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HeadWay, Issue #122 -- Sleep Disorders and Migraine
September 22, 2014

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In this issue:

Sleep Apnea and Migraine

Say what?!  Apnea

Sleep Apnea and Migraine

Are your migraine attacks actually being caused by undiagnosed sleep apnea (sleep apnoea)? It's been a while since we covered the topic here, and Ruth from the United States emailed asking about some new research that has been done.

As is the case with cluster headaches, migraine has been linked with sleep apnea for a long time.  Not only is this recognized by researchers, migraine patients themselves also recognize that sleep issues are a major problem.  In an online poll at Headache and Migraine News in 2011, 82% of patients with headache disorders said that they regularly had trouble getting a normal night's sleep.

There are different types of sleep apnoea, but generally patients will either stop breathing temporarily or take shallow breaths during sleep.  The person will rouse partially from sleep and "catch up" with more breathing.  Obviously this can be a constant interruption.

It is estimated that 3-7% of the population suffers from the most common form of sleep apnea alone, so it's natural that some migraineurs would suffer as well.  But a study of children in 2008 showed that children with migraine were far more likely to suffer from sleep disordered breathing.

The study that Ruth pointed out actually found that adults were migraine were not significantly more likely to have sleep apnea, although if they had migraine with aura the percentage was a little higher.


The recent study, from 2013, tried CPAP therapy for patients who had both migraine and sleep apnea.  Now sleep apnea is often treated by lifestyle changes, but for moderate or severe cases, breathing devices are often suggested.  CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) devices are very common.  A mask fits either over your mouth and nose or just nose, providing air pressure to keep your airway open properly.

In the study, researchers checked on patients after one year and two years, and found that migraine frequency and duration did significantly decrease.

However, the study was very preliminary, and was criticized partly because there was no control group, and because there were other factors that could explain the improvement.

But even though more tests are needed, there is little doubt that treating sleep apnoea will help some migraine patients significantly.

So what should I do?

First, look for clues that you may have sleep apnea.  These may include:
  • Not feeling "refreshed" when you wake up.
  • Snoring
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Waking up in the night to use the toilet
  • Waking with a sore/dry throat, or short of breath
  • morning headache
Of course, if someone else sees that you're having breathing trouble during the night, that's another indicator.  Children with sleep apnea will often be more hyper during the day, instead of being sleepy.

If you suspect sleep apnea, you will need to have a sleep study done, called polysomnography (PSG).

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor will recommend treatment.

To lower your risk and get a better sleep, here are a few more simple tips...
  • Don't spend too much time sitting during the day, and try a walk in the evening.
  • Watch your weight.
  • Limit your use of alcohol (especially in the evening) and sleeping pills.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Drink lots of water and limit salt intake.
  • Consider trying a magnesium supplement, such as Source Naturals Ultra-Mag
  • .
None of these tips is guaranteed to solve sleep apnea problems, and you should see a doctor if you're concerned about your sleep patterns.

But remember, sleep apnoea and other sleep disorders are serious conditions that can affect all of life.  Regulating your sleep may be one of the best things you can do to improve your condition and lower your pain.

More tips from website visitors about getting to sleep with migraine.

Read more about the study here:  CPAP Improves Migraine Burden in Patients With Sleep Apnea

Say what?!  Apnea

Apnea, or apnoea, from a Greek word meaning "breathless", refers to a temporary cessation of breathing.  As you may have guessed, "sleep apnea" is when you stop breathing when you're asleep, but there are other kinds of apnea too.  For example, there is "daytime apnea", and also daytime hypopnœa (or hypopnea) which is refers to shallow or less breathing, as opposed to none at all.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
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