Can Sleep Disorder Trigger Migraines?

Can Sleep Disorder Trigger Migraines

Anyone who has ever had a migraine knows how debilitating this condition can be. Often migraines not only come with the typical intense, throbbing pain and sensitivity to light and sound but also with unbearable nausea and stomach upset. A full-blown migraine attack can take control over your life, leaving you feeling underwater and out of touch.

Although there is still much we do not understand why migraine occurs, scientists now widely agree that there is a significant correlation between lousy sleep quality and sleep disorders such as insomnia and intense headaches such as migraines. Not only that migraines disturb sleep, but lack of sleep can also cause migraines.

In the following article, I will try to throw a little bit more light on the relationship between sleep and migraine headaches.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a state of severe or highly intense (one-sided) headaches that could be preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs and other symptoms. Migraines also come with certain other symptoms which include the following:

  • Nausea
  • An increased irritation to light
  • Lack of appetite
  • Regular weariness
  • Dizziness
  • An impaired vision

Unfortunately, doctors still do not know what causes migraines. It might come from abnormal activity in your brain, which affects the way the nerves communicate. 

Migraines usually occur in families, but can also be triggered by environmental factors such as changes in weather, altitude, and sleep. A study discovered that the same gene mutation is present in both migraine patients and people with advanced sleep phase syndrome (with a sleep schedule that is shifted much earlier than usual). Studies like these help to support the claim that migraine is a neurological problem.

What are the common triggers for migraines?

A migraine headache is usually initiated by some sort of trigger. Depending on your genetics, you may be more sensitive to migraine triggers. These following are some of the most common triggers likely to cause migraines:

  • Hormonal changes: If you are female, you may experience migraine symptoms during menstruation due to changes in hormone levels.
  • Emotional triggers: Stress, depression, anxiety, or excitement can trigger migraines.
  • Physical causes: physical pain such as shoulder or neck tension, poor posture, and physical overexertion have been linked to migraines. Other potential triggers ar low blood sugar or jet lag.
  • Dietary triggers: Caffeine, alcohol, and specific foods, including chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and foods that contain the additive tyramine can kick off migraines. Irregular meals and dehydration have also been mentioned as possible triggers.
  • Allergies: When an allergic person is exposed to an allergen – dust, mold, pollen, animal hair, or skin – the sinuses swell. This swelling can cause migraines by causing the nerves in the brain to respond to the change in pressure.
  • Medication: Some sleeping pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and the combined contraceptive pill are also possible triggers.
  • Environmental triggers: Flickering screens, strong smells, passive smoking, loud noises, temperature fluctuations, and bright light are also possible triggers.


The most efficient treatment of migraine symptoms is still avoiding triggers and controlling symptoms. Therefore, it is also crucial to note the early warning signs of a developing migraine that could cause you severe pain.

What are the early warning signs of migraines?

Some of the early warning signs could include the following

  • Situations where you regularly wake with slight headaches
  • Feeling fatigued even when you are getting adequate sleep
  • Irritability, confusion, restlessness, or difficulty concentrating
  • A steady feeling of depression or euphoria
  • An inability to focus properly on your day’s activities
  • Muscle stiffness, especially neck stiffness
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Food cravings

How does sleep deprivation cause migraines?

First off, it is now widely known that migraines and lack of sleep work hand-in-hand: A significant lack of sleep can activate migraines, and migraines also give you a lack of sleep due to the intense pain you experience. Migraine patients are up to 8 times more likely to have sleep problems. The worse the migraine, the worse the sleeping problems.

And this is precisely where the problem lies: to relieve the migraine, enough sleep is necessary. However, it is often impossible to sleep at all when you are in the middle of a migraine attack. In the long term, this can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which has a variety of mental, emotional, and physical health problems of its own, and can itself become a trigger for migraines.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule is key

Every adult individual is required to get a minimum of about 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily. Also, keep in mind that your brain is used to a specific wake-sleep time. So in cases where you are unable to meet your essential sleep-time requirement and schedule, you may overwork your brain without adequate rest and interrupt your biological clock.

When it’s time for you to get some sleep after a long day at work, specific cells in your retina begin to send signals to the brain due to a drop in the amount of light received. Your brain, in turn, begins to secrete a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin.

This hormone secretion is at its peak during the dark hours of the day, and an inability to sleep disrupts your body’s time frame and working system. This can result in severe and intense headaches over time and, in turn, a migraine. For this reason, it is essential to follow a specific and unaltered sleep schedule as it helps in reducing your risks of developing a migraine.

The correlation between insomnia and migraine

Insomnia is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation and, therefore, can trigger migraines. If you have insomnia, you may feel irritable, tired, and unfocused during the day and may even develop depression or anxiety. These are all intense stressors and potential triggers for migraine headaches.

Also interesting: Can Sleep Disorder Cause Anxiety and Depression?

Also, if you sleep only 6 hours or less regularly, the chances are that you experience more frequent and more severe migraines and morning headaches.

The relationship between snoring and OSA and migraines

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are common sleep disorders that can have a significant impact on a person’s overall health and well-being. Interestingly, there is growing evidence suggesting a relationship between snoring, OSA, and migraines.

OSA is characterized by repetitive episodes of complete or partial blockage of the upper airway during sleep. These blockages can lead to pauses in breathing, known as apneas, and cause oxygen levels in the body to decrease. As a result, the brain and other organs may not receive enough oxygen, leading to a cascade of physiological changes that can have detrimental effects on health.

One of the potential consequences of OSA is the development or exacerbation of migraines. The exact mechanisms underlying the association between OSA and migraines are not yet fully understood, but several theories have been proposed.

OSA triggers chemical changes and disrupts the normal sleep architecture

Firstly, the repetitive drop in oxygen levels during apneas in OSA can trigger chemical changes in the brain that contribute to the development of migraines. These changes include the release of certain neurotransmitters and the activation of inflammatory pathways, both of which are implicated in migraine pathophysiology.


Secondly, OSA is known to disrupt the normal sleep architecture and can lead to fragmented and poor-quality sleep. Sleep fragmentation and deprivation have been identified as potential triggers for migraines in susceptible individuals. Additionally, the lack of restful sleep can lower the pain threshold, making migraines more likely to occur and increasing their severity.

How to manage migraines in people with snoring or OSA?

It is worth noting that not all individuals who snore or have OSA will experience migraines, and the relationship between these conditions is complex and multifactorial. Other factors, such as genetics, hormonal changes, and lifestyle factors, can also influence the development and frequency of migraines in individuals with OSA.

Also interesting: How to Keep Snoring From Ruining Your Relationship

To manage migraines in individuals with snoring or OSA, it is crucial to address the underlying sleep disorder. Treatment options for OSA include lifestyle modifications, such as weight loss and avoiding alcohol and sedatives, as well as the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. CPAP therapy involves wearing a mask during sleep that delivers a continuous flow of air to keep the airway open.

In conclusion, snoring and OSA have been linked to migraines, potentially due to the impact of OSA on oxygen levels, chemical changes in the brain, sleep fragmentation, and sleep deprivation. Understanding and addressing the relationship between snoring, OSA, and migraines can help improve the management and treatment of these conditions, ultimately leading to better sleep and overall health for affected individuals.

Migraines caused by oversleeping

We are living mainly in a sleep-deprived society, and for most of us, not getting enough restful sleep is the main problem instead of getting too much of it. 

However, sometimes we tend to stay in bed too long, for example, on weekends when we try to catch up on some of the missed sleep during the week. Some people feel an intense headache when they wake up after excessive sleeping. While they think this is because the body still hasn’t rested well enough, it’s instead the oversleeping that causes the intense headaches. Researchers believe this is due to an excessive fluctuation in the secretion of the neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain.

Oversleeping due to depression and migraine

Oversleeping is also a typical behavior found in depressed individuals. If you are depressed, your mind is highly inclined to sleep for a relatively long period. This gives you a feeling of peace at the time.

However, the reduced physical activity can result in pains that could run from your back, all through your neck and to your head. This leaves you in a state of intense headache when you finally decide to wake up.

Sleep hygiene for tackling migraines

As a migraine sufferer, it is vital that you have a regular sleep schedule. Here is an outline of healthy sleeping hygiene for getting the right amount of sleep needed by your brain.

  • Endeavor to sleep and wake at the same time every day. This helps in giving you a specific regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid taking caffeine or alcohol before going to sleep because both cut down your ability to sleep appropriately rather than improve it.
  • Avoid associating your bed with other activities that do not fit, such as reading or watching TV. The bed should only be for sleeping and intimate activities (sex).
  • Desist from napping. Napping reduces your chances of falling asleep at night. Napping could be limited to a short time of about 30 minutes in situations where napping cannot be avoided.
  • Ensure your bedroom is well conducive to sleeping. Be sure to keep your room as dark and quiet as possible. Using a thick duvet is also helpful as it makes you feel warmer and more relaxed.
  • An energy-draining workout routine several hours before bedtime is equally helpful. This should be done favorably five to six hours before bedtime. You should also ensure this exercise is carried out before dinner.
  • Desist from heavy meals before sleeping.
  • Stay hydrated
  • Be sure to treat any form of pain adequately, so it doesn’t keep you up at night.
  • The use of an alarm for waking up is quite handy. That notwithstanding, you should also keep your time-telling device away from sight. Your ignorance of what time of the night it is, in a way, helps you sleep better.

Also interesting: Setting Up A Sleep Ritual 101

Bottom line

In the end, sleep and migraines are way more co-related than we happen to understand. Insufficient sleep or inability to sleep at all (insomnia) leads to cases of recurring headaches and, in turn, migraines. The same goes for oversleeping or sleeping at the wrong hours of the day.

That notwithstanding, good sleep hygiene is highly efficient in helping you sleep better and wake up feeling energetic and highly alert. In cases where you find yourself sleeping a lot during the day, then poor sleep hygiene is most likely responsible for this. It could also be a result of an undiagnosed sleep disorder.

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