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Migraine, Mental Health, and Sleep

Both migraine disease and commonly associated mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can cause major issues with our ability to get to sleep and reduce the quality of our sleep.

Sleep issues and migraine are a vicious cycle: lack of sleep is known to trigger migraine attacks, but often when we’re experiencing migraine attacks or a great deal of anxiety our sleep is seriously disrupted. Your sleep will probably never be perfect, but the good news is that there are things you can do to improve it. As with so many aspects of migraine disease, routine is the key.

Experts Recommend 5 Principles for Better Sleep:

1 Establish a routine & stick to it.

Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends and holidays. It’s common to talk ourselves into thinking it’s okay to sleep during the day if we didn’t sleep well during the night. It’s best to get up at your normal time even when if you didn’t sleep well to stay on your normal schedule.

2 Create an environment that is conducive to good sleep.

You’ll want to address two main issues: light and temperature.

Try to keep your sleeping area dark while you rest, but allow sunlight to come in as the sun rises so your body naturally responds to the trigger to wake up at the right time. Avoid sleeping with a TV on. If you feel you can’t fall asleep without the TV on, set a timer so it will turn off automatically after you fall asleep.

Most people sleep best in a cooler room, so having a fan on hand is a good idea. It can double as white noise, which also helps with sleep.

3 Move a little bit every day.

Exercise can be difficult for people with migraine, but if you can get in a little walking and stretching it will help so much in improving the quality of your rest. Don’t overdo it when you’re starting out. Just do a little bit at a time and see if you can work your way up to more vigorous exercise.

4 Have a bedtime routine.

Try to start doing something every evening as you prepare for bed that relaxes you and gets you in the right head space to rest and recover. Reading, stretching, yoga, meditation and chatting about a neutral topic with your partner are all good options.

5 Avoid caffieine.

Try to limit your intake of caffeine within a few hours of your bedtime or cut back earlier in the day if you have trouble getting to sleep at a good time. Some people can tolerate more caffeine than others without it disturbing their sleep, so it’s important to determine how much you can stand and stick to that limit.

What helps you get better sleep? Please share in the comments.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep. Kansas State University. Accessed April, 2011.


  • Janet Geddis
    8 years ago

    I’m a 9 hours/night girl! There are many routine-based activities I should do each day (exercise, keep a regular sleep schedule, eat well, take my meds, and on and on), but the one routine I nearly always stick to is my precious sleep schedule! I have missed many activities and many of my partner’s rock shows, but sleep comes first most of the time. Ever since I started putting myself on a regular sleep schedule I omitted nearly all my naps (and I used to nap about 5 times a week because I’d get so tired in the afternoons).

  • Danielle Howell
    8 years ago

    I have tried everything but my mind runs and runs. I have found that I have no problem going to sleep, my house is nice and dark. I try to make sure it is nice and cool in my house. I do find that I wake up several times during the night my mind is constantly racing and I with my migraine, allergy, and asthma medicine it doesn’t help. I wake up after sleeping an hour with something on my mind and after going back to sleep I might sleep a few hours or another hour and I am up again and it happens again. I really don’t want to add more meds to my already long list just to sleep any suggestions on how to stay asleep once asleep?

  • Chip Dooley
    8 years ago

    Good suggestion if you don’t get the from that way. But what if the environment and chemicals are the problem? I get any were from 15-20 migraines a month that last from several hours to 3/4 days and I know what causes them. I can’t live my life in my house 24/7. I have 3 beautiful kids that leave suicide out. I do what Ellen Schnakenberg does but not so low with the a/c I live in the dessert power bill would be $700 plus. but I take rox, i perk, soma, zanx and Pot and I will wear a mask some times(when I’m a lone kids would get embarrassed) they help but they still hurt like hell. Any other suggestion Thank You.

  • Carol Seay Witzell
    8 years ago

    I take a hot bath before I go to bed. I add to the water espom salts w/ lavender. The espsom salts help your muscles relax, and the added lavender calms you. I soak for about 15-20 minutes in the warm water. I follow up with rubbing an aromatheraphy lavender body butter into my skin. I keep my bedroom very cool, and employ a fan to create white noise. I try to go to bed about 11 p.m. and I always wake up about 7 a.m. My room has two windows and a french door, so to combat the light they are covered with mini-blinds. I am bi-polar, so during the times when I might be on the manic side, with whirling thoughts, I listen to soft music to help fight the racing thoughts.

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    This is going to sound strange, but getting up as soon as I wake up – and not trying to sleep for more than 7 1/2 hours is a way for me to avoid a migraine. If I sleep longer than that, I get a neck ache that triggers a migraine. I have to get up and sit upright. When I sleep with a migraine, I can’t lay horizontal either. I’ve never had a doc who has been able to explain it. I’ve even tried all the special “neck” pillows. I do know hydration has something to do with it. I leave a big water bottle by my bed and sip it all night. That helps.

  • Melanie Symonds
    8 years ago

    Janene – What you describe sounds very familiar. What finally worked for me was getting a “bed wedge” that raises my head about 10″ above the mattress. I still drink water during the night and sleep no longer than eight hours, but ever since I started using the wedge I no longer wake with a migraine.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Avoiding light is key for me. I have light blocking curtains and hubs put electrical tape over all the little electronic lights – TV etc. I turn the thermostat down to 69 and sometimes take a hot shower before bed. I found if my body temperature has the opportunity to lower, I will fall asleep and stay asleep. I actually prefer 67, but that’s the compromise hubs and I made and most of the time it works. If I have trouble getting to sleep, I take an anti-histamine and that is often helpful to knock me out.

  • Jenifer Holland
    8 years ago

    dark bedroom, curtains and mini blinds to block out windows, ceiling fan, and a box fan – box fan blocks out noise from neighborhood and is my white noise, my Jester cat (siamese mix) will either curl up on top of my feet and ankles and purr or under the blanket next to my hip, both of my cats seem to understand when I am having a migraine and stay pretty quiet and very close to me

  • Camille Simon
    8 years ago

    I understand the darkness, its such a comfort to us. When people walk into my home they wonder why it’s so dark inside? I just point to my head and say dont step on the cat.

  • Melanie Symonds
    8 years ago

    Great suggestions Ellen.

  • Danielle Turney
    8 years ago

    Lack of sleep is a big trigger for me. I have to take xanax at bedtime to slow my mind so I can go to sleep. At times the xanax doesn’t help and I am up for several days, I can’t sleep until my body just drops. I have my bedroom blacked out and I keep a fan next to my bed, so I don’t get hot. I also use a eye mask; so when my animals leave my room, my eyes are still covered to block any light. A lot of times I also have to sleep with a ice pack on my neck. I need a lot of sleep everyday or I get migraines from not enough sleep. So on average I need more then 8 hours a night.

  • Diana Lee
    8 years ago

    I definitely need more than 8 hours, too, to feel well rested.

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