What’s the Link Between Migraine and Sleep Problems?

Migraines and Sleep Issues

Migraines and SleepCould poor sleep quality be causing your migraines? I have always felt that my reoccurring migraine headaches were connected in some way to sleep issues.

I’m not the best sleeper. So, whether it is a migraine that seems to be triggered by too little sleep, or a few nights of poor-quality sleep, it often seems that my sleep patterns are part of what triggers my next headache or a good indication that a migraine is in my near future.

Can Sleep Patterns and Quality of Sleep Be a Trigger?

I recently learned that many doctors believe there is a strong association between poor sleep and the frequency and intensity of migraine and other pain syndromes.

Insomnia and other common types of sleep difficulties include: sleep apnea, chronic snoring, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Insomnia is defined as a severe difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning waking, or waking up feeling unrefreshed. It is reported to be a common condition suffered by individuals who also have chronic migraine.

Research has also suggested that if someone suffers from other conditions that cause chronic pain (I suffer from lupus, fibromyalgia, migraine and thyroid issues) you are more likely to also suffer from insomnia and migraines. The theory here is that pain disrupts sleep and eventually sleep patterns form, affecting you even when you might not be in pain.

What the Research Says

Until recently, this relationship between insomnia and migraine was not well studied. But one recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill looked at the association by conducting interviews with 147 adults with transformed migraine (TM).


None of the patients could say they felt refreshed upon awaking each morning, and four out of five regularly felt tired when they woke up each day. This was compared with responses from people with infrequent migraines: approximately one in four felt refreshed upon waking and only about one in three awakened feeling tired.

In this survey, two-thirds of those who had more than 15 days of migraine pain each month also suffered from insomnia. Researchers also asked about caffeine consumption and the before bed habits of the sufferers, and the majority did not consume caffeine in the eight hours prior to going to bed and they did relaxing activities before trying to sleep.

So, in other words, they were not causing their insomnia through bad habits. They were doing all the right things and still could not fall asleep easily.

According to the study, these findings represent typical sleep issues for those with frequent, severe migraines, especially those needing medically prescribed headache medication for their migraine pain.

Are Sleep Issues and Migraines Genetic?

There is research that indicates sleep challenges and migraines could be genetic. About 10 years ago the National Institutes of Health identified a gene responsible for a rare sleep disorder in a Vermont family. The family members also often suffered from migraine with aura.

Dr. Louis J. Ptácek and his colleagues focused their study on the family’s sleep disorder, a condition called “familial advanced sleep phase syndrome,” which basically makes people become what most call early birds. Essentially, they go to sleep early and wake up unusually early each day.

Next page: making good sleep habits. 

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