Little Known Ways to Get to Sleep (even with a Headache)

Getting a good night’s rest is key to minimizing migraine attacks, cluster headache and many other types of headache as well.  In fact, working at improving sleep may be one of the best ways you can fight migraine and headache.

Get to sleep - fighting insomnia with headache

Our first Community Question had to do with getting to sleep, and your excellent advice can be found here.  But I was recently tipped off by Lifehacker that there are some great new articles out there with more quick tips.

First, 10 reader tips from the UK to relieve insomnia.  From the more obscure (read a book of legal case studies?  Yeah, that would do it…) to the very practical (write down everything on your mind, and get it out of your mind!), there are some good ideas here.

Next, some all-natural herbs to help you sleep (wait – which are the unnatural herbs?).  You may have heard of these before, but one we haven’t talked a lot about is valerian root.

Valerian has been used for hundreds of years for sleep and relaxation.  Some people find it helps right away, though often it needs to be taken over several weeks to be effective.

Valerian still needs to be studied more.  We know it is a powerful herb, and though it usually seems to be safe it can cause side effects (ie headache and agitation).  It’s wise to talk to your doctor before taking it.

Valerian has even been studied specifically for use in migraine and epilepsy, though so far the studies have not been conclusive.  Some people take it during the day, but for sleep it’s often taken an hour before bedtime in a time-release capsule (such as these 600mg capsules).

Other surprises from these articles include lettuce and celery – a great whole food option that will do you good whether it helps you sleep or not!

What helps you get to sleep?  Leave a comment and share your ideas with us!

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15 comments… add one
  • MaxJerz Jan 7, 2009

    Acupuncture actually served best to break my insomnia cycle last year, and I maintain good sleep by doing a relaxation exercise every night (well, I *try* to do it every night) when I go to bed. I never would have believed how powerful relaxation could be until I tried it. I still have occasional insomnia, but nothing like what I had before.

    I know a number of Migraineurs who take melotonin to help their sleep. I tried it once and it actually gave me insomnia, but I’m also known to have weird reactions to anything and everything.

    Be well,

    • Jef Mar 12, 2014

      Acupuncture has helped me greatly, too. (Melatonin and Valerian root have helped, as well, but overuse can quickly diminish efficacy.) Also, the acupuncturist Dr. Lance Gramm told me I was clinching my jaws, leading to muscle tension that created daily headaches. He told me to buy a rubber mouthpiece (which costs about $3) and cut it in half (from the back and up both sides, not down the middle). This half-piece works like sticking a finger between your two front teeth. You aren’t able to clench the jaws. I am so thankful I don’t feel like I woke from a car wreck every morning now! Dr. Gramm is my hero!

  • James Jan 10, 2009

    Glad to hear relaxation worked well for you. I’ve had varying results with it. Actually, I was part of a clinical trial a number of years back which involved relaxation therapy.

    I’ve written about Melatonin before. It has helped some migraineurs, and also cluster headache patients, who really need regular sleep too.

  • Jeanne Jan 19, 2009

    Sometimes Valerian helps me sleep. It seems that if I use it more the twice a week, I’m fidigity all night and I wake up with a headache.


  • James Jan 22, 2009

    That’s interesting, Jeanne. Seems to me some things I’ve read are saying it’s better if it’s taken consistently. We’ll have to look into that one some more.

  • colin Jun 20, 2009

    so what do you do if you fall asleep at 6-8 AM every morning and then wake up around 2-3 PM?

  • Michelle Jun 22, 2009

    I have suffered mirgraines for 10 years now, and I have tried almost everything… Seems like nothing works,,, Right now I am going to a chiraprator to see if it will help, and only have been there twice. I am trying to go everyweek but right now I am so frustrated I cannot find out what to do with my headaches unless I sleep but when I wake up its worse. I am currently see a neurologist but I dont get to see him again until the end of July (and my first time seeing him was in the beginning of May) Any ideas that may help with what I am dealing with daily??? Any help would be apperciated.

    • Jef Mar 12, 2014

      Don’t give up. I had undiagnosed chronic rebound headache for 18 straight months. For six months, I prayed not to wake every night. It’s still difficult to think about it, but I persevered and you can, too.

      Try sleeping with a half-mouthpiece. It only costs a few bucks. After you have fitted it, cut it on both sides behind the fourth tooth from the front.

      It has helped me immensely because I was clinching my jaws at night, which created all sorts of maladjustment and muscle tension. Before using it, I felt like I was waking from a car wreck every morning. Its use was recommended by an acupuncturist who has helped me greatly. Although acupuncture isn’t for everyone, I have seen three different ones and they have all helped me greatly. They all use slightly different techniques and applications (e.g., electrotherapy, magnetic tacks, magnetic balls) but all three have been wonderful.

  • Elizabeth Wakefield Jun 23, 2009

    My neurologist sent me to a sleep doctor that I saw just last month and they did a sleep study. My migraines weren’t allowing me to have normal sleep patterns – and I wasn’t reaching the restorative sleep part so not getting relief from pain even while asleep. I was also having what I called “night terrors” but are really Sleep Paralysis with Hallucinations (SPH) – a symptom of migraines and of narcolepsy. The sleep doctor 2 weeks ago put me on Provigil and it keeps me awake during the day and stopped the SPHs and I sleep better at night now. The sleep doctor I went to studied under Dr. Saper for 5 years – from the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological institute so was very knowledgeable about migraines and sleep. I’m hoping it gets better and better – so maybe try a sleep doctor – but do your research – one that knows about migraines and doesn’t dismiss them.

  • Susan Aug 6, 2009

    I can relate. I’ve had migraines for 30+ years, and they’ve gotten worse as time goes on. I have tried EVERYTHING. Some things work for awhile, then stop working. So frustrating! My biggest problem right now is weather change. We have bad thunderstorms every afternoon, and they really play havoc with my head. I take Maxalt when I can tell it’s going to be bad, but since insurance only covers 12 pills per month, I have to ration them. Acupuncture helped me, but my acupuncturist moved. I need to find someone new. I recommend that you try it–what have you got to lose?

    • Lisa Ballard Powell Mar 24, 2014

      Dear Susan,
      I, too, suffer from severe Migraines and as I get older I seem to have more triggers, like changes in weather.
      I take Maxalt, as well, and know 12 pills don’t go far. I applied to Pfizer for their program that helps people get free medications and my doctor was very helpful in filling out her part of the form. It took about 5 weeks but they sent the Maxalt to my house, (18 tablets) and I believe 8 refills.
      Go to the Pfizer sight and see if this might be an answer for you.

  • Susie Jan 17, 2013

    Truly a most cost effective and simple way to get a good nights sleep is to calm the mind…how to do this? Simply breathe deeply as in meditation. Relax into closing your eyes and taking 10 deep slow long breaths. Try it, practice it, it costs nothing more than to focus upon your breath. Make this a practice for life as you and only you have the ability to calm your own mind. Medication may appear to help for a time but practice the conscious breathing method before going to,sleep and if you awaken no matter how many times and before you know it you will be sleeping once again. Don’t allow yourself to become frustrated, remember you are in charge of your mind and your breath, simply breathe deeply, slowly and place your awareness on the parts of your body moving and relaxing with each breath. Life is meant to be simple not scientific.

  • Lena Welch Jan 18, 2013

    I really recommend a meditation podcast with the topic of sleep. Meditatio Oasis and the Meditation Podcast both make one. When it is a reallllllly bad night I slip on my sleephones (they are a fabric headband with ultra thin speakers) and listen to the podcast.

  • Diana May 18, 2013

    A good natural remedy that helps me sleep is sleep balm by badger balm. I normally just rub some on my temples and a little under my nose and I’m asleep within minutes! Also, rescue sleep by Bach herbal remedies works well.

  • Jef Mar 12, 2014

    In addition to acupuncture, I have my own nine-step prevention system that can be administered without help from anyone else.
    1. Ibuprofen (200 to 400 mg, depending on severity); also, Valerian Root (800 mg) and Melatonin (6 mg) are taken if the occurrence is at night
    2. Hot Tea (mint or ginger; or, Sleepy Time at night), followed by peppermint candy
    3. Relaxation music (Sitar, Classical, Classical Indian, Nature Sounds, New Age, Zen, etc.) and aromatherapy (mint candles, spray, and body lotion)
    4. Stretching exercises
    5. Finger/hand massage of neck muscles and sinuses
    6. Ice pack on head (rotated from forehead and/or temple to base of skull) and heat pad on neck
    7. Application of Vick’s Vapor Rub to nasal passages and Ben-Gay to neck and sinus areas
    8. Meditation and breathing exercises
    9. Fioricet (It’s difficult to get a prescription for this, but Imitrex and other drugs haven’t helped. I wrote my current doctor a two-and-a-half page summary detailing these steps, my history, etc. Even though two of his staff members told me he doesn’t prescribe that med, he gave me the largest number of pills I’ve ever received Finding a good doctor who will listen and empathize makes a huge difference!).

    My system is probably flawed, but if you can borrow part or all of it and find relief, please do. I have other complications (allergies and asthma, IBS, hypertension) and realize we’re all different, but if this helps just one person I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to post this message. For peace of mind, I’m reading a book called God’s Problem, which addresses the nature of suffering (a complex topic that often leads to pointed disagreement among theologians and others.) God Bless! May the Light bring you all relief.

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