‘Does my poor sleep have anything to do with my headaches and migraines?’

Insomnia, ie difficulty with falling asleep, or staying asleep as long as desired, is the most common sleep complaint among patients with chronic migraines.

Clues to a sleep disorder include:

  • snoring
  • gasping during the night
  • falling asleep during the day
  • not feeling rested upon awakening
  • the desire to move one’s legs when trying to sleep (frequently associated with restless legs syndrome, & this can further disrupt sleep)

If symptoms suggestive for possible obstructive sleep apnoea, RLS, or another sleep disorder are present, then formal sleep testing may be required.

Even if formal sleep testing is not required, consistent behavioural changes are needed for those with chronic headaches and sleep problems.

Behavioural changes are safe, can enhance functioning during the day, and many find, that if they can improve the quality of their sleep, their headaches do improve.

If behavioural changes are insufficient however, medications may be required.

What are the behavioural changes I should consider?

Engaging in restful and non stress producing activities before going to sleep is important. In addition regular sleep habits of going to bed within an hour of the same time every night, and getting up at similar times is advised.

Sleeping in on the weekends to catch up on a sleep deficit during the week can also be problematic, as it can trigger, ‘let down migraines’

Other issues to be mindful of is that frequent intake of caffeine can lead to a worsening of a sleep disorder, with a caffeine withdrawal headache experienced during the night. Individuals with medication overuse headaches can also experience their medications wearing off during the night, triggering a headache.

It has also been reported that nocturnal awakening headache was 14 times more prevalent in women during the perimenopause period, and headaches associated with this stage in a women’s life will be discussed in a follow up blog.

Note: Information on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. Deborah Tepper MD, 2015 American Headache Society

 Does menopause influence nocturnal awakening with headache? Lucchesi LM, et al, Climacteric 2013