Migraine Triggers: What Are Sleep Triggers? (Part 1)

Most Migraineurs miss out on the importance of consistent, restful sleep in their Migraine management. Insufficient sleep is often noted as a trigger for patients, but there are several other sleep related triggers with which we should familiarize ourselves.

Along with these triggers are many tips and tricks that can help Migraineurs optimize our management strategies.

There are many potential sleep related triggers which may include:

  • Insufficient sleep
  • Too much sleep
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Insufficient REM (Rapid Eye Movement — an important stage of sleep)
  • Insufficient oxygen levels during sleep

Some of the causes of these and other triggers can be the result of other health problems that may need to be addressed by us and our physicians. I try to encourage chronic Migraineurs to talk to their doctors about having a sleep study done. In the face of a fruitless search for other Migraine triggers, a sleep study can be extremely informative – both to help find these potential problems that need to be addressed, as well as rule them out.

Some potential sleep disruptors include:

  • RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Reflux problems such as GERD or LPR
  • Pain (including headache disorders and Migraine)
  • Menopause
  • Medication reactions
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Anxiety or depression
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Bladder or continence problems such as IC (Interstitial Cystitis) or BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia)
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Excessive light or heat
  • Poor sleep habits

Neither of these lists is to be considered in any way complete. In truth we could make these lists a mile long and probably never cover all the things that could negatively influence your healthy sleep or trigger a Migraine. There are a few of these however that I’d like to dig deeper into, because mitigating them can be even more helpful than taking a prescription preventive!

Visit Part 2 for some important tips, tricks and rules to sleep by.

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

Comments

View Comments (54)
  • nosirrah
    2 years ago

    Periodic Limbic Movement, which can be co-related to RLS, can also be an issue. I have fibromyalgia, so sleep is a major issue for me. I have a fitbit and use it to track my sleep and am amazed at how often it has me as restless at night. I don’t remember being restless. So, my doctor and I think it’s more Periodic Limbic Movement and RLS. I did an O2 test and that was fine, so no apnea. But I’ve never had anyone tell me that I move a lot in bed.

    I’ve always had a hard time getting to sleep. I remember this being an issue as a child. But I I guess once I get to sleep I’m not sleeping as well as I hope to. It’s frustrating because between irregular sleep as a result of some kind of sleep disorder and weather – I’m screwed.

  • dragonfly512
    4 years ago

    Hi, i am from the uk does anyone know if they are doing sleeping tests in the uk and if where. Haven’t had uninterrupted sleep in 12 years and do know part of my attacks are triggered by it.

  • Deannaj27
    4 years ago

    I have been wanting a sleep test done for a while now. I read so many possible causes for the migraines and headaches I get monthly and daily. From hormones to diabetes to sleep apnea. When I was a baby I would terrify my mom as I slept because my breathing would pause for a couple of seconds. Someone I dated had also told me I’ve done this in my sleep. I snore and talk in my sleep A LOT. I’ve woke up mid sentence many times and even felt and heard myself snoring while I was still somewhat asleep. I have daily headaches and most days it right when I wake up. An hour or two later I feel better. Then by 4 o’clock it’s worse. I’ve been to a chiropractor and was told my pelvis wasn’t straight. I work inserts and my shoes and had a weekly appointment. I stopped going as I thought it wasn’t helping and it was a lot of money. Sometimes I think I should’ve stuck with it considering I have neck pain and crack my neck several times a day. I see a sleep test in my near future! I’m very curious!

  • simplygourdjus
    5 years ago

    Sleep studies cost so much $$$$, even With having health insurance. I wake up by talking in my sleep/dream…and then my dog responds to me….that’s when I catch myself talking.

    i’m not sure if that makes any sense to anyone……..i’m in brain fog this morning

  • Katie
    6 years ago

    I wake up with a migraine at least once a week. If I sleep on my pillow the wrong angle, or if something disrupts my normal pattern, it is just a monster to wake up. I can’t even move it hurts so badly sometimes. How many times can a person call into work that you are going to be late?! It is just horrendous. I do appreciate the comments here about going to a chiropractor. Perhaps that can solve at least the morning migraines.

  • Jenny Barber
    7 years ago

    I was telling the girls today, that sleep is the best thing for my migraine , if I’m tierd I can write the day off. I’ve Always had sleep issues from a young age. I also have parasomnia, much to my husbands disgust, I have been known to act out my dreams, In one case I woke up with my husband softly saying Jen what are you doing? it took a while for me to register that he wasnt the vampire in my dream that I was smothering.. it was him, we lauph about it now , but at the time it was quite sarey. Somtimes I wake up will still dreaming and can’t move , sleep paralysis, it’s one of the most frightening things, as the dream is still happening, I tell myself to wake up but I can’t move as I slowly dose in and out of sleep, My remsleep happens too fast before I’ve even fully felt I’ve fallen asleep. not sure what this means, but it makes me jump with fear. These issues have been life long and I now wonder if it’s just a migraine issue. a sleep study might work it out. Carolyn Cappitelli, in the meantime, could you possibly afford a mouth gaurd to stopp your jaw from becoming misalined? it just that we all know how TMJ can cause your migraines to become worse, I feel for you honey. I’m sorry big hugs.

  • Brian in TN
    5 years ago

    Waking up while your still dreaming is usually diagnosed as catalepsy and may be responsible for the majority of alien abductions you hear about, especially those who are repeatedly abducted! I too have issues, especially when I’m exhausted where I enter REM sleep incorrectly. At one point when I was working ~20 hrs/day (submarine refit) I would lay down and within 30 seconds be in the middle of a very realistic dream and then within 2 min someone in the dream would start strangling me or holding my head underwater until I would wake up gasping for breath. That fun fact got a Navy ENT Dr to schedule me for a UPPP (Upper Pharyngeal Partial Pallatectomy, ie throat roto-rooter) on the spot. That surgery lowered the volume on my snoring but didn’t help the headaches or the catalepsy. It took me a while to figure out why catalepsy is so frightening, while the body is still in REM state paralysis the adrenal glans certainly aren’t and therefore start pumping adrenaline into the blood stream which raises the heart rate and tries and fails to raise the rate of respiration! The longer you lie there the less oxygen gets to your brain, causing more panic, stimulating the adrenals, and round it goes. Fun, fun, fun!

  • Tonya Cramer
    7 years ago

    I would suggest to those waking up with migraine from hell have that sleep study done. I had one done found out I have severe sleep apnea. Another issuse may be you might need a new pillow with proper neck support. The way to determine that is by seeing a chiropractor. He or she can tell if your neck is alignment correctly and not pressing on nerves. I see my chiro every 10 days and let me tell it helps. Just a few suggestions.

  • Marlene Rossman
    7 years ago

    Jennifer, my migraines most often come in the morning too, but sometimes I feel the band of tightness in the afternoon. This AM I had a monster on the left side of my head. They usually come as an icepick through the right eye and exiting through the occipital area below my ear. This is truly living in hell. For me it is now the new “normal” My life as I knew it before migraine is gone. I have to plan my life around the migraines. I used to have a great life, now migraines have stolen my life as well as most of yours below.

  • Bill Grabbe
    7 years ago

    My wife’s meds give her screaming nightmares. She now has days and nights reversed – I put her to bed when I got up this morning. Fortunately, no nightmares to listen to so far today.

  • Nina Flanagan Allen
    7 years ago

    I have suffered with migraines since the age of 13. For years they were undiagnosed. Finally it turned out to be a hormonal problem. There wasn’t or atleast I wasn’t told of any treatment for them for years. About 10 or 12 years ago I finally was prescribed Imitrex for them. I continued to get migraines for 2-3 days at a time. I once had a migraine for 6 days full blown I could not get out of bed, vomiting and the whole nine yards. I ended up in a hospital for about 10 days had surgery on the left side of my head, later found out I was having mini strokes. I have been on so many meds for headaches and so many tests to no avail. I have since had surgery on the right side of my head. I now take maxalt 10mg to prevent when I feel one coming on and Imitrex 100 mg for the migraine when they come on suddenly. I have tension headaches daily and I cannot drive at night and I have realized that the weather and the different altitudes are triggers. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed.

  • Lynne Hayes
    7 years ago

    I never realized that my sleep may be what is causing me to wake up in so much pain. Although I have had migraines since I was 7 (due to a major car accident), I have never really had any type of study done. When I see my neurologist the only thing he discusses is what meds to try to see if we can prevent them. Unfortunately the one med that does work, my insurance won’t cover. I have stopped taking anything but relpax at the onset. I get so very frustrated because when I am in so much pain that I have to go to the ER, everyone thinks “oh she just has a headache..I don’t know what she is complaining about.” Most days I have to just deal with it and go to work and pray that I make it there without getting so sick or having to pull over and close my eyes. Even my husband gets frustrated because I’m “sick” again. One day hopefully I get past the migraines and have a normal life.

  • PJ Morris
    7 years ago

    I hate you are going through this and wish they could find a cure. I have a cousin that lives with them as well. One or two a year is bad enough – prayers are with you.

  • Lila Clark Ueker
    7 years ago

    If I wake up with a migraine , they do seem to be the worst, my head hurts just to move so I end up laying there till I can’t stand it any longer, then it takes forever to get rid of.

  • Carolyn Cappitelli
    7 years ago

    My migraines started after a car accident. I have Traumatic Brian Injury but the wreck also knocked my teeth out. My jaw was wired in order to heal and then dentures were attempted but there was too much bone loss to support them. I recieved bone graphs and implants from a dental school but medicaid will not pay for the dentures so after 13 painful surgeries I don’t have teeth and have no chance of getting them. Living on SSI, I cannot pay 10 thousand dollars for the dentures and I cannot find help anywhere. I recently lost my educational grant from NY State because this means I will never be able to work with my appearance the way it is. I was on the last part of a 5 year journey to a new career and it broke my heart. I am tired of being disabled.The position of my jaw during sleep definately triggers migraines, as does trying to eat without teeth. Stress and depression doesn’t help. I am so frustrated and desperate, I even tried to end my life, but failed. I don’t know how much more I can take, but thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

  • Becca Lumbert
    7 years ago

    If/when I get a ‘sleeping migraine’, I will usually have a horrific dream and wake from the unfinished dream with a migraine. I think I probably start to get a migraine in my sleep, which triggers the dream.

  • Jaylene Ancheta
    7 years ago

    This is a big problem for me that I can’t figure out how to deal with it. I get a lot of sleep interruptions and I’m thinking that has a lot to do with it. My husband’s snoring, the neighbors loud music and other sound disturbances caused by others all wake me or startle me in the middle of the night. I’ve tried and tried to work with other’s about it but, they just don’t seem to care. These are problems for me that seem to be out of my control.

  • Christine Brenchley
    7 years ago

    I have been sleeping on my own for 12 years in a quiet neighbourhood and i still get 2-3 migraines /week. I take amitriptilyne every day to help me get to sleep but for the past year most have come on between 3 and 5 in the morning. Frovatriptan works after 1-2 hours but they often come back after 12 hours and have been known to go on for 10 days. I am 56 and they are still getting worse. The only real respite i have ever had was an elimination diet. No migraine for 6 weeks but i could not trigger one. Finally gave up after losing 1 stone(14 pounds) and they all came back.

  • Jennifer Bunardzya
    7 years ago

    Headache….every single morning:( I have alot more severe migraines, in general due to emergency brain surgery (craniotomy) due to a car accident 2 years ago and a tumor on my optic nerve…….I’m just grateful to be alive. Thank you, as always for your pertinent info about different Migraine info. Nice to see you<3.

  • Cindy Berry Mossey
    7 years ago

    Does anyone know if a snoring spouse contributes? When he faces me the sounds are startling and loud. Can this affect my sleep patterns? And I really adore him but this is just the sleep science I am talking about. When he is not home I sleep better and deeper. What to do? (married 28 yrs & still in love).

  • Jenny Barber
    7 years ago

    Hi Cindy Berry , I think any thing that wakes us on a regular basis can help us to have bad sleeping habbit.s My husband and I have just had an argument about his phone use in the bedroom at night, it needs to stop. good sleep hygene is so important for migraineurs.

  • Chrissy Gibbs
    7 years ago

    Ive had Migraines for the last 10 yrs- I get them so easy it’s pathetic, from someone speaking to fast/loud-to if I get up to fast or lay down to fast. I have a pace of my own because my head is so sensitive..I get migraines and virtigo just by rolling over in my sleep, I focus on my clock light just so I know I’m not falling, but it sure is hard to get a good night sleep when ya gotta wake up to that each time I move..I tried elevating my mattress by stuffing pillows between the box springs and mattress but that didn’t work..I noticed my eye sight isn’t all that clear either, although- exams say nothings wrong..Frustrating!

  • Tiffany Thomas
    7 years ago

    I’ve had migraines wake me up out of a dead sleep and had migraines prevent sleep for days. I don’t know that one causes or prevents the other. Sleep is a necessary part of everyone’s day and migraines don’t seem to care what time of day it is. They come kinda like a bad relative, anytime they want and just as unwelcome.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    7 years ago

    Lindsey, journaling is a great way to experiment a little to see if adjusting the amount of sleep you’re getting is consistent and sufficient – or too much. To begin, write down when you go to bed at night and how long you think it took you to go to sleep. When you waken in the morning, note the time. If you think you woke up during the night, estimate how many times you think those instances occurred and for how long. When you do this for a couple of weeks, a pattern may emerge you weren’t seeing before. Always wait at least 2 weeks before adjusting your timing, meds, etc so you know what made a difference should things improve or get worse. You must have patience to find triggers and find the things that will help you manage your attacks better. 🙂

  • lindsey
    7 years ago

    I notice as trigger you have too much sleep. How do you know if you have too much sleep?

  • Jennifer Egnor
    7 years ago

    I wish the cause could be discovered. A lot of times I wake up with a migraine from HELL. I’m talking it hurts so bad I can barely breathe, and no matter how I lay or turn my head, it makes no difference…it just feels like my head is literally being crushed and all I want to do is put a gun to it. For me, I’ve found out these kind of migraines seem to be the very worst! All I can do is just lay there in the dark and try not to cry while my husband tries his best to help me through it. For everyone else who is suffering out there, you are not alone.

  • Migraine.com
    7 years ago

    Hi Jennifer Egnor – Have you considered triggers other than food? There is a genetic component of migraine which can’t be avoided, however you may be able to find triggers that can be managed. For instance, if you are waking up with migraines it may be helpful to consider sleep triggers, as noted in this article. If your migraines follow a cycle, hormones may be playing a role. There are many many triggers to consider…..

  • Julie Tipton
    7 years ago

    Jennifer Egnor i can relate to all of you daily migraines once in a while nothing, i think mine are from to little sleep as i have a one year old and a 2 yr old who has only slept through the night twice in her live im normally up 6 to 8 times a night then of course have to get up early to get my older two off to school.. no matter how much i hurt i have to struggle through it.

  • Marie Huffman
    7 years ago

    Jennifer Egnor I so can relate

  • Bambi Delaney
    7 years ago

    Jennifer Egnor – It’s nice to know- not that I want you to be in pain- but there are other people like me that get migraines for extended period and then you get a few days repreive and then it cycles back…everyone acts like you are crazy.. Finally had to go to the ER this week via ambulance it so was awful and I was sobbing so hard

  • Jennifer Egnor
    7 years ago

    Cathy, I had NO idea that there were so many things that could go wrong in a sleep cycle to trigger a migraine. I can feel the difference in the pressure when it’s caused from a lack of sleep. But then there are a lot of times where it seems I’ve slept fine, but then I wake up with the worst pain of my life!

  • Jennifer Egnor
    7 years ago

    Yes, Ellen, I am. I write it down on the calendar and I have tried to keep a notice of food triggers, but it seems that no matter what I eat it makes no difference. Another big problem is that it may be genetic…the women in my family tend to get them, and it’s been that way for a while. That, plus triggers that I -am- aware of, that I really can’t avoid, make it difficult. I go through cycles. Like for a few weeks that’s all I get, and then there are a few days, maybe a week if the Gods are feeling merciful where I don’t get any. Then, it’s right back to the same thing again.

  • Cathy Frost
    7 years ago

    I am the same way Jennifer. I feel perfectly fine the night before and one horrible night’s sleep and I am put into a whirlwind of migraine hell.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Jennifer, there are many, many triggers for Migraine. Are you keeping a journal to help you discover what some of your personal triggers might be? http://bit.ly/hgE7DK

  • Laura Bagley Asher
    7 years ago

    You forgot teeth grinding or teeth clenching. I’ve chewed through 3 nightguards before I got the NTI device. It’s acrylic and fits just the 2 front teeth. I did manage to shatter it; my dentist said it was the first time he’s ever heard of that happening.

  • Laura Bagley Asher
    7 years ago

    Kim Coon Bias Mine fit on the top 2 teeth. Of course with migraines not everything works for everyone. I’ve gone thru 30+ meds and 3 major surgeries and countless minor procedures. Next up Botox.

  • Laura Bagley Asher
    7 years ago

    Ellen Schnakenberg Mine is small enough that I could wear it during the daytime if I wished to. I talk funny when I have it in but I can slip it out to talk. Driving is an especially tense time for me and a good place to wear it on long drives or rides.

  • Kim Coon Bias
    7 years ago

    NTI Device didn’t help me at all. Matter of fact, I haven’t worn it in so long when I put it on, I couldn’t get it off. I pryed so hard it loosened #25, bottom right tooth. Have been afraid to put it back on, so I am back to the night guard.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Laura, unfortunately those that grind and clench teeth often do so during the daytime as well. This can cause tension that ultimately acts as a Migraine trigger – no matter when it happens.

  • Brandi Gamache
    7 years ago

    Have there been any studies done on what causes Migraines during sleep? As in going to bed without one, and waking up either in the middle of the night or in the morning with one?

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Susan, have you tried turning down the heat at night 5 – 10 degrees, or taking a warm shower before retiring?

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Migraines that occur during or shortly after sleep are not at all uncommon. There may be many reasons for this – as many as there are patients who suffer them. That said, Melatonin has been shown to help some Migraineurs who have sleep related Migraine attacks. Dosage may be different than suggested on a supplement bottle however. Starting a discussion with your doctor or headache specialist is a good way to begin an investigation into the possibilities. Other possibilities are mentioned in the article and include sleep difficulties that may be diagnosed and managed after a sleep study is completed.

  • Susan Cleveland
    7 years ago

    I, too, wake up with migraines a lot. This sucks, because I’ve slept through the critical moment that Imatrex will work and wake up with a full blown migraine. At that point, there’s nothing to do but pain meds and anti-nausea meds. If I can’t keep the anti-nausea meds down (or up) due to vomiting before they kick in, it’s a trip the old e.r.

  • Pamela Pamer-Van Dalsen
    7 years ago

    I have the same issue. I got to bed without and wake up with one so I know how you feel.

  • Louise M. Houle
    7 years ago

    Did a sleep study. Have MILD sleep apnea (reduced breathing). But I’m hesitant to use the CPAP device as I feel the machine itself will make me sleep uncomfortably. Not sure if there’s anything else to try.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Remember that so much of Migraine management has to do with lots and lots of patience. You didn’t get this way overnight, so give yourself several months before giving up on something potentially helpful. Like Migraine, apnea can be a progressive disease. Getting a hold on it can be important for your heart and your health as well. In serious cases, apnea can be fatal.

  • Meghan Hoffman
    7 years ago

    The first week or so can be uncomfortable, but after that the rest is much more restful.

  • Abigail Bristow
    7 years ago

    I find sleep to be one of my biggest triggers! I am so glad you posted this I have so many problems sleeping I am going to defientely ask to have that study done maybe then they can find a better way of treating my migraines! <3 U <3 abby.

  • Alison Lauhon
    7 years ago

    This is so true! If I don’t get enough sleep, or if I get to much at night it will trigger a migraine. I have to make sure that I get approx 7-8 hours every night. That seems to be the magic number. Any more or any less and I will have a migraine because of it. Thank you for posting this article.

  • Amy Dziomba
    7 years ago

    Great article, night time migraines are the story of my life. Until the past year I have woken up every morning in terrible pain. My sleep is terribly disrupted by anxiety and thanks to a psych NP finding some low dose meds to take before bed to decrease the anxiety at night and help me get a good night sleep it has helped tremendously with the amount of migraines I wake up with.

  • Pen Ort
    7 years ago

    Thanks for this, see my FB comment. night time migraines have stolen my life.

  • Lisa Welch McClellan
    7 years ago

    I have so much empathy, migraines in general have stolen mine too…so sorry Pen

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