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Why Do You Wake Up With a Migraine?

Posted by Mark Khorsandi, D.O. on Mar 20, 2019 9:04:00 AM

waking up with a migraineAs if suffering from chronic migraines wasn’t enough, professional basketball player Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat sometimes wakes up with a migraine. As a professional athlete, Wade carefully manages his diet, exercise and sleep habits to maintain peak performance, but he still wakes up with a migraine some mornings. When that happens, the team knows he will not be on the active roster.

Researchers have uncovered some reasons why you might wake up in the morning with a pounding head, nausea, or aura. Morning migraine reduction may be possible through a few lifestyle changes, but so far a way to completely avoid migraines upon awakening has not been discovered.

Most of the problem can be traced to inadequate sleep. So why do you wake up with a migraine, and what can you do about it?


Poor Sleep Habits

Migraineurs are encouraged to maintain a regular sleep schedule for a reason. Studies have shown inadequate sleep can trigger migraines.

  • If you tend to have an irregular bedtime or get too little sleep, say less than 7 hours, you may wake with a migraine. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends, allowing yourself time to go to sleep and attain the requisite number of hours.
  • It’s best to go to bed on an empty stomach rather than after consuming sugar or caffeine just before bedtime. A dinner rich in carbohydrates about three hours before you go to bed will help you get a good night’s rest.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and at the right temperature. Even if you have never noticed intrusive light or sound, you may still rouse slightly and short yourself on one or more sleep stages, particularly REM. REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) is associated with dreaming, an essential part of the sleep cycle. Also, most of us sleep better in a cool room.

Dreams that you remember tend to be those that occur when a neurotransmitter is released during the REM cycle, one of the same neurotransmitters implicated in migraine, depression, and anxiety. Skipping REM cycles is not only bad for your mental health, but it can be a trigger for a migraine.

For example, those who use sleeping pills often lose REM cycle sleep because the medication prevents it. Using sleep medication when you are a migraineur can exacerbate your problem.

Finally, don’t hit the snooze button on your clock. Repeated short sleep/wake cycles can trigger a migraine or make it worse.

Sleep Disorders

Sometimes an underlying issue causes lack of sleep. Several sleep disorders interfere with adequate sleep, especially the deeper cycles necessary to health.

  • Insomnia is a common sleep problem for many. It is described as difficulty falling or staying asleep or sleep deprivation related to other issues. Over half of migraineurs report sleep-onset or sleep-maintenance insomnia.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea and snoring is another common sleep issue reported by migraineurs. A causal link between sleep apnea and migraines has not yet been made, but it does create a disturbance in the sleep pattern from constant waking to breathe.
  • Sleep movement disorders like sleep bruxism and Restless Legs Syndrome disrupt the sleep cycle similarly to sleep apnea. Sleep bruxism is defined as the clenching or grinding of teeth during sleep. It can be a sign of stress. Restless Legs Syndrome causes a “pins and needles” sensation in the legs when you lie on your back. It creates an intense urge to move them in an attempt to relieve the sensation.
  • Hypnic Syndrome is a condition in which you awaken in the middle of the night due to a headache. It may result in sleep deprivation that triggers a migraine.
  • Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes people to wake feeling fully rested but then fall asleep spontaneously during the day.
  • Somnambulism, otherwise known as sleepwalking, occurs during NREM sleep and can disrupt not just the walker’s sleep but other people’s as well.
  • Intracranial hypotension or strained muscles can disrupt sleep also.

Any one of these physical disorders can disturb sleep and cause you to wake up with a migraine.

Mental Health Conditions

Depression and anxiety, both common to migraineurs, are known for causing insomnia and lost sleep. Both are related to migraines in that all three involve the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Remember that certain neurotransmitters are released during REM sleep. If serotonin or other neurotransmitters become unbalanced, it could trigger a migraine.

Depression and anxiety often occur together (they are co-morbid) with migraine disorder for these reasons.


Other Causes

Alcohol or medication overuse, caffeine, diet, dehydration, and low blood sugar can all cause sleep problems or trigger migraines during the night. Allergens and chemicals have also been known to cause issues. Or your problem may be as simple as using the wrong pillow.

Reducing or Preventing Awakening with a Migraine

Determining the reasons for sleep deprivation or interruption will help you and your physician find the best way to treat the problem. The first step is getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours for most adults). Maintaining regular bed and waking times, sleeping in an optimal environment, and reducing screen time right before bed can all help prevent migraines when you wake.

Other underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and other mental and physical conditions should be treated. Once brought under control, the migraines may lessen in frequency and intensity.

While stress itself may not cause a migraine, reducing overall stress can help you maintain healthier sleep habits and make the rest of your life easier.

The Migraine Relief Center Can Help

The Migraine Relief Center is a group of dedicated medical specialists whose only goal is finding the right treatment solution for you and your migraines.

Our caregivers and specialists stay at the forefront of research on migraine treatment and pain relief. They make it a priority to stay up-to-date on new breakthroughs, and in the advanced techniques and technologies that have proven to be successful in most patients.

We can help you determine the probable cause of waking with a migraine, create a custom treatment plan to address any underlying factors, and help you have your best life.

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Topics: Migraine, Sleep, Prevention

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