Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene.

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?”

-Ernest Hemingway.

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:

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Have a similar schedule for naps, if needed.
  2. 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.
  3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol at night.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

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 (14)
  • M2the4
    5 years ago

    I like it sit in my bed and meditate for 10 to 20 minutes. It is very calming. My standard is listening to my breath and counting “in two three four out two three four”. It doesn’t always work, but I use it if I waken during the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Since most of my migraines actually start while I am asleep, I use the breathing to help cope until my abortive meds kick in.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    M2the4,
    That’s a great suggestion. Especially if you always do it in bed before you go to sleep. Your body gets trained to think that it’s time to sleep when you start this routine. I do this occasionally, but will definitely try to make a better habit of it!
    -Katie

  • Vicki
    5 years ago

    My doctor put me on Remeron years ago. I love it! If I don’t take it, I’ll have problems getting to sleep. It does exactly what I need it to!

    On another note….sometimes I will get a headache a little while after waking, like you talked about. Sometimes I will wake up with one, but as time goes by it dissipates. Go figure.

  • migrainestl
    5 years ago

    Sleep is my sweet relief as well, but I find it very difficult to fall asleep and almost impossible to nap. I go to bed at 10pm & wake around 8am every day, but even though I allow 10hours for sleep I still only get about 7-8 which is really not enough for my migraine brain. I already take benadryl & melatonin at night & sometimes I use ambien or muscle relaxants to help as well, but limit these as I know they’re not good for the long run. I’ve tried your tips in the past, but am going to try & be more consistent and stick with them even if I have a bad night.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Migrainestl,
    Sleep is such a battle! I hope some of these changes will help you. And I’ll keep at it too. Maybe soon we’ll find something that works better for us!
    -Katie

  • Rebecca
    5 years ago

    I am a 19 year old college student so I never really had a normalized sleeping routine before – which is why my doctor just put me on Elavil because it has a sedative and knocks me out for 9 hours.

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    Lately, my doctor has really cracked the whip on Ambien. First, he issued warnings about the drug itself. Then he cut the dosage from 10 mg to 5mg. Finally, he is now asking that I consider a sleep clinic to conquer sleeping problems (and he’s a migraine specialist!). Meanwhile, I’ve been using OTC “Zzzquil” with minimal results. If I’m lucky, I get four hours of sleep, and I feel like crap. I do have a new full bottle of Ambien, but I’m determined to follow doctor’s orders, because I know he won’t give me any more. This sucks major monkey squat!

  • Tammy Rome
    5 years ago

    Poor sleep can really put a damper on life and trigger cranky moods. I’ve been there, done that more than once. A lot of doctors are starting to limit the amount of habit-forming medications. I know it probably feels like you’re not being taken seriously or that your needs are not being addressed. Most doctors don’t limit medicine for this reason. They do it for the good of the patient — they’re just not always very good at communicating their helpful intent. Most sleep clinics address a variety of issues from medication, environment, diet, state of mind, as well as ruling out any underlying sleep disorders. By treating the underlying causes of sleep problems, you will be able to get more restful sleep with fewer medications, and feel much better in the long run.

    By the way, ZzzQuil is just liquid Benadryl. It’s not habit-forming, but it’s also not particularly helpful if used on a regular basis.

    I do hope you can get good results from the sleep clinic. Please write back and let us know how you get along. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you get started while you wait for your first appointment at the sleep clinic: http://migraine.com/blog/migraine-triggers-sleep-2/

  • Cindy McMillan
    5 years ago

    Those first 2 paragraphs are me to a tee. Actually, almost the whole story is me. The only difference is that I am an early to bed, early to rise. I’ve always been a morning person. As much as I would love to sleep in, I have never been able to. This means that my bed time tends to be much earlier, too. Even with a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day, I am usually begging for bed between 6 and 7 at night.

    I used to read before bed, as that helped me relax. Now that I use an e-reader, that is a bad idea. The light from it irritates an already aching head along with the serotonin issue. Instead, I use my iPad to play some soothing music. Strangely enough, I am one of those people that can handle soft music even when most noises bother me.

    As for the nap, if I haven’t taken it by 3, I won’t do it. I know if I take it that late, my sleep will be bad. I also have a cat that has gotten used to my sleeping schedule. She lets me know when I am supposed to be in bed and when I should be waking up. She’s almost like an assistance cat.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    5 years ago

    Cindy- I love that your cat helps you stay on your schedule! Our animals know us better than we do sometimes.

  • Britiny colvin-kazee
    5 years ago

    Also not being in bed when it’s not time for bed is another thing to consider. I actually have a bit of an insomnia issue and I used to sit up in bed all the time. Since I’ve stopped doing that it’s improved. Also reading before bed helps me relax.

  • Brian in TN
    5 years ago

    A habit I picked up on submarines that I still use is to shower before bed. I find the feeling of a clean body on clean sheets very relaxing, and you don’t have to wash your sheets as often (which is why I started this on the boat in the first place).

  • Jillian
    5 years ago

    A consistent sleep schedule is crucial for me. I found the most helpful thing to get me up in the morning has been putting a lamp on a timer in my room. Right before my alarm goes off the light turns on and it feels so much more natural to be awake, especially in the winter.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi Jillian,

    Your idea about a timer on your lamp is genius! I may give it a try.

    Thank you
    Nancy

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