Bad Sleep Can Cause Migraines Two Days Later, New Study Finds

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Woman with a headache

Image by Jamie Grill Atlas / Stocksy

Tossing and turning in bed each night can be a tireless battle (pun intended) that makes waking up the next morning a challenge. For the one in seven people who suffer from migraines, that inability to fall asleep can have even worse effects, according to new research.

A study published in the journal Neurology found that sleep fragmentation (the inability to fall asleep while lying in bed) can lead to migraines two days later.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center studied 98 adults who commonly experienced up to 15 days of headaches per month. 

Participants were asked to journal twice a day, detailing their sleep, headache, and health habits for six weeks. They were also asked to wear a wrist monitor to bed, which tracked sleep activity. 

Collectively, participants reported 870 headaches in those six weeks. After analyzing the data, researchers concluded that poor sleep quality and little sleep (6.5 hours or less) were not associated with headaches, but sleep fragmentation was. 

What is sleep fragmentation?

Sleep fragmentation, or low sleep efficiency, is the amount of time you're awake in bed when trying to sleep. Lead author of the study Suzanne Bertisch, M.D., called sleep multidimensional, and sleep efficiency is just one dimension within that realm. 

Participants discussed sleep fragmentation in their journals, and measures also came through their wrist monitors. Interestingly, the effects were not triggered on the day immediately following but the day after that (two days later). 

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What does this mean for people with migraines? 

"When it comes to sleep and migraines, there's a lot that we don't know," Bertisch said in a news release

Previous research found a bidirectional association between sleep disturbances and migraines. That means a lack of sleep can trigger headaches, and headaches can also promote sleep disturbances. But the relationship between the two is not well understood. 

"Anyone treating these patients wants to be able to counsel them on what to do to decrease their risk of a migraine," she said. These findings can lead to future research about sleep influences, circadian rhythm and hopefully, interventions to help promote better sleep. 

To avoid sleep fragmentation, try this bedtime ritual that an M.D. swears by. 

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