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Darkness | Rest

Darkness and rest for the treatment of migraine headaches: an introduction

Sensitivity to light or photophobia is a common migraine trigger and can make migraine attacks worse. Nearly 85% of people with migraine have photophobia, which can make light painful. In addition to making light pain during a migraine attack, photophobia can cause sensitivity to light even between attacks. Scientists believe that signals from the optic nerve, which processes information from the eyes to the brain, trigger an intensification of the pain associated with migraine attacks in people with photophobia.1 For this reason, many migraine sufferers retreat to a quiet, dark room when an attack occurs. Seeking out a darkened room to rest in during an attack is one of the most common self-care practices in people with migraine.

Studies on light and migraine

Researchers have studied how light impacts migraine by comparing people with migraine who are legally blind but who can still detect light, to people who are completely blind and cannot detect light. Those who are completely blind and unable to detect light do not have their migraine attacks impacted by light, and those who are legally blind but still able to detect light experienced worsened pain during a migraine attack when they were exposed to light. In addition to research done in animal models, scientists have determined that the light signals involve the optic nerve. In addition, there are cells in the retina of the eye that contain melanopsin photoreceptors which get turned on when exposed to light. These retinal cells trigger a certain area of the brain that is active during a migraine. Even after the light source has been removed, this area of the brain can remain activated, which helps explain why many people with migraine say that it can take 20-30 minutes of being in a darkened room before the pain eases.1

Several studies have been conducted on the types of light that are most sensitive to people with migraine and photophobia. The different wavelengths of light produce different colors of light, and blue light seems to cause the most discomfort.2

Migraine sufferers who are sensitive to light are more likely to

As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no treatment regimen, medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.


Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: March 2019
  1. Why light worsens migraine headaches. Science Daily. Available at Accessed 5/23/18.
  2. Digre KB. Photophobia – What is it? Can it be treated? American Migraine Foundation. Available at Accessed 5/23/18.