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Do you have a headache or migraine? You’re not alone! According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines affect more than 36 million Americans. And while many people think of headaches as just a pesky annoyance, they can actually be quite debilitating.
If you’re looking for ways to sleep with a headache or migraine, read on for my top tips!
1. Get a good night’s sleep (before a headache even hits!)
We all know how important sleep is for our overall health and well-being. But did you know that getting a good night’s sleep is especially crucial for people with migraine attacks? According to sleep experts, there are a few key things you can do to ensure that you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep through the night – even if you’re dealing with a headache or migraine.
First, it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene to get enough sleep. This means creating a sleep-friendly environment in your bedroom – think cool, dark, and quiet. It also means avoiding screens (including your phone because of the blue light) for at least an hour before you go to bed.
Second, if you’re struggling to fall asleep with a migraine attack or tension type headache, don’t lie in bed awake for more than 20 minutes suffering. Get up and try more medicine, salt or routine breathing exercises.
Next, keep a consistent sleep wake cycle by getting up and going to bed at the same time every day to set your natural circadian rhythm.
And last but not least, if you wake up in the middle of the night with a headache or migraine, take some deep breaths and relax your whole body.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to get the high-quality restorative sleep you need – even if you’re dealing with a headache or migraine.
2. Drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes during the day
There’s nothing worse than dealing with a pounding headache or migraine when you’re trying to go to sleep.
To prevent migraines before hitting the sack, one simple tip is to make sure you are properly hydrated with a balance of electrolytes and water. Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day helps to keep your body and brain hydrated, which can reduce the severity of migraines. Keep in mind if you exercise, your hydration needs increase A LOT!
Additionally, electrolytes are not only essential for hydration, but for the migraine brain chemistry to stay in balance. (This specificity is only to migraine sufferers who have a sensitive brain — the rest of the healthy population could get away with more of an imbalance.)
TRY IT: For example, if you do end up with a headache or migraine, try taking 1/4 tablespoon salt with 8 oz water before trying to get some sleep. But NO FOODS! And especially not any carbohydrates! This will further aggregate your brain with glucose fluctuations further disrupting the balance of your electrolytes.
My favorite electrolytes are LMNT — Buy on Amazon here!
3. Place an ice pack on your forehead or temples
There’s nothing worse than going to bed with a headache or migraine. But icing your head is one of the best ways to numb and ease the pain for a snoozy slumber at night.
First, try placing an ice pack or migraine hat on your forehead, temples, and sides of your head. The ice will help reduce inflammation and ‘freeze out’ the pain enough for you to relax. (Hopefully!)
Next, if you’re still struggling to fall asleep, or worried about insomnia kicking in, try a few deep breathing therapy exercises to calm the mind and relax the body. I like breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts, and exhaling for 8 counts. (This breathing sequence is evidence-based and known by experts as the 4-7-8 Method)
Still struggling? Drinking chamomile tea or taking a warm bath before bed can do the trick!
PRO TIP: Check out my recommendations for the Best Migraine Hats for Icy Relief
4. Take over-the-counter medicine or migraine Rx to help with pain relief
If you’re struggling with a headache or migraine, there are a few over-the-counter and Rx medications you can try to help ease the pain.
For starters, ibuprofen or aspirin can help to reduce inflammation and pain – although, these are usually not effective for migraines, this can be a great place to start since migraine pain inflames and will trigger full body pain!
If you have migraine medications on hand, such as sumatriptan, those will be most effective in aborting a migraine. Additionally, (for good or bad) abortive migraine meds also make you sleepy! Also, chronic migraine patients need to be careful of overusing medications since this can cause medication overuse headaches. This is rebound pain that will trigger ANOTHER migraine attack. Yikes.
And if all else fails, Benadryl can be a good option for falling asleep despite the pain. This is usually my go-to when it’s a really bad migraine and I can’t relax my body enough to fall asleep!
5. Avoid bright lights and loud noises
While there are a variety of migraine medications available to help ease the pain, sometimes the best cure is simply sleeping it off.
Migraineurs report all three cardinal symptoms of nausea, photophobia (light sensitivity), and phonophobia (sound sensitivity).
If this is you, obviously avoid bright lights and loud noises as much as possible for your health! But if you must be in a well-lit room, try wearing dark glasses or an eye mask. And if noise is inevitable, try using earplugs or white noise to help reduce its impact. I know that when a migraine hits even the smallest light (bathroom light) or noise (clock ticking) can send you over the top and increase the frequency of an attack.
Second, try sleeping on your side or in a semi-fetal position with a pillow under your head to support your neck. You can help make falling asleep with a migraine just a little bit easier with routine head and neck support. (I have this headache pillow from Amazon — it’s the best and life-changing!)
And if noise is an issue, consider using earplugs or a white noise machine to help drown out any unwanted sounds. I love my sound machine with the beachy wave sounds — you can check it out here on Amazon!)
6. Rest in a dark, quiet room
For people with migraine, a good night’s sleep is often elusive. Our brains are ‘on’ all night, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Poor sleep is common among migraine patients. Clinical research supports that migraineurs are more likely to have sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome to name a few. Paired with other health conditions make it difficult for people with migraine to get enough sleep.
The best way to fall asleep and get some rest is to make a habit of sleeping in a dark, quiet room. This can be tricky if you have a husband who snores or moves around all night. (Personal experience, lol!) The answer? Sleep alone!
This way, you can remove any distractions and get the rest you need. Migraine brains are always ‘on’ — even when we’re trying to sleep — therefore, Migraineur’s are known as light sleepers. So it’s uber important to have a dark and quiet room to help us fall asleep and stay asleep at night– especially when we’re in pain!
7. Head to the ER for a migraine cocktail
If you’re suffering from a migraine, you might be tempted to just try to tough it out at night. (That’s what I often do and usually, it ends up even worse by the next day!) So, when the pain is too much to bear no harm in seeking help from the professionals.
That’s where the migraine cocktail comes in. These potent concoctions are delivered via IV and designed to help relieve pain and get you on the road to recovery.
But before you head to the ER for your migraine cocktail, there are a few things you should know.
First, migraine sufferers tend to have low blood pressure, so when it starts to climb that’s a sign you need medical help to bring down the pain and anxiety.
Second, tips for falling asleep with a headache or migraine usually involve relaxation techniques like breathing exercises or meditation (described above). So if you can’t relax enough to sleep, or if you have a racing heart rate and high blood pressure, it’s time to seek medical help.
With the right treatment, you can find the relief you need!
Is it okay to sleep with a migraine?
If you have not managed your migraine by bedtime, then it becomes very difficult to treat. Try keeping a migraine or headache diary so you become familiar with what your personal ‘typical’ and ‘atypical’ pain is. For example, if your chronic migraine intensifies or pain shifts in ways you have experienced before, it’s time to call the clinic!
Be aware of your potential trigger(s)
It’s incredibly frustrating for migraine victims because they appear to spontaneously cause pain by being caught unaware. But if you know how often a migraine occurs you can be ‘a little more’ prepared.
Recent studies show the most frequent migraine attacks occur early in the morning. This is likely due to migraine or head pain developing overnight and not being able to be awake to abort it right away with medicine.
Additionally, many get out of bed with morning migraines due to blood sugar plummeting overnight and/or electrolyte imbalances. (For example, are you a sweaty sleeper like me? You’ll need salt/electrolytes on your nightstand!)
Over 3,000 participants have been interviewed, showing most migraineurs were “early birds”. If you are part of this group you should always get up early and keep regular sleeping habits.
Do you stare for hours at computer screens, tablets, or iphone? If your eyes look at a screen constantly, there is a risk of straining neck muscles and impairing your eyesight! Over the course of the day, putting pressure on your vision can cause headaches and migraines. Try blue light glasses if you are a desk warrior.
A few environmental factors may cause headaches and migraines. Using cleaners or fresh cleaners that emit strong scents can be very troublesome. Also, changing weather with barometric pressure, humidity fluctuations, and seasonal allergies are bothersome to most of migraine patients.
Stress triggers migraines, especially tension headaches which is where some migraines start. Both physical and emotional stress can cause headaches that can keep you awake at night. Tension in your muscles can build and mental distress and anxiety from the day can derail your relaxation and sleep patterns.
Excessive caffeine intake
In addition, high caffeine consumption can make a person feel a little bit of a headache coming on. On the flip side, caffeine withdrawal may also cause headaches if you regularly consume it. Coffee is a migraine trigger for most sufferers, however, it’s said that people with migraine have a love-hate relationship with java because sometimes the caffeine can HELP a migraine!
Hormonal fluctuation also causes headaches and migraines – often known as the most severe. . Even women who don’t suffer from migraine attacks experience headaches during their menstrual cycle due to lower hormone levels.
A lack of food can cause headaches at night because blood sugar drops off significantly – especially if you ate a carb-rich real just before bed. The best thing to do is have a lower carbohydrate meal at dinner (fill up on protein which is a stable energy source!) and have a glass of milk or a small serving of meat protein before bedtime. This small shift in avoiding diet triggers can make a big difference!
We’ve talked about the importance of hydration and electrolytes and that’s because even slight dehydration causes the brain to shrink! Consequently, this shrinkage causes brain nerve damage and headaches. Yikes!
Have you tried everything and still can’t sleep? You may have a sleep disorder
The American Migraines Foundation says that migraine patients have a 2-8% increased chance of having sleep problems compared with their American counterparts.
Among migraine patients who experience 15 or more daily headaches a year, they are at double the risk for sleep disruption as those without a migraine. So don’t be afraid to seek help at a clinic if you’re having routine sleep problems.
The Wrap Up
If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from headaches or migraines, you know just how debilitating they can be. Whether you’re trying to sleep through the pain or get up and go about your day, it can be incredibly tough to manage.
Remember to concentrate on relaxing your body and mind by doing some deep breathing exercises. (While laying in bed with an icepack!)
Make sure to sleep in a dark, quiet room. Minimize noise and (blue) light exposure to help prevent your headache from getting worse. Taking a pain reliever, Benedryl or abortive migraine medication can alleviate some pain plus help you drift off.
Most importantly, relax! After all, stress is one of the leading triggers for migraines.
So if you’re struggling with a headache or migraine, try these options and see what works best for you to get some zzzzz’s. Also, don’t forget to talk to your doctor for more help and guidance for chronic migraine, headaches, and sleep disturbances.