Shh! Don't Wake the Dragon! Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene
“I love sleep. Life tends to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
I can’t tell you how much I agree. When I sleep, there is a reprieve from the Migraine Dragon that lives inside my head. But as I adjust from my vivid, dreamy state back into reality, the dragon awakes and life tends to fall apart. I go about the day, never knowing what shape the dragon will take. If I’m lucky, some days he only grumbles inside my head, causing a dull ache. But usually he breathes fire down into my neck and shoulders, expanding his grasp on me. Inevitably after a few hours of being awake, the dragon shows me that I’ve clearly done something to make him angry. He begins stomping around my head, swishing his thorny tail against my skull with no end in sight. I pray that I can find sleep. For when I sleep, the dragon sleeps too. I don’t feel the pain. It’s when I’m awake that I suffer the most.
I use sleep as a coping mechanism. A way to run away from the vindictive dragon for a while. It’s my safe haven. Therefore, I sleep…a lot. Normally 8-10 hours at night and a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day. It gets really exhausting trying to fight that dragon all day! I have weapons to use- yoga, abortive and preventative medications, healthy eating and lots of water. But nothing gives me relief like sleep. After I awake, I get a few hours of productivity before the battle in my head gets really bad and I hit a wall. I try to fight through the pain, but eventually my bed calls to me for much needed relief.
My sleep habits, however, can be erratic, which only makes the Migraine Dragon worse. A consistent sleep routine is a must for Migraneurs. Without it, you’re fighting the dragon without a sword. This is by far the hardest battle for me to conquer. I’ve always been a night owl. I thought that I would grow out of the teenage years of staying up late, sleeping until noon and napping on the weekends. I’m 32 and I have yet to become an early bird.
I wanted to know if there was a way to keep the Migraine Dragon asleep even after I had woken up…meaning can I get the pain to subside for a longer period of time and not rely on sleep for relief? My doctor suggested going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Try taking a 20 minute nap instead of 2 hours. I tried for months. I set an alarm, I put it across the room, and I even had my boyfriend call me to wake me up. And every time I thought I had found consistency in my nighttime and morning routines, I would get a bad series of headaches that forced me into bed for long periods of time. The Migraine Dragon was winning.
Throughout my Migraine journey I’ve subscribed to the belief that I need to listen to my body. I finally realized that 20 minutes naps are not going to please my dragon. He needs 2 hours during the day so that he doesn’t completely get angry and release his fury on my head. But I absolutely need to improve my sleep pattern. I can’t take a 2 hour nap at 5pm because then I won’t go to bed until 1am (and have trouble falling asleep) which means I won’t get up until 11am the next morning…and so goes the bad sleep cycle that I get stuck in.
If you struggle like I do, here are some sleep hygiene tips to keep your battles with the Migraine Dragon in your head to a minimum:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Have a similar schedule for naps, if needed.
- Turn off all electronics 30-60 minutes prior to going to bed. The light produced from the screens tricks your mind into thinking it is daytime and the body continues to produce high levels of serotonin, instead of decreased levels which is needed for sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol at night.
- Exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night. My doctor recently said that a brisk walk an hour or so before bed can help you sleep better as well.
- The bed is for sleeping. Not for eating, watching TV, etc. This lets your body know that when you get in bed, it’s time to go to sleep.
- If you have trouble falling asleep, melatonin is a great over the counter, natural sleep aid instead of prescriptions like Ambien or Lunesta.
How do you deal with sleep? What are some tricks you’ve used? Does a consistent schedule help keep your Migraines to a minimum?
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?