Sleep and Migraines: Understanding the Vital Connection

Migraines are debilitating and often disrupt daily life, causing severe pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes even vomiting. For those who suffer from migraines, finding effective management strategies is crucial to maintaining a good quality of life. One area that has gained significant attention in recent years is the connection between sleep patterns and migraines. Research has shown a clear link between the two, highlighting the importance of understanding and addressing sleep issues in migraine management.

The Sleep-Migraine Relationship

The relationship between sleep and migraines is complex and multifaceted. Several key factors contribute to this connection:

  1. Sleep Quality: Individuals who experience poor sleep quality, characterized by difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or non-restorative sleep, are more likely to suffer from migraines. Disruptions in the sleep cycle can trigger chemical and hormonal changes in the brain, increasing susceptibility to migraines.
  2. Sleep Duration: Both insufficient and excessive sleep durations have been associated with migraines. Irregular sleep patterns, such as frequent changes in bedtime and wake-up times, can also contribute to migraine frequency and intensity.
  3. Sleep Disorders: Conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome have been linked to an increased risk of migraines. These disorders disrupt normal sleep patterns and can lead to physiological changes that trigger migraines.
  4. REM Sleep: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, a phase of deep sleep associated with dreaming, plays a role in migraine development. Changes in REM sleep patterns or abnormalities during this phase have been observed in individuals with migraines.

 How the Sleep-Migraine Relationship Affects People with Migraine

Studies have consistently demonstrated the significant impact of sleep on migraine frequency, indicating that inadequate sleep is associated with greater migraine frequency. Individuals who consistently experience poor sleep are more likely to have recurrent migraines.

Sleep and migraine severity have also been linked as poor sleep quality can lead to increased severity. In fact, migraines experienced after a night of disrupted or insufficient sleep tend to be more intense.

In addition to exacerbating existing migraines, sleep disturbances can also trigger new onset migraines in susceptible individuals. Changes in sleep patterns, such as jet lag or shift work, can increase migraine risk.

Strategies for Managing Sleep in People with Migraine

Given the strong connection between sleep and migraines, addressing sleep issues is an essential component of migraine management. Here are some strategies to improve sleep quality and reduce migraine frequency:

  1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Consistency helps regulate your body’s internal clock and promotes better sleep quality.
  2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Develop calming pre-sleep rituals, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.
  3. Optimize Your Sleep Environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows to support restful sleep.
  4. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: Avoid electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light emitted can disrupt sleep patterns.
  5. Manage Stress: Practice stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation to alleviate tension and promote better sleep.
  6. Address Sleep Disorders: If you suspect you have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea, consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment options.
  7. Track Your Sleep and Migraines: Keep a sleep diary to monitor your sleep patterns and migraine occurrences. Identifying patterns can help pinpoint triggers and inform targeted interventions.


The relationship between sleep and migraine headaches is undeniable, with sleep quality, duration, and disorders significantly influencing migraine frequency and severity. By understanding the mechanisms underlying this connection and implementing effective sleep management strategies, individuals with migraines can potentially reduce their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Consulting with healthcare professionals, including neurologists and sleep specialists, can provide personalized guidance and treatment options tailored to individual needs. Prioritizing restorative sleep is not only essential for overall well-being but also plays a crucial role in mitigating the impact of migraines on day-to-day tasks.

The Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation seeks to find a cure for debilitating headaches, including migraines. Our treatments, trials and ongoing research are designed to help sufferers by providing them with the latest information pertaining to debilitating headaches. To be part of the work we are doing here at The Foundation, please consider contributing today.