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Home / Migraine / The relationship between migraines and sleep

The relationship between migraines and sleep

Learn more about the link and how to prevent migraines

Migraines and sleep disorders are two of the most common chronic illnesses across the globe. Both conditions affect all aspects of your life, including your mental health and your social life.

Woman curled up in bed suffering from migraines.

However, few realise that these conditions are closely connected. It’s a vicious cycle. Keep reading to find out more about the two phenomena and their complicated relationship.

What causes migraines?

Migraine is a headache disorder that can cause recurrent attacks of intense pain, light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, among other symptoms. Despite its high prevalence, experts still don’t know exactly what causes people to get them.

The most recent explanation is that people with migraine have different brain activity. This affects the chemicals, nerve signals and blood vessels in the brain. Experts believe this characteristic is inherited through genetics.

Close up of doctor pointing to a model brain with a pen.

This makes migraineurs’ brains more sensitive to sensory disturbances; things that typical brains wouldn’t react to. This could be flashing lights or unpleasant sounds. However, for some migraineurs, one of their triggers is a change in their sleep patterns.

How does sleep trigger migraines?

Getting enough sleep is important for a healthy lifestyle. It helps maintain your cognitive, physical and mental health.

So when there is a change in your sleeping pattern, it can affect your health. This can happen due to:

  • lack of sleep
  • jet lag
  • an inconsistent sleep pattern (e.g. by doing shift work)
  • a sleep disorder (e.g. insomnia or sleep apnoea)
  • oversleeping

A change in sleep schedule can be uncomfortable for the regular person. However, for someone with migraine, it can have a significant effect and trigger a migraine attack.

Sleep is a common trigger for migraines. Research Trusted source The Journal of Headache and Pain Peer-reviewed Journals Headache and Pain Research Go to source shows that sleep problems or disorders are risk factors for migraines. One study Trusted source The Journal of Headache and Pain Peer-reviewed Journals Headache and Pain Research Go to source found that over 25% of participants with migraine had insomnia.

Why does sleep trigger migraines?

Your sleep pattern runs on an internal clock lasting 24 hours. This is known as a circadian rhythm.

Your internal clock uses light to know when it’s time for your body to rest. When it’s dark, your brain signals your body to release the hormone melatonin to induce sleep. When it’s light, your brain reduces melatonin production.

Research Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source has shown that migraines are most likely to occur early in the morning, which may suggest that there is a timing mechanism that underpins your sleep cycle and migraines.

Young woman yawning looking tired.

The hypothalamus is a part of your brain that is in charge of monitoring many internal biological processes. One of the main ones is the sleep-wake cycle. However, there is evidence Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source that the hypothalamus may play a role in migraines as well.

Some people have proposed that migraines form a part of maintaining your sleep-wake cycle.

  • When you have not had enough sleep, it triggers a migraine that forces you to lie down in a dark room.
  • When you have overslept, it triggers a migraine that keeps you awake.

These actions allow your brain to regain balance.

A change in your sleep may also cause a roll-on effect, as it can link to other migraine triggers. A notable example is caffeine. If you have had less sleep, you may drink more caffeinated beverages, which can trigger a migraine.

How do migraines affect sleep?

Unfortunately, the link between migraines and sleep goes both ways.

Chronic illnesses like chronic migraine are a common cause of insomnia. This is because the symptoms of migraines can keep you up at night.

One study Trusted source The Journal of Headache and Pain Peer-reviewed Journals Headache and Pain Research Go to source found that migraineurs are twice as likely to develop insomnia within 11 years compared to people without migraines.

People with migraine are twice as likely to develop insomnia.

Migraine coping mechanisms may also disrupt your sleep schedule.

For example, lying down in a dark room to help your symptoms during the day may disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. This can then cause more migraine attacks, so it becomes a vicious cycle.

How do I manage my migraines?

When it comes to preventing migraines, sometimes it’s unavoidable. However, a combination of lifestyle changes and treatments will help you manage the condition.

Sleep hygiene

Having good sleep hygiene is the best way to prevent sleep-related migraines.

This involves making sure your sleeping environment routine and routine are consistent and optimal for the best sleep.

Below are some ways to improve your sleep hygiene.


Have a consistent sleep schedule - have a fixed wake-up time, don’t nap too much during the day and prioritise sleep where possible.


Have a good wind-down routine before bed - keep your nighttime routine consistent and allow 30 minutes to relax and switch off electronics.


Don’t eat or drink too late in the night or close to bedtime - it will disturb your sleep.


Get plenty of sun exposure during the day - it will reinforce your sleep-wake cycle.


Avoid using your bed for anything except sleeping or sex - so your brain doesn’t associate your bed with stimulating activity.


Have a good sleep environment - block out bright light, reduce noise and choose comfortable bedding for you.

Everyone’s ideal sleep hygiene is different. So, keep making adjustments until you find the perfect sleep environment.

Healthy lifestyle

As well as good sleep hygiene, a healthy lifestyle overall will reduce the risk of migraines:

  • limit alcohol
  • quit smoking
  • don’t take drugs
  • stay hydrated
  • manage your stress
  • eat a healthy diet
  • don’t skip meals

This means you cut out any additional migraine triggers.

What treatment options are available?

Luckily, there are treatments available for sleep problems and migraines.

Sleep aids

There are a variety of medicines available to help you sleep.

You can try herbal remedies like valerian root extract or chamomile. They are available at most pharmacies and are a gentle treatment.

For short-term sleep problems, you can try over-the-counter medicines such as antihistamines. If you are still struggling to sleep, your doctor may recommend prescription medicine.

Learn more about insomnia treatments

Click here

One effective prescription medication for insomnia is Melatonin. It mimics natural melatonin. This helps to reinforce the sleep-wake cycle. It is also a great alternative to sedatives or potentially addictive medications.

Migraine treatments

There are several options for migraine pain management.

The most common treatments for migraines are medicines called ‘triptans’ like Sumatriptan, Almotriptan or Zolmitriptan (Zomig).

They are available as tablets, orodispersible tablets and nasal sprays. This makes them easy to take. It also means there are options suitable for people who experience nausea during a migraine attack.

Learn more about migraine treatments

Click here

They reduce inflammation and constrict the blood vessels in the brain. So, they work quickly to stop migraine symptoms in their tracks.

Main takeaways

Sleep is closely related to migraines. There is some evidence that they are monitored by similar biological mechanisms.

The relationship goes both ways, and many people with migraines are at risk of developing long-term sleep problems.

However, treatment and lifestyle changes are the best way to prevent migraines and improve your sleep quality.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 28-04-2024

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Further reading

Understanding and managing migraine triggers

Understanding and managing migraine triggers

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The best migraine treatments to help relieve pain

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Surprising and Unusual Methods of Treating Migraines

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