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Why Migraines Cause More Migraines

In the days during and following a migraine attack, you’d think our bodies would know what was good for us, instead of leading us toward the very things that make our migraines worse. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Ironically, and conversely, many of us are drawn into a cycle of unhealthy habits and choices including a poor diet, an inconsistent sleep cycle, social isolation, and lack of exercise. It isn’t long before our own actions may begin serving as fuel for the fire, triggering more attacks.

Cravings

What and when we eat can get thrown off schedule during and after a migraine attack. We may end up craving foods we don’t normally ingest. Many migraineurs report a sugar tooth or desire for carbs during and in the days following an attack. Ironically, these foods are well-known migraine triggers.

Living in fear

After hours spent responding to severe pain, our bodies are generally tight and stiff. It is easy to be fearful that any movement or exertion will trigger another attack. While it doesn’t make sense to jump from days in bed to a running a marathon, gentle movement and light stretching can ease knotted musculature and reduce the risk of further pain and tightness.

Fitful sleep

Migraine wreaks havoc on our sleep schedule. Period. Nausea and vomiting, dizziness, or side effects of medications may contribute to a disruption of our regular sleep cycle. During or emerging from an attack, we may understandably adopt habits like keeping the TV on as a distraction from the severe pain. Perhaps we changed the time we fall asleep or wake in the morning. Left unaddressed, these new patterns can trigger new attacks.

Isolation

Migraine quickly pulls us inward socially and emotionally. We must focus on self in order to manage the severe and multiple side effects that accompany this complex neurological disease. It can be tempting and feel easier, in the days following a migraine, to maintain radio silence with one’s social network. After feeling like we are constantly canceling plans, letting others down, and coming up short, it may feel easier to allow our social circle to shrink so there are fewer to disappoint. However, trying to manage a chronic pain condition alone is heartbreakingly difficult and will ultimately only make the load heavier.

Breaking the cycle

The effort it takes to break the migraine cycle cannot be understated. While it may be easier to simply succumb to the snowballing migraine cycle, doing so only leads to more attacks. In the face of this challenge, we have to consciously push back, reach out, and connect with others. We must push past exhaustion in order to move, and consciously side step the cravings for unhealthy foods in order to eat well again. We have to stretch ourselves- figuratively and literally.

With a disease that takes so much from us, this is one way we can assert some control in an attempt to regain our balance and stop the sickening cycle of migraine.

Do migraines trigger more migraines in your life? If so, in what ways? Do you crave junk food? Do you stop exercising? Does your sleep schedule change? How do you get your balance back?

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 (20)
  • PTrainer
    2 weeks ago

    Hi, I read a book written by an eminent Neurologist in America who is also a migrainer and her findings were interesting. As we know the migraine occurs the day before we have the symtoms (headache, nausea, aura, vomiting, sound irritation & yes those lovely cravings). According to her it is a myth (just quoting her) that the foods mentioned cause the migraines. She says that as we crave those foods while having and post the migraine is due to the vessels, muscles etc that are having their delightful spasms etc are pressing on our pleasure centres in our brains causing the cravings. I am 80% in agreement as I can eat drink all the foods,drinks etc & not be triggered majority of the time.This could just be me but her reasoning seemed pretty sound. The book is called the migraine brain (will try to look up the author as my GP asked for the book as was impressed with what and how things were explained). Now that is just one Specialists view.
    As far as the sleep side goes though with you 100% and have struggled with that. The other for me is that I must eat regularly if I get too busy and skip meals invariably a migraine will occurr. Oh if it all were simple and we all fit a one sized box with a one size solution but that is not how the brain works. I do love hearing eveyones experiences and solutions etc that work (or not) for them because this condition is so multifaceted we can probably all relate in some way and this forum definitely helps with the isolation which for me from the above blog has raised some on point things for me to consider – so thankyou hugely for that.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    5 hours ago

    Hi @ptrainer– Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. The book you mention sounds like a great one to explore. Fascinating point about the cravings- turning the idea around- chicken and egg kind of thing. Which came first? Does the impending attack cause the cravings or do the cravings trigger or worsen the attack? I actually think it doesn’t have to be either or, but rather both.

    For instance, I crave sweets before an attack. I have learned that indulging will make an attack more likely. If I continue to indulge in sweets during the attack, doing so will only lengthen its stay. The idea you share from the book (by Carolyn Bernstein, I believe?) is that the initial craving is driven by an earlier stage in the migraine process during which swelling/spasms in the brain light up those desires for sweets. Whatever the case, it is fascinating and all of this shows that we are still quite early on the way to fully understanding this complex neurological disorder.

    You are also so right to point out the many different ways that migraine shows itself. There are so many millions of migraineurs in the world and likely no two of us are precisely alike in terms of the way the disease manifests itself (from symptoms to response to treatment).

    One thing’s for sure, regardless of that fact, or perhaps because of it, migraine is such an isolating disease that connecting with others who are living with the condition becomes all the more key to managing it. To that end, I’m so grateful you shared and that you are a part of our community. Please stay in touch.

  • Dana
    3 weeks ago

    I promise I won’t say “sleep hygiene “! I get stuck in the crappy eating cycle. My body craves sweets so much before during and after a particularly nasty migraine, which unfortunately are fairly regular. The thought of “real food” makes me sick and smelling it being cooked But I will absolutely eat Lucky Charms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You have cookies, yes please, ice cream, sure, chocolate, give me all of it. And I feel worse afterwards, but my body doesn’t seem to recognize the relation. Anyone else have this problem? Or did and found a solution to it?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Indeed! You are not alone! I know the sugar cravings well. That is my prodrome and postdrome and it can also be a trigger for me. Additionally, I can justify the heck out of a daily slice of chocolate cake given the amount of pain I navigate everyday. I also have been known to down a box of Lucky Charms within a couple of days when things are particularly challenging. Like you, these things never make me feel better- and indeed make me feel worse but still, the cravings remain.

    In the past couple of years, I was eventually able to let go of this habit- although the longing still comes knocking from time to time. Here are the only things that worked for me:

    1) I tried a three week elimination diet that really shifted the way I thought about food (as fuel instead of as reward). A huge change for me. https://migraine.com/living-migraine/andgoodbye-sugar-too/

    When I removed sugar from my diet, I felt cleaner- clearer- dropped 15 pounds quite easily and swiftly. My migraine pattern didn’t improve but I felt so much better in other ways that I stuck to the diet changes for the most part. My lifelong love of sugar was too hard to simply drop, so for me, the second step has helped me sustain the first.

    2) I found a dessert called Italian Ice – (lemon). I’m not a calorie counter (but they are fat free and 100 calories each), and though I’m sure they have some amount of sugar, they are, for the most part, flavored just water. I shifted my addiction from prepackaged sugary foods to clean meals, followed by a lemon ice. Literally, after nearly every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner, I’ll have a lemon ice. It stops my palate from craving something sugary because the lemon is a bit sour and the whole thing is cold. I admit this has become a bit of an addiction in its own right- but it’s much better for me than a daily piece of chocolate cake. It doesn’t exacerbate the migraine pain, or make me feel worse overall.

    So, that’s what’s worked for me. Perhaps it may be of help. And hopefully others will ring in with their own solutions.

    Thank you for sharing this challenge as it really is common and therefore is one to which many of us can relate. Let us know if you find anything that works for you.

  • AZReynolds
    4 weeks ago

    Interesting concept of migraines “begetting” migraines. Lack of sleep definitely contributes to the problem, so with that one thing alone, you have verified the concept. I have Fibromyalgia too so sleep is always an issue, but some mindful meditation and melatonin usually help until the restless legs kick on around midnight. I have read that sugar cravings are not uncommon, but since I started keto diet, all sugar cravings are gone…. although I never noticed that mine were tied to my migraines. Obviously we can’t exercise with migraines, but living with both fibro and migraines I have learned not to stress over my routines being disrupted. That’s useless wasted energy. This is my life so I go with the flow. Instead when I wake migraine free, I revel in the opportunity to ride my bike, do tia chi or clean house. Finding joy in these activities keeps me from dreading them! So to get my balance back? I consider these painful distractions part of my balance! Does that make any sense? You see, I decided if this daily pain is always here, why not balance my life WITHIN it. Everything I do is to prepare for the days I can’t do anything. Sure, it’s not much of a life compared to what I had before, but I no longer fret over what I’m missing. Instead I enjoy what I have. A lovely warm home. A caring kind husband. An adorable smart funny dog. Old family antiques and artwork by my talented father. Music, hot tea, plants, soft bed, hot water. There are tons of things to be grateful for and that’s where you can find your own joy. Your other article actually helped me push this idea further! So that’s how I balance my life. Living with the pain at the center of, but not destroying my life. Because if I spend all my energy worrying that it’s ruining my life, then what do I have left?

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @azreynolds -This is such a beautiful comment! I’m grateful that you took the time to share this window into your life and your way of navigating and managing your world with migraine.

    By responding with acceptance rather than anger, you are not allowing the pain to rule you through negativity. And in so doing, you are freeing your energy up for more useful pursuits. The gratitude flowing from you is inspiring. Life with migraine certainly makes us redefine what it means to be productive- and brings acceptance into focus. https://migraine.com/blog/on-acceptance-productivity-and-pain/
    https://migraine.com/living-migraine/the-accomplishment-of-making-it-through-a-day-with-a-migraine/

    I wonder if you might consider fleshing out what you wrote here (or even simply cutting and pasting your comment) and sharing it on our stories page. I think it is quite powerful, inspiring and worthy of more people seeing it than those who might happen upon it in the comment section of this page. No pressure, just if you’re moved to do so: https://migraine.com/stories/

    Thanks again, so much, for taking the time to share. I’m moved that you did. Thinking of you.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @azreynolds– I’m so glad you are moved to follow through on a post to our stories page. I know others will be inspired by you. Thank you for letting me know that you passed along a quote from one of my other stories to help facilitate an important conversation on fibro. Sounds like a fascinating discussion.

    It really is such a journey- and making peace with pain can take many years. However, doing so isn’t always a linear process- some of us who have been battling pain for decades can come to terms with it for a time and then feel angry about it all over again. A life involving intractable chronic pain is long and winding and asks so very much of us. I find that compassion is key- applying compassion to self and compassion to others is always the best way. Thank you so much for being a part of our community. We are so blessed to have you!

  • AZReynolds
    3 weeks ago

    I would love to do that because by encouraging others I actually inspire myself. I spend a lot of time on MyMigraineTeam and FibroTeam doing just that. I actually quoted you in one question that I posted on FibroTeam. You said “It took many years to stop fighting against the pain and see it instead as a partner with whom I needed to make peace. Doing so freed up what little energy I had to put toward more positive and healthy endeavors. I no longer felt angry or sad. I stopped feeling victimized.” So I threw it out to my fellow fibro warriors…asking were you right? Do we need to quit thinking of FMS as a monster and instead embrace it as our partner? Needless to say, I got a LOT of feedback! Interestingly enough, those of us who have lived in pain for 40+years agreed with you. Those who were newly diagnosed (less than 5 yrs) were strongly against the idea. No matter, you helped me personally decide with resolve to alter my thinking further. I have always looked for beauty in everything. I guess that is the artist in me. But now I look for joy, in spite of our pain, too.

  • Jojiieme
    4 weeks ago

    Holly, since we both posted on sleep ‘hygiene’ and how silly the term is (I also read up on the history! Lol), that cyclone-related weather has really ramped up. So the wind is gusting fiercely along our street, nearly bending the palm trees over, and the water fowl are protesting loudly. (They have growing chicks they’re very concerned about) The rain is bashing down against the roof, walls, windows – we haven’t had rain in months, let alone like this. Meantime, Darth Vader turned on the air con so it’s full blast on my side of the bed, right down on my head…
    It’s 2am. I can’t escape the triggers in the bedroom, I’ve decamped to the sofa. It’s nowhere near as as comfortable, and the weather is still what it is. I’m wearing a Kool patch on my forehead.
    I truly hope your situation improves, that you find some peace. We have a few quiet moments just now and a couple of ducks must be sheltering under our balcony. They called out to each other, got answering calls from across the lake. All is well 😉

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    @jojiieme– Love having this window into where you are! Sounds tropical- and even if swirlingly noisy with wind and birds- at least refreshingly different from rainy north carolina! Thank you for this amazing descriptive tale. I feel like I’m sitting with you on the couch listening to the bird calls- air conditioning buzzing in the background.

    I just returned from walking my dog in the pouring rain. I had to use a stick to support myself as we made it through the forest trail as I’m feeling so weak from all of the gross vomiting this week. I honestly feel like I’m 90 years old. It’s mid-morning here now- a bizarre thunderstorm with the brightest lightning kept me up most of the night.

    I’m on my couch, too. Trying to distract myself with tv- also an ice pack on my head. Quite a pair, are we!

    Your endearing ‘darth vader’ term has me laughing!

    Let’s hope for a better tomorrow.

    This is what I love about this community. Migraine tries to isolate us- but here we can connect and remember there are others navigating such similar worlds. Really does lighten the load.

    Thanks so much for your wonderful message.

  • Jojiieme
    4 weeks ago

    I’m waving from the Gold Coast, in Australia 😉
    If it doesn’t strain you, read up on Cyclone Oma which has just meandered down from PNG-way.

    One thing I’m thankful for – I rarely vomit with my migraines, even if I feel nauseous. However I do get Alice symptoms; earlier today, it was like scalpels slicing through to my shinbones and stomach, as the barometric pressure changed and affected sounds and my sense of smell.

    One good thing about this storm – I can’t hear the CPAP machine because of the wind and rain!! 🙂 (oh, a scared cygnet just called out! Must be separated from its parents. Some of these birds have never known rain or strong winds)

  • maxgeo
    4 weeks ago

    I have various triggers, one of which is lack of sleep. And indeed with a migraine it disrupts the sleep pastern, along with stress and anxiety. One way that I have found to help me counteract it is by taking Melatonin before I go to bed after a major attack. Since it is a more natural sleep aid, I don’t have any reactions to it, can wake up naturally when I need, and don’t feel groggy. I usually take for about 1 week to get my body back into my normal sleeping cycle, then get off it. It seems to help me break the pattern, and get the sleep I need.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Hi there, @maxgeo– thanks so much for taking the time to share a strategy that works for you. This is exactly what we’re here for- to be learning from one another. Grateful you took the time- especially on this topic because lack of sleep is a trigger for so many of us. https://migraine.com/?s=sleep

  • JPaula
    1 month ago

    Thanks for your thoughtful article. I am still exploring why my migraines have increases over the 18 years since they started (I am 76)..
    These are some of what I have come up with.
    I. rebound from once very effective for me OTC drugs like Advil and Excedrin.
    2. tightness in my neck and shoulders which is both cause and effect of a migraine – for me. which came first?
    3. interrupted sleep from migraines that come in the night..
    4. and some known triggers (now) like air travel and barometric pressure. not sure if they have always been headache inducing..

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 month ago

    Thanks so much for sharing the wisdom you’ve gleaned from your many years with migraine (so sorry there have been so many!). Rebound can be such a difficult dynamic especially when we find a medication that works!

    As to neck pain, that is a very common challenge for those of us living with migraine. Chicken and egg, indeed! We actually have a forum dedicated to the topic of neck pain, in case you’re interested:https://migraine.com/topic/neck-pain/

    Sleep is another chicken or the egg issue. We lose sleep because of migraine and then we get migraine because of loss of sleep. Our migraine specialists stress the importance of sleep hygiene (same time/ same amount) but attaining that goal is easier said than done.

    Interesting that you raise air travel and barometric pressure together as they are not dissimilar. Both involve pressure changes – and change in general upon which migraine thrives.

    At any rate, you are truly not alone. Indeed, your comment alone is comforting in its relatability as migraine is such an isolating disease. Thanks so much for being open and being a part of our community. Please stay in touch!

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    @jojiieme– hello! So glad you wrote in to share- especially in the midst of a hard few weeks. I, too, am in the throes of a really harsh intractable migraine- thanks to a combination of the super moon and a remarkably crappy weather front that won’t quit. Glad you spoke up about any terms that make you feel worse. It’s funny, that term “sleep hygiene” got caught in my throat, or rather fingers, as I typed it- definitely one that came straight from my migraine specialist- just as I mentioned it had.

    You’re so right to point out there can be judgement insinuated in the term. I looked up the description of the term online, and the National Sleep Foundation describes it as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” Practices and habits- just as you mentioned.

    When it comes to migraine, being able to attain a good night’s sleep- at the same time, for the same amount, every night- is a joke. It’s something we can strive for – but just as is everything with migraine, self-compassion must be applied. When we can’t achieve these things that other people come by far more easily- we have to breathe and remember that we are doing the best we can just to try to attain the most simple things in life- like sleeping through the night- keeping a meal down- meeting a friend for lunch- making it through a day’s work- taking a shower, anything! Somedays, if we achieve any one of those things, amazing- and good for us- and, other days, when we CAN’T do any of those things, we have to redefine what success is and find gratitude in things like breathing- and how our covers feel against our skin- just happy that we were able to keep some ginger ale down – holding onto the hope that tomorrow will bring relief.

    So, yes- let go of anything – any terms- any people – any interactions- that make you feel judged – that cause you pain- because goodness knows, we are all up against enough pain as it is with migraine. At least that’s where I am today after being exhausted by a tough multi-day attack. What about you?

    Again, thanks so much for joining the conversation- it’s good to hear your outside voice! Really hoping that cyclone passes and you’re feeling some relief soon. Please stay in touch.

  • Jojiieme
    4 weeks ago

    Hi!
    Please, please don’t take this the wrong way (it’s been a difficult few weeks, and I’m feeling as if nothing I try to say comes out the way I’ve intended):
    I’m soooo tired of the phrase ‘sleep hygiene’.
    For heaven’s sake, can anything sound so judgemental or cringeworthy when you’re doing everything right and still not able to keep your eyes shut, your mind quiet, your body still???
    It’s sleep HABITS, sleep ROUTINES, even sleep PRACTICE.
    I’ve spent most of this week with no night-time sleep, unwilling catnapping during the day, fighting prodome or silent migraines coupled with anxiety and stress (from other life issues). Now there’s a severe tropical cyclone in the region (the wind isn’t helping, nor is the pressure), I’m saving my abortives until the weather’s more dramatic.

    I’ll practice good posture, relaxed breathing; perhaps go over a few Spanish lessons, and sip some water. I’ll twist my neon-green ear-plugs in, so Darth Vader sleeping next to me in the bed won’t disturb me. I won’t feel ‘unhygienic’ or ‘slovenly’ or somehow as if I’m the one deliberately causing my insomnia. 😉

    It’s a such little thing, but this medical jargon often has shades of patient-blaming, have you noticed?

    Holly, thank you for your many articles; I’ve had so many conversations with you that you’ve never heard, agreed with so many points you’ve raised.

  • October.Kate
    1 month ago

    I’m at a point where I have a constant daily intractable migraine since Jan 2016. No breaks, little relief. I struggle all of the time. I’m on disability, living with my parents. I have absolutely no idea what my triggers are. I know what makes it worse. And no idea how to break this cycle. Before this I was a nurse working 12hr night shifts having severe migraines several times a week with multiple other comorbidities.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 month ago

    Hey Kate-
    So glad you chimed in. Sounds like a tough journey – having intractable constant pain for the last couple of years around the clock. You are definitely not alone in this. A lot of us are living with daily chronic migraine – managing life with some level of constant pain. It really is quite a challenge. That said, if you’re anything like me- there are gradations if pain- a constant low grade pain that is peppered by severe and marked attacks. Due to this pattern, I’ve found some importance in trying to gain clarity as to what triggers those flare ups. Since you mentioned not understanding your triggers, I thought I’d share with you this resource on how to begin the process of unearthing the triggers unique to you: https://migraine.com/living-migraine/detective-triggers/

    You may have more information than you realize on the topic of triggers. You mentioned that you know what exacerbates your pain- so, if light and sound makes your pain worse, exposure to that stimuli in the extreme may be a trigger for you. Therefore, exploring ways to protect yourself from bright lights and loud noises might help to prevent future flare ups.

    I’m assuming with your medical background that you’re working with a migraine specialist and likely researching the cutting edge preventative and rescue treatments that are now on the market. If not, be sure to skim this list of current approaches in case there may be something applicable to you that you’ve yet to try. You can view the current approaches here.

    For me, striving to break the cycle, as you say, has become more about coupling multiple strategies- from various prevention and rescue medication, to outside

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    1 month ago

    Sorry- pressed send too early! …to pursuing time outside to get fresh air in my lungs, eating a restricted diet, maintaining good sleep hygiene, and staying connected with a small but key core group of loved ones to maintain and cultivate emotional health.

    As you know, having chronic migraine is a full time job in itself- managing the disease is demanding and time consuming. Interestingly, there can be unexpected gifts of gratitude in this migraine life: https://migraine.com/living-migraine/unexpected-gifts-regimented-life/

    Again, glad you shared and that you’re a part of our community. Please stay in touch!

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