Doesn’t everyone wish they could get better sleep? When you get migraine headaches, though, it’s more than just a matter of feeling refreshed and alert the next day. Studies show there’s a connection to migraine attacks.
The good news is, getting better rest can reduce the number of headaches you experience, and all it takes is a few lifestyle changes.
How does sleep affect migraine?
According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraine sufferers are between two and eight times more likely to suffer from sleep disorders than the general public, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction, a.k.a. teeth grinding. This is what’s called a “comorbidity,” which is a fancy word for when two medical conditions tend to show up together without one necessarily causing the other.
Unfortunately, these disorders and migraine also tend to make one another worse. If you’re in the middle of an attack, you may not be able to rest. Or on the flipside, you might take a nap during the day and end up disrupting your nighttime routine. If you try to use caffeine to deal with all this, you could also end up drinking it too late in the day to get to bed at night.
On the other hand, if you’re not getting enough rest, it actually lowers your pain threshold, so headaches feel even worse than they are. And if worrying about all this stresses you out? That’s another trigger.
So why do I wake up with headaches?
You may’ve noticed the most common time for your migraine attacks to occur is early in the morning. There are several reasons for why you end up starting your day in pain. Plenty of triggers can affect you without you needing to be awake, from your menstrual cycle to the weather. Plus, you can’t exactly take your normal acute pain reliever while you’re asleep.
And then there’s sleep itself as a trigger: Both too little and too much can trigger attacks.
How much sleep should I be getting?
The National Sleep Foundation says adults should try to get somewhere between seven and nine hours of rest each night. It definitely varies by individual, though, so it’s important to figure out what feels best for you. A great way to do that is with sleep tracking.
Will sleep tracking help me manage my migraine attacks?
Yes and no. Tracking your sleep patterns can help you figure out how much rest you’re actually getting each night. Pair this information with a migraine journal, and you’ll be able to figure out if the headaches you experience are related.
Like a migraine tracker, a sleep tracker just provides information. What you do with it is up to you.
Which sleep tracking apps work best for migraine?
For a migraine sufferer, a wearable device like a Fitbit or Apple Watch may be the best option. As long as you’re wearing it, the tracker pretty much runs itself, so you won’t have to worry about forgetting it when you’re in the middle of an attack. You also won’t need to have your phone in the bedroom with you, and you’ll get better data overall since the device can track your heart rate as well as your movement.
There are a couple downsides to using wearable devices like these: They can be expensive, uncomfortable to wear at night, and you have to make sure they’re charged before bedtime. If you already have one, go ahead and give it a try—any Fitbit should have sleep tracking enabled automatically, and for a smartwatch there are free apps you can download. Otherwise, the most basic Fitbit model available will do the job, or look online for a fitness tracker wristband with sleep monitoring for a more affordable option.
If you just want to use your phone, you’ll need to keep it beside you all night (and resist the temptation to start scrolling social media in the meantime), and in some cases actually have it in bed with you. These apps work through some combination of sensing your movement, audio recording, and having you manually input when you go to bed and wake up.
There are tons of sleep tracking apps available for both iOS and Android. One of the most popular and highest-rated ones is Sleep Cycle. There’s a free version, so giving it a try is no big deal, and it’s pretty simple to use. Just turn it on at night and leave your phone by your bedside.
Keep in mind that while home tracking technology is pretty good, it’s still no match for the sort of data you’d get from a lab study. If you see anything alarming in your results, talk to your doctor before you start to worry.
How else can I prevent migraine attacks triggered by sleep?
- Exercise earlier in the day. Exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly…unless your body is still wired from the workout, so finish your fitness routine at least three hours before bed.
- Finish eating any large meals and drinking caffeine and alcohol several hours before bedtime.
- Do something relaxing before bed that doesn’t involve looking at screens. Take a bath, read a book, journal, meditate, or whatever else brings you peace.
- Go to bed when you’re actually tired, and if it’s still not happening, get up and go back to one of those relaxing activities.
- Develop a consistent routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Your app can help you figure out what those times should be.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. If it’s not, consider investing in a fan, eye mask, or earplugs.
Easier said than done, right? Still, it’s worth remembering that these routines really can make an impact on your quality of life. If you’re ready to start making healthier choices for both your schedule and your migraine, sleep tracking can be a good place to start.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash.