How Poor Sleep Can Cause Headaches & What To Do, From An Expert
It's no secret that sleep is crucial to our overall well-being. Proper sleep supports immunity, gut health, the list goes on. And when you don't get enough of it, you'll know—be it because you feel lethargic the next morning or perhaps because you have a splitting headache.
When board-certified neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., stopped by the mbg podcast to talk with our co-founder Jason Wachob, she discussed the fascinating reason that inadequate sleep can lead to chronic headaches. Here's what the doc had to say.
New insights on the sleep-headache connection.
When we sleep, Ruhoy explains, the brain replenishes itself: "We never really understood how the brain rid itself of debris, of cellular debris or metabolic byproducts—and now we know about the lymphatic system," she tells Wachob. "And we know that it's most active during sleep."
As such, restorative sleep allows the brain to flush out the waste, and "clear inflammatory byproducts and inflammatory mediators, to help set up for healing," she says. So, when we don't get enough of it?
"Poor sleep is associated with increased frequency of headaches," she notes. "We know that for some people with migraines, for example, they feel better when they fall asleep. They wake up feeling brand-new. So it goes back to a lot of what I've said—proper sleep hygiene has been known to help migraines."
How to apply this research.
To improve sleep quality, look to your body's circadian rhythm. "Our brain is a circadian organ," Ruhoy says. "It thrives on that circadian rhythm. We're technically meant to rise with the sun, go to sleep with the sun, and do regular meals, and so on. It's very hard to simulate that in modern-day [...] but the best that we can simulate that, the better off we'll be."
To do this, she says, the biggest thing you can do is go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. It's also not a bad idea to think about eating around the same times every day, too. On top of that, you can consider things like blackout curtains in the evening, or an alarm clock that simulates natural light, to work with your circadian rhythm.
"Getting in preparation for sleep is super important," she adds, "because that tells the body it's almost time for sleep." And equally important, she notes, is getting sunlight early in the day. "It's a message to the brain that this is the morning time, this is a brand-new day. Getting outdoors, even for 20 minutes—early in the morning, before around 10 a.m.—is what I always recommend."
The deep and restorative sleep you've always dreamt about*
If headaches and sleep are two issues you struggle with, Ruhoy also recommends looking to your nutrition.
"We do know that magnesium deficiency seems to be associated with migraines," she says, adding that she takes magnesium herself. Supplements made from a form of magnesium called magnesium glycinate, like mbg's magnesium+, deliver the essential mineral and also show promise in supporting sleep quality.*
If you think poor sleep is triggering migraines for you, the good news is, quality sleep is possible. Get that sleep schedule down pat, consider trying a sleep supplement, and you'll be on your way to restful nights and headache-free days.*