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Headaches and Sleep

The link between headaches and sleep.

A good night’s sleep is important for good health and wellbeing1, and for headache sufferers, it can be particularly important. Irregular sleep patterns may trigger headaches in some and changes in sleep patterns may trigger migraines in others.

The link between headaches and sleep has been known for decades, but what isn’t clear is whether headaches cause disrupted sleep or whether headaches are a result of irregular sleep patterns.2 (It’s a classic chicken-or-egg situation). Generally, a lack of sleep is known to trigger headaches and migraines in some people.3 In a large study of migraine sufferers, half said sleep disturbances contributed to their headaches and those who slept only six hours a night on average had more frequent and more severe headaches than those who slept longer.4

But the opposite is also true. Too much sleep can trigger headaches as well – particularly migraines and tension-type headaches.3

In addition to irregular sleep patterns, sleep disorders have also been associated with more frequent and severe headaches. Headache sufferers have a high incidence of sleep disturbance which can trigger or make the headache worse.3

Although the relationship between headaches and sleep is complex and more studies are needed to fully understand it, it is thought that a part of your brain important for sleep called the hypothalamus could be involved in some headaches.5

Small lifestyle changes such as modifying your sleeping habits to get the right amount of sleep could help you manage your headaches. Most healthy adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep every night.6

References:

(1) A. Oh JH, Cho SJ, Kim WJ et al, Insufficient sleep in tension-type headache: a population study, J Clin Neurol, 2018 Oct; 14(4):566-573

(2) Nesbitt A. (2012). Sleep and Migraine. Migraine News journal, 106

(3) Rains, J. C. and Poceta, J. S. (2012). Sleep-Related headaches. Neurologic Clinics, 30(4):1285 1298

(4) Kelman, L. and Rains, J. C. (2005). Headache and sleep: examination of sleep patterns and complaints in a large clinical sample of migraineurs. Headache, 45(7):904-910

(5) Montagna, P. (2006). Hypothalamus, sleep and headaches. Neurological Sciences, 27(2): 138-143

(6) National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Journal of the National Sleep Foundation. 2015 1(1):40-3

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