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HeadWay, Issue #015 -- Get to sleep
October 21, 2004

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In this month's issue:

Get to sleep

Migraine and marijuana

Say what?! Time for turkey

Get to sleep

When I have a headache from migraine, quite often if I can just get to sleep I can get it to go away. But sometimes, the pain is just so bad I might just as well want to fly to Alpha Centauri in a pill bottle. What can you do?

Migraine has often been linked to the sleep mechanisms of the body. Magnesium, a common part of migraine treatment, is linked to the body's ability to sleep regularly. Cluster headaches have recently been linked to sleep apnoea, one study showing 80% of cluster patients also suffered from this disorder, which causes breathing problems during sleep.

This past September, an article in Neurology told us about a study that was done with migraine patients. 25% of them experienced at least a 50% decrease in headache frequency after 3 months of taking 3mg of melatonin before bed. Melatonin is commonly used as a sleep aid.

But why does this work? It may just be that a good night's sleep is beneficial, no matter how you get it. Or, there could be a chemical link between migraine and sleep functions. Or, there could be another function of melatonin that benefits. (More on the melatonin study)

More on melatonin

Other ways to get to sleep...

If it's a good night's sleep you need, why not try some other milder options first? Be sure to get proper exercise, which is one of the most important ways to get to sleep at night.

Passionflower can be taken as tea to help migraineurs sleep. Other herbs that may help you sleep include the classic chamomile, and valerian.

Tryptophan in food is believed by some to be a sleep aid. It's found in things like dairy products (how about a glass of warm milk?), whole grains, soy products, duck, and turkey. Related to tryptophan is 5-HTP, a natural supplement. Read more about tryptophen and 5-HTP here.

For something more powerful, some take dimenhydrinate (Gravol) on rare occasions, but be sure to check with your doctor. Gravol, of course, also helps with the nausea which can keep you awake.

Migraine and marijuana

The controversy is rising all over the world when it comes to the medicinal use of marijuana. One of our HeadWay subscribers asked for more information on marijuana for treating migraine, so I thought I'd check it out.

So what's the story on marijuana? Well, it depends on who you talk to. As you might imagine, this is a politically charged, emotional topic. People who have been helped by marijuana are upset at people who don't take them seriously. Parents are concerned about their kids. Doctors about their patients. This is a messy issue.

Right now if you watch the news, it's the story of dueling studies. One study claims a new benefit, another a new danger. It really is hard to know what to believe.

If you try to take a balanced look, to me it looks something like this. Marijuana, like many herbal remedies, is still very poorly understood. In other words, we don't fully understand why it works the way it does. It does certainly seem to have some beneficial effects, including relief from symptoms like those that migraineurs experience.

One of the main problems is the common form that it comes in that's right, you usually smoke it. Several studies indicate a very high danger from smoking marijuana. The smoke contains more tars and carbon dioxide than tobacco (according to a Health Canada report). The next problem is that we're still learning how it can be administered in other forms without losing the benefits. The other problem is that these different forms take longer to act on the body than smoking it does.

Of course, in most countries that our readers live in, marijuana is an illegal drug. I'm not suggesting you run out and get some. But if you'd like to do some balanced research and see what you can suggest to your government, go for it. However, it looks like more studies are needed to verify whether or not marijuana should be used to treat migraine.

Meanwhile, why not spend some time checking out many of the well studied treatments that are out there for migraine? Visit, or send us your own suggestions by visiting the HeadWay Mailroom (link at the bottom of the page, password nomoache)

Here's a WebMD article illustrating some of the passionate debate.

Say what?! Time for turkey

The word of the month is tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid, and it's something in your body that's a precursor of both serotonin and melatonin, both of which have been linked to migraine. Tryptophan has gained fame because it's found in (among many other things) turkey. It has been theorized that it's this that makes you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. However, it's may be more likely that a little too much to eat is what's really making you drowsy! Check here for a list of some foods containing tryptophan.

Just one more...

Check out Gabhor Utomo's new painting, "Mei mei's Migraine", if you have migraine I'm sure you can relate. The Indonesian artist said that he felt this way when he had too much homework! That's nasty homework, brother.

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