migraines and sleeps

10 Ways To Avoid Migraine Headaches

Category: Blog

Why Sleep Is Important To Avoid Migraines


So why are we talking about sleep? Well for one, sleep is considered to be one of the most common migraine triggers and thought to be associated with an increased probability of an attack over a brief period of time. Meaning that sleep quality or alteration in sleep pattern can bring on a migraine quite rapidly.


Also, sleep is vital for our general well-being, and getting enough quality sleep at the right times is protective for mental and physical health. The repair and rewiring that happens while we’re sleeping greatly influences the way we feel while awake, and impacts our quality of life. Sleep affects how well we perform – including how we think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.


Over time, poor sleep can increase the risk of several chronic health problems including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. It can increase risk of stroke, and affect the functioning of the immune system, making it hard for your body to fight common infections. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression and anxiety. Sleep is so crucial that we could be doing everything else, ‘right’, and making all kinds of effort in other areas, but if we’re not sleeping, we may not experience the benefits.


Quality of Sleep

‘Quality’ sleep means getting good sleep is not just about making sure that our eyes are closed for 7-8 hours. Getting a good night’s sleep means that you fall asleep easily, sleep through the night without waking, and wake in the morning feeling rested and refreshed. Sadly, most of us do not experience this!

Migraines and Sleep

For those of you who CANNOT see a direct connection between how well you sleep and your migraines, you may not feel motivated to put your attention and energy on your own sleep situation. Or maybe you DO see the connection, and have tried to improve the quality of your sleep, but without success. It can be really hard to get good sleep when you get migraines – and one perpetuates the other with a lack of sleep being a trigger for migraine, and migraine pain and symptoms disrupting a good night’s sleep. Regardless of which camp you’re in, it’s important to understand the role that sleep plays so that we don’t give up on trying. And rest assured, there are strategies we can put in place to improve our sleep situation! So, what happens while we sleep?


During Restful Sleep:

        • Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes growth and repair. This is important for growth in children and teens, but in children, teens, and adults, it boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues.
        • During sleep our liver detoxifies and converts toxins that we’re exposed to throughout the day.
        • The immune system – which defends our body against foreign or harmful invaders, is working to repair injuries and fight infections.
        • Heart and blood vessels are being repaired.
        • Our brain sorts and processes the day’s information, forming new pathways, which is important for things like creating long term memories, learning and remembering information, problem-solving skills, paying attention, making decisions, and being creative.
        • Our sympathetic nervous system gets a chance to relax, turning off that fight-or-flight response and allowing for rest and repair to happen.

A lack of good quality sleep:

        • Affects our ability to control our emotions and behaviour, and cope with change. We may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. We may feel stressed more easily!
        • It affects our ability to function well throughout the day – sleep deficiency lowers productivity, making it take longer to finish tasks; slows reaction time; and causes us to make more mistakes.
        • It affects our immune system’s ability to respond to invaders and repair injuries.
        • It affects how our body reacts to insulin, which is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
        • It affects balancing of hunger hormones ghrelin – the one that makes us feel hungry, and leptin – the hormone that makes us feel full. When we don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin goes up and leptin goes down, making us feel hungrier than when we’re well-rested
        • It may lead to microsleep, which is brief moments of sleep that happen when we’re normally awake – the kind we may not even be aware of happening. For example, if you’ve ever driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip, you may have experienced microsleep!

Cycles of Sleep

The brain generates two distinct types of sleep—slow-wave sleep known as deep sleep, and rapid eye movement, or REM, which is also called dreaming sleep. Most of the sleeping we do is of the slow-wave sleep variety, where muscles are relaxed and we breathe deeply. Deep sleep lasts approximately 90 minutes and is where the physical body restores itself. REM sleep lasts up to 60 minutes and is when the non-physical body restores itself (or, the ‘psyche’). This stage is more about forgetting than remembering, and the psyche frees the mind of information that you don’t need. If you wake up naturally during this phase of sleep, you’ll remember your dream (or nightmare) vividly. If the alarm clock wakes you up, you’ll remember just a bit.


For those affected by migraines, disruptions in REM sleep can be a trigger for attacks, because REM sleep is necessary for our production of serotonin and dopamine, and as we’ve learned, we are affected by inadequate levels of, and fluctuations in, these neurotransmitters.


Many people affected by migraines have experienced waking up with a morning migraine 5-6 hours after sleep begins, and this is often related to interrupted sleep, and/or from withdrawal from medications, or caffeine substances consumed before bedtime.


Hormones and Sleep

There are a number of hormones involved in our sleep cycle. Melatonin is released by the pineal gland and controls our sleep patterns, with levels increasing at night time – making us feel sleepy. The pineal gland is also known as the ‘third eye’ because it’s quite literally a third eye that we have within our brain. It’s stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light, which explains why exposure to light later in the day, including blue light from screens, can affect our sleep. While we’re sleeping, it’s our pituitary gland that gets signalled to release growth hormone, which is the hormone that helps our body to grow and repair itself.


Sleep Cycle and Cortisol

Sleep is one of many body processes that work in a cycle, and with sleep it’s specifically called the circadian rhythm – a natural, internal 24-hour clock that sends our body signals to wind down and relax or amp up and energize. Cortisol is one of the hormones that plays a major role here, and it decreases during the first few hours of sleep before rising to peak soon after you wake up. It’s what makes you feel energized when you wake up and switches on your appetite.


Why You Can’t Sleep

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could be because you aren’t ‘catching the wave’, meaning you aren’t heading to bed when your cortisol levels are low and you feel that sense of fatigue that makes you say ‘I should go to bed’, which makes it easier to move into a restful state. Instead, you push through your fatigue, and by the time you go to bed, your cortisol levels are starting to climb again (which happens through the night as you sleep, peaking in the morning as mentioned). This makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.


Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

Also, as we’ve learned, cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’, which again demonstrates how ‘all things are connected’ and the close relationship between sleep and stress. If you experience sleep issues, it could be an indication of elevated or insufficient cortisol. In other words, if the stress response is on and your cortisol remains high, you won’t feel tired at bedtime, and you’ll have a harder time getting to sleep and staying asleep. Or, if cortisol is depleted because your stress response has stayed on for too long, your sleep cycle will be erratic. At times of high stress we tend to lack in deep, restorative sleep which may trigger a vicious cycle between stress and sleep.


Altered sleep patterns, which include things like poor sleep, insomnia, interrupted sleep, or oversleeping can affect stress levels, as well as migraine attacks. Sleep deprivation and oversleeping are known migraine triggers, and some research shows that it’s actually sleep continuity disturbance that impairs your pain inhibition, and increases spontaneous pain. So, a change in your sleep routine can be a major migraine trigger.


Factors that affect sleep include:

        • Circadian rhythm disrupted – circadian rhythm is impacted primarily by when we eat and when we sleep
        • High cortisol – which is caused by stress, and competes with melatonin which is the hormone that should be elevated at night to make us sleepy. Those who experience migraines are said to have lower levels of melatonin.
        • Parasites
        • Menopause (hormone changes)
        • Timing (bedtime, wake time)
        • Sleep apnea
        • Waking from low blood sugar – if your blood sugar is swinging up and down through the day, it’s accustomed to doing that, and so it will also do that during the night even when you’re not eating.
        • A snoring spouse or pets in the room
        • Too much light in the room
        • Or a room that’s too warm

To summarize, during sleep, our body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health. It’s when repair and rejuvenation happens. And the more in alignment we stay with our natural rhythms, the better we’ll sleep and the better our health will be.


If you are suffering from migraine headaches or interrupted sleep – we’d love to help you – book here.