The intricate relationship between sleep and migraines has been discussed for many years. Delving into the science and research, this article seeks to answer the question: can lack of sleep cause a migraine?

Migraines Unraveled: More than Just a Headache 

Migraines are not your typical headaches. They can be debilitating, characterized by intense pain, often in one side of the head. Accompanying symptoms can include:

  • Nausea.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Even aura – a range of sensory disturbances.

The Role of Sleep in Our Well-being 

Sleep isn’t just about feeling rested. It’s a vital component of our health. Proper sleep supports brain function, hormonal balance, and overall mood. Adults typically require 7-9 hours of sleep, but due to various factors, many fall short, leading to sleep deprivation.

Sleep Deprivation and Migraines: The Connection 

Several studies have established a connection between lack of sleep and increased frequency of migraines. Sleep disturbances might trigger migraines by:

  • Stress and Hormonal Imbalance: Lack of sleep can elevate stress and disrupt hormonal levels, both potential migraine triggers.
  • Neurological Mechanisms: Neurons in the brain may react to sleep deprivation, leading to migraines.
  • Sensitivity to External Stimuli: Tired individuals often have heightened sensitivity to light and sound, common migraine triggers.

Beyond Migraines: Other Effects of Sleep Deprivation 

Besides migraines, lack of sleep can lead to tension-type headaches, mood swings, anxiety, and depression. Identifying sleep disturbances early is vital to prevent these associated health concerns.

Combatting Migraines: Sleep Hygiene and Other Tips

  • Maintain a Routine: Going to bed and waking up simultaneously daily helps set the body’s internal clock.
  • Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Both can interfere with sleep patterns and trigger migraines.


  • Create a Sleep-friendly Environment: Ensure a dark, quiet, and cool bedroom. Consider using blackout curtains and earplugs.
  • Consult a Doctor: If migraines persist or sleep disturbances continue, it’s essential to seek professional advice.

Other Factors Amplifying Migraine Risks 

While sleep deprivation is a significant contributor, it’s essential to remember that migraines can be multi-factorial.

  • Dietary Triggers: Certain foods and drinks, like aged cheeses, processed meats, and alcoholic beverages, can trigger migraines for some.
  • Environmental Changes: Fluctuations in weather, barometric pressure, and strong odors might initiate migraines in sensitive individuals.
  • Hormonal Fluctuations: For many women, migraines are closely linked to their menstrual cycle due to changing estrogen levels.

Addressing Sleep Disorders Linked to Migraines 

Specific sleep disorders have been associated with an increased risk of migraines:

  • Sleep Apnea: This condition causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices can be helpful for those suffering from sleep apnea.
  • Insomnia: Chronic insomnia can exacerbate migraines. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) has benefited many patients.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): The urge to move legs due to uncomfortable sensations can disrupt sleep. Lifestyle changes and medications can help manage RLS symptoms.

The Road to Better Sleep and Fewer Migraines 

Taking proactive steps to address sleep disturbances can lead to a decrease in the onset of migraines:

  • Limit Screen Time: Blue light from devices can interfere with melatonin production, a hormone responsible for sleep regulation.
  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can promote better sleep and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Techniques like meditation and deep breathing can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and potentially decrease migraine episodes.

How do power naps during the day affect nighttime sleep? 

Short naps (20-30 minutes) can be refreshing, but longer ones can disrupt nighttime sleep. 

Are there particular bedtime snacks that can aid sleep? 

Snacks rich in tryptophan, like turkey or warm milk, can promote sleepiness. 

How does screen time before bed impact sleep?

Blue light from screens can suppress melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep. 

Can migraines be hereditary? 

Yes, there’s evidence to suggest a genetic component in migraine susceptibility.