Sleep plays such a vital role in our every waking moment and in every aspect of our health. Without enough of it, you become more at risk for a suppressed immune system, hypertension, and obesity.
It is especially important for migraine sufferers to practice good sleep hygiene (or good sleep habits) given that the part of the brain where migraines originate (the hypothalamus) is also in charge of regulating sleep. Any disruption of your normal sleep, such as staying up too late, getting up earlier than normal, jet lag from crossing many time zones, frequent interruptions throughout the night, or oversleeping can be a major migraine trigger. Poor sleep also lowers the pain threshold and increases the physical and emotional experience of pain. It will, therefore, be key for you to get your sleep pattern in order if you want to maximize your chances of living migraine free.
9 Steps to Sleeping like a Baby
The sun once regulated sleep cycles; people would go to sleep at sunset and woke up at sunrise. Thanks to electricity, we can go to bed whenever we want. However nowadays, between hectic work schedules, constant connectivity, and endless distractions, it seems like sleep is our last priority.
In order to achieve sleep success, you have to look at it like a baby’s sleep routine: set a strict bedtime, get the right amount of sleep and develop a bedtime ritual.
1. Declare your Bedtime
Adults need approximately 8 hours of sleep per night. Most people adhere to their wake-up time strictly. But what would happen if you were just as strict about your bedtime? I challenge you to count back 8 hours from when you need to wake up, set this time in stone, and make everything in your day work around it.
2. Establish consistent bed and wake times
Migraines don’t like consistency so going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is key. I realize on the weekends it might be tempting to sleep in, but oversleeping can also be a major migraine trigger, so stick to your wake-up time even when you don’t have to get up for work or school.
3. Create a dark, quiet optimal sleep space
Make your sleeping environment as restful as possible. Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool (between 62 – 67 degrees). Make sure your bed is serving you well by investing in the right mattress, pillows, and sheets for your specific needs and taste. Also, a comfy pair of pajamas will make going to bed cozier and send sleep-friendly messages to your body!
4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can be big migraine triggers. But given the fact that they disrupt sleep, they should particularly be avoided in the late afternoons/evenings. If you are extra sensitive to caffeine, you should stop drinking caffeine by 2pm. Alcohol reduces the overall quality of your sleep, rather than improving your sleep as is commonly assumed.
Instead opt for a caffeine-free, relaxing drink like chamomile or lavender tea to help ease you to sleep.
5. Eat and drink earlier
You want to avoid drinking too much fluid before bedtime so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Try to eat your meal 3-4 hours before bed to avoid feeling full when it’s time to go to bed. If you feel hungry before bed, try snacking on a handful of walnuts, which is a natural source of melatonin.
6. Just Say No to Screens
This might be one of the hardest to adjust given the ubiquitous nature of distractions in the form of screens: television, smartphones, tablets, etc. But it is possible! Your goal should be to shut down all electronic devices 30-60 minutes before bed so you’re not over-stimulated. And if you’re using your phone as your alarm clock, stop! Buy yourself a simple, old-fashioned clock and keep your phone charging elsewhere.
Instead, try reading (from a real book) about a subject that interests you but is not work related. Have fun exploring other interests away from all electronics!
7. Calm your Mind
It is important to clear your mind in order to get a restful night sleep. There are several ways of doing this, so the key is finding the routine that works for you. Here are some ideas:
- If your mind is racing when you get into bed, take a pen and paper and write it all down!
- If you like the idea of writing things down, keeping a gratitude journal like the “Five Minute Journal” makes sure you focus on the positive as you close each day.
- Practice meditation – just 10 minutes alone can relax the mind, turn on the “rest and digest” nervous system and help you sleep
- Take a hot bath with Epson salt and lavender oil. It can help wash away the day and relax the body.
- Do some light stretching or yoga to help further relax the muscles and body.
8. Review your Medications
If you’re taking any medications, include migraine-related drugs, ask your doctor if any of them could be sleep disruptors. If so, see if it’s possible to take them in the morning to minimize their impact.
9. Learn to say “NO”
Most importantly, you might have to start saying “yes” a lot less and get more comfortable saying “no”. Going to bed at the time you need to might mean cutting out late nights at bars with friends, changing flight plans or missing your favorite late-night shows. It’s not as bad as it sounds: once you have established boundaries, people will respect them and you tremendously. You might have to get more creative at seeing your friends, like going to a yoga class in the morning on the weekends versus a late night dinner. Trust yourself that you’ll figure it out!
Got any other sleep tips? I would love to hear them!