A recent study related to chronic migraine and sleep is giving hope to many who struggle with comorbid insomnia and migraine.
As we’ve discussed many times, sleep problems and migraine often go hand in hand, which is why both need to be treated together. Many patients are rightly concerned about taking “sleeping pills”, and thus adding another drug with possible side effects to the mix, as well as possible long term dependence.
But a study published last year from the University of Mississippi suggests that simple lifestyle changes may be a lot more powerful than many people believe (Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Behavioral Insomnia Treatment for Chronic Migraine With Comorbid Insomnia).
For the study, patients (mostly women) were specifically recruited who had both insomnia and chronic migraine. Each person came in for three special training sessions focusing on learning and practising 5 skills.
The control group learned skills that related to consistent liquid/food intake, range of motion, and acupressure.
But the study group were give skills related to improving sleep quality.
Two weeks after the treatment, researchers measured the change. Both groups improved – actually, the control group improved slightly more than the sleep-quality focused group.
But then came the surprise. The researchers measured again after 6 weeks. The control group still had a drop in headache frequency – 25%. But the sleep group had a 46% reduction in headache frequency.
The sleep group also improved significantly in their time asleep and “efficiency” of that sleep time.
46% is a significant improvement. So what was the secret? What skills did this group learn?
No, it wasn’t taking sleeping pills, or performing complex exercises. Actually, it was simple advice you’ve probably heard before:
- Associate your bed with sleeping. It’s not the place to read, check Facebook or watch television.
- Keep a regular schedule – go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time.
- If you can’t sleep after 1/2 an hour, don’t panic. Just get up and do a quiet activity for a little while, then try again.
- Try not to nap during the day.
Although naps may be great for some people, that last tip may help people get out of the insomnia cycle.
Once patients received training and understood more about how to optimize their sleep time, they found they could keep it up – and they also found that their sleep improved, and their migraine symptoms dropped significantly.
This was a small study, and the researchers would like to see further studies over a longer time frame. But for now, there is good reason to think that simple changes in the way we do “sleep-time” may have a big pay-off over the long term.
Special note: This study was sponsored by the Migraine Research Foundation, an organization we have been happy to support. You can support the MRF directly here. Also, investing in the Migraine World Summit collection will support the MRF and other organizations dedicated to fighting migraine.