Getting to sleep with migraine

Migraine sleep

How do you get to sleep when you're in the middle of a migraine attack? This was the first question we wanted to answer in our Community Articles section of Relieve-Migraine-Headache.com. First we'll list some of your answers, then we'll look around the website for more ideas:

Question: What non-drug methods help you get to sleep when you're having a headache/migraine attack?

Answers:

  • A cold pack rotating from my neck to my forehead (Sally in Canada)
  • That would be a dark room, that is not too warm, and a cool (not cold) pack on my neck. (Liz in Canada)
  • What I do to get to sleep is play a CD of relaxing instrumental music very very softly. If I haven't fallen asleep by the end of the CD I know it is time to try something different. (Kim in the USA)
  • I eat a chocolate bar & drink some coffee or tea or coke, & use an icepack...it helps the headache and doesn't affect my ability to sleep when I headache...but I realize that's because of the caffeine. (Melissa in the USA)
  • I build my pillows up into a mountain so that I am sleeping as near upright as possible. It doesn't always work but I find lying down normally just makes me feel more nauseous. Sleep is definitely a great relief. I keep my eyes closed but mot always in a darkened room. (Theresa in the UK)
  • Because I'm so sensitive to sound when I have a migraine and I almost always need to lay down, I use ear plugs to block out the noise. I carry ear plugs with me every where I go. I use them also when I go to the doctor's office with a full blown attack to receive injections for pain because I can't keep my oral medications down. It seems like when you have a migraine all the little noises in your home or around you, that you normally wouldn't have noticed are so loud and you just want to sleep to make the pain go away. (Dereama in the USA)
  • A dark, quiet room is essential when a migraine hits. I like to keep "blue ice" packs in my freezer. When I have a bad migraine, I wrap one of these in a thin kitchen towel or washcloth, and alternate putting the pack at the back of my neck, then at my temple, then on my eye (where my headache is centered). When I am icing the back of my neck, I often cover my eyes with an eye mask or a soft cloth to make everything even darker. (Susan from the USA)
  • Cold eye masks & bed buddy cold packs flexible to wrap around your neck, head or forehead and yet comfortable to the skin & a small hand held massager I use around my neck & head, a quiet dark room & that usually will do it. (Lora from the USA)
  • Sometimes a hot shower helps me to relax because I'm so worked up during the migraine and go to bed and cover my head. (Teresa from the USA)
  • I have someone rub my back very lightly.  I am usually laying in my darkened bedroom.  For some reason having someone rub my back can lull me to sleep. (Mary from the USA)
  • I usually put a heating pad around the back of my neck and a bag of frozen peas on my face or tilt it to the eye that is usually experiencing the most pain.  I have to have the room completely dark and cool.  Then I do the old trick of starting at my feet and saying in my head, "My toes are relaxed, my heels are relaxed, the arches of my feet are relaxed, etc. until I make it to the top of my head.  I also try to envision my blood vessels contracting to their normal size, as well.  However, despite all of this, the meds. are still what do the best. (Annemarie from the USA)
  • As silly as this sounds, my mother prepared this for me as a child when I got headaches, and I still resort to it today when an awful one hits.  Cut a strip of brown paper about 1 ½ inches wide and long enough to reach from temple to temple.  Pour some vinegar in a bowl, soak the paper until it is wet and apply to the forehead.  You may have to repeat this procedure a couple of times as the paper dries out, but the next thing you know, you wake up feeling better.  It must be the smell of the vinegar that helps you fall asleep. (Paulette from Canada)
  • Try massage on the shoulders, neck and head.  Also try placing your feet in a big bowl of ice cold water, as cold as you can stand.  Ice packs around the neck, at the base of your shoulders, and also try alternating heat (heating pad) around your neck for 10-15 mins.  When all fails, the drug methods may be all you have left.  I always try these things 1st, most of the time they work. (Brian from the USA)
  • I find deep breathing helpful - breathing in and out slowly and deliberately.  It helps to focus on the rhythmic sound of breathing.  I like to close my eyes, as well, while practicing conscious breathing, to relax the forehead and brow, and block out the light.  Another thing I find helpful is to gently massage the hands.  One more comment I'd like to add that helps me - getting outside and feeling the cool, brisk air, diffuses the headache pain.  It lessens the intensity, and surprisingly calms my senses.  Just a brief bit of cold, fresh air. (Anna from the USA)
  • Opening windows and letting more fresh air into the bedroom.  Breathing deeply and slowly.  Try to relax.  Use of 4Head stick on my neck and shoulders whether they hurt or not and on the parts of my head that hurt.  Sipping water. (Clare from the UK)


  • A number of people also emphasized that they use these techniques in combination with migraine drugs. Sometimes these things help you avoid the drugs, other times they help the drugs work better, or just help you endure the attack because the drugs will only do so much.

    More migraine sleep tips

    Here are some other tips we've talked about in the past:

  • Summary of supplements from the October 2004 issue of HeadWay
  • Update on Melatonin from May 2006
  • Full article on melatonin
  • Food to help you sleep from July 2005
  • More on the magnesium, migraine and sleep connection in this article
  • Recommended eye pillows


  • Thanks to everyone who participated in our first Community Question!  To read the current question, visit the Community Articles page.