The 4-Step Guide to Sleep for Migraine

Exploring Solutions | 7 Min. Read
Author: Ctrl M Health Migraine Team
Reviewed by: Ctrl M Health Medical Directors

Summary

  • Research shows that improving your sleep habits is the single most impactful lifestyle change you can make for migraine.
  • Self-Discovery helps you evaluate your current sleep pattern, see the ways it affects your symptoms, and calculate your sleep efficiency.
  • Sleep Hygiene helps you tap into your brain’s natural rhythms and create the right conditions for you to fall asleep. 
  • Balancing Migraine and Sleep helps you learn techniques for when headache and migraine get in the way of sleep.
  • Self-Awareness helps you cope with stress that is getting in the way of sleep.

Full Article

Does sleep help migraines? You bet it does. Research shows that improving your sleep habits is actually the single most impactful lifestyle change you can make for migraine.

However, getting better sleep with migraine is easier said than done. That’s because migraine and sleep are tightly intertwined. Difficulty in one realm creates difficulty in the other, often setting off a negative spiral in which lack of sleep leads to more migraines, leading to worse sleep, and so on. In fact, people with migraine are two to eight times more likely to have sleep disorders. For anyone who has struggled with migraine and sleep, it can be hard to know where to even begin making helpful changes.

We’ve done the hard work for you. The Ctrl M Health app lays out a comprehensive sleep program that includes four different strategies for better sleep. Each of these science-backed approaches helps you tackle the roots of your sleep issues, from multiple angles, so you can make meaningful changes for your migraine.

#1: Get clarity through self-discovery

Your path to improved sleep with migraine starts with self-discovery. After all, if you’re going to try to change your habits for the better, you first need to know which habits need to change!

The best way to investigate your own sleep habits and needs is to track your sleep. By getting a clear picture of your sleep, you’ll be able to quickly identify the most impactful starting point for your plan. Evaluating your sleep habits will also allow you to calculate your sleep efficiency, which is the percentage of time you are in bed and actually sleeping. This is a good indicator of sleep quality. It will give you a great sense of what kind of shape your sleep is in right now, as well as a baseline to check your progress as you make changes.

Start with the “Sleep Diary” activity:

    • Track your sleep every night for at least one week. 
    • Pay attention to the typical times you go to bed, turn out the lights, and fall asleep; and your waking and “out of bed” times. You’ll also want to note the number of wakeups you had during sleep, and how rested you feel in the morning. These will all play into calculating your sleep efficiency.
    • At the end of the week, calculate your sleep efficiency. The goal is a sleep efficiency of 85% or higher.

 

Four images in a row of a smartphone showing different screens, each with purple bars against a dark background.

 

After completing the Sleep Diary, take time to do three things:

    • Take stock. Given the week’s results, which of the following statements best describes your relationship with sleep right now? Your answer will help determine your next steps. 
        • My sleep habits could use improvement.
        • My migraine is keeping me awake.
        • Stress is affecting my sleep.
    • Reflect. In any self-assessment, negative self-judgement can creep in and push us off course. Instead of beating yourself up, take time to neutrally reflect on what you’ve learned thus far, including your sleep strengths and areas of future growth.
    • Breathe. Self-awareness practices like a simple breathing exercise can help you cultivate mindfulness that you will apply to your sleep habits.

Get clarity by starting with the Sleep Diary.

#2: Get cleaner sleep habits

If your main issue with migraine and sleep is needing better habits, then improving your sleep hygiene is your next step. Sleep hygiene involves cleaning up your sleep habits to tap into your brain’s natural rhythms, thus avoiding hyperarousal at bedtime and creating the just-right conditions for you to fall asleep.

Maybe your sleep routine just needs a little polishing up. Or maybe it needs a complete power wash. Either way, when your sleep is less than ideal, a sleep routine cleanup gives your migraine brain the consistent patterns it craves.

Start with the “Sleep Checklist” activity:

    • Learn the essential guidelines for sleep hygiene, which include regulating caffeine, limiting or avoiding naps, and keeping the same bed/wake time everyday — even on weekends.
    • Try as many of the tips as you can, every night, for at least two weeks.
    • Notice how you feel. What worked for you? Which new habits might you begin to sustain for the long-term?

 

Four images in a row of a smartphone showing different screens, each with purple bars against a dark background.

 

Get clean sleep habits by checking out the Sleep Checklist.

#3: Get greater balance between migraine and sleep

If you’ve realized that headache and migraine are your biggest barriers to good sleep right now, it’s time to learn about balancing migraine and sleep

Maybe you can’t sleep due to migraines, or you go to sleep and wake up with a migraine headache. Or perhaps your frequent migraine attacks are keeping you from maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, since when an attack hits, all sleep hygiene “rules” go out the window in favor of sleeping it off. Whatever your situation, there are techniques to help you find that delicate balance.

Start with our “Balancing Sleep and Migraine” activity:

    • Learn the techniques for creating a successful balance between migraine and sleep, including using naps wisely, understanding your right amount of sleep, and doing a self-awareness exercise before bed.
    • Choose at least one technique to use the next time you experience a headache or migraine attack.
    • Monitor yourself for any positive benefit. The more techniques you can implement at once, the better. Be patient with yourself and build up one small behavior at a time.

Four images in a row of a smartphone showing different screens, each with purple bars against a dark background.

 

Get greater balance with the Balancing Sleep and Migraine activity.

#4: Get calm for a better night’s sleep

If you’ve found that stress is your primary barrier to sleep, start with self-awareness techniques. Stress not only gets in the way of good sleep, it also makes migraine worse and harder to treat — giving you two good reasons to make this area your focus.

The problem is, stress is hard to avoid or control. What we can control, however, are our own reactions to stress. “Brain training” techniques like mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and emotion-regulation are all extremely effective tools for coping with stress. With time and practice, these activities can condition your nervous system toward calm, improve migraine, and allow you to achieve better-quality sleep.

Start with our “Sleep Meditation” activity:

    • Commit to using the guided Sleep Meditation as part of your wind-down routine at least twice this week.
    • Listen to the meditation right before bed. You can listen while sitting up or lying down. Listening in bed is fine, unless you experience insomnia, in which case it’s best to do this meditation out of the bed.
    • Repeat nightly for best results. With repetition, your mind will begin to recognize this routine as a signal to begin slowing down thoughts, letting go of body tension, and opening to feelings of calm, paving the path to sleep.

Four images in a row of a smartphone showing different screens, each with purple bars against a dark background.

 

Get calm by using the Sleep Meditation activity.

Choose your next step to improve your migraine

        1. Get clarity with the Sleep Diary activity.
        2. Get clean sleep habits by checking out the Sleep Checklist.
        3. Get balanced with the Balancing Sleep and Migraine activity.
        4. Get calm by using the Sleep Meditation activity.

You have the power to prevent migraine attacks by improving your sleep. The personalized plan within your Ctrl M Health app is ready to help. You’ve got this!

Good luck! There is progress ahead.

Take the next step to better health

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