance of a sleep specialist.

It must be emphasized that scientists have yet to uncover the exact mechanisms of the relationship between sleep abnormalities and migraines.  Studies suggest a multifactorial, if not complex, interaction between these two health issues but there is hope for individuals who suffer both.

Common Culprits

Scientists have discovered that certain sleep abnormalities are more likely to precipitate migraine attacks.  The most common culprits are:

  • Difficulty in falling and staying asleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Snoring

Among specialists in internal medicine and neurology, both migraines and sleep disturbances are common primary complaints among patients.  If you have experienced both at the same time or you believe a link between the two conditions, then you must talk to your doctor about it.  You can help your physician connect the dots, so to speak, and hopefully find an effective treatment plan for your case.

Your doctor will likely suggest the following measures:

  • Maintain a sleep log-cum-headache diary for at least 24 hours.  The diary should include pertinent information including but not limited to measures contributing to your sleepiness and wakefulness as well as triggers like diet, weather changes and hormone changes.
  • Discuss therapies including medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes based on the findings of your headache diary.

The key here is to keep trying until you have your sleep-deprived migraine-afflicted self under control.  You should always work with your doctor to find the best combination of medications for your case as well as elicit the support of your family and friends in managing your symptoms.  You are not alone in this fight and you can always ask for help so that you can feel better and in control.

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