It’s easy to get overwhelmed with what things we should and should not be doing to reduce our migraines. How do you to distinguish fact from fiction?
I’ve looked at the results from a few independent surveys, where a combined total of over 10,000 migraine sufferers evaluated their treatments.
This is not a perfect sample nor is it a silver bullet cure. But there are insights from the thousands who participated (Sources: 1-4) and practical tips based on real data, from real migraine sufferers.
It may not be all that revolutionary or new to you. But this list includes things that work. Things you can start today.
1) Sleep Better and Consistently
Sleep is a restorative brain function. It helps the body to heal itself.5,6,7
The reason so many of us experience migraines is because we are not getting enough quality sleep, consistently.
Many of us need sleep to help recover from a migraine once it begins. So it’s not surprising to learn that good, consistent sleep is important for migraine sufferers.
Missing sleep, changing your sleep wake cycle (i.e. sleeping in or getting up early) or disrupted sleep can lead to migraines. So as much as possible, keep a regular routine.
Consistency may be as important as length of sleep.
Try not to disrupt it too much over the weekend. ie. If you wake up at 8am every morning, do this on the weekends as well.
Nobody is perfect. I know firsthand. But improving your sleep in this way just might save you a few migraines.
2) Exercise to reduce stress
Second to sleep is stress at the top of all migraine triggers experienced by those surveyed.1,2
How many times have you been told to reduce stress in your life? Too many times? Me too.
Often reducing stress in your life is not a realistic option.
If you have 3 kids, a part-time job and are struggling to pay the bills, then stress is just part of your reality.
What you can control is how well you manage stress. And the impact stress has on your body, including your brain.
Relaxation techniques, yoga, breathing exercises, meditation are all useful options that should be explored.
Even taking a few deep breaths at work or elsewhere when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed can help you calm down, focus and get back in control. This will help you better manage stress and its physiological impact.
However, there is a wealth of scientific evidence that supports exercise as being an extremely effective stress buster. Particularly aerobic exercise. This is exercise when your heartbeat is up, such as jogging, cycling, swimming etc.
The good news is that not only is this great for stress, but it’s also extremely good for your overall health and wellbeing. Exercise will also help you sleep more soundly and it helps create a sense of wellbeing.
Good sleep and exercise can create a virtuous cycle of migraine prevention. Which can help break the grip of chronic migraines.
3) Eat natural vs processed
Nothing affects our overall health more than what we eat.
Unfortunately, excellent sleep and exercise cannot offset a terrible diet.
At the same time the level of allergies and intolerances are rising everyday. The number of artificial chemicals in our foods that are ingested and then interact or interfere with other bodily systems and functions is still not fully understood.
They interact at microscopic levels (in the parts per billion). Our diet is thought to account for up to 90% of a person's PCB and DDT body burden. PCB and DDT are endocrine disrupters which interfere with natural hormones our body that are responsible for development, behavior and maintenance of normal cell metabolism.8,9
More and more people believe that our bodies and digestive systems have not adapted to modern diets and processed foods. They suspect we are still geared towards the diets of our late ancestors on more natural foods without the harsh chemicals.10
When possible, choose natural foods like leafy greens, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Steer away from heavily processed foods. Often these contain complex chemicals and preservatives which migraine sufferers may be sensitive to.
For example, I personally have fewer migraines when I avoid soy, gluten and MSG. Which rules out most sauces, canned and processed foods.
If in doubt about what you may or may not be able to have then a blood allergy test may be helpful. This is when a small blood sample is tested against a number of food groups to discover what foods you may be reacting to.
It can provide clues. You could be unknowingly fuelling your own migraines with the foods you eat.
4) Protect your eyes
Scientific studies report that the large portion of migraine sufferers experience sensitivity to bright or flickering lights, computer, TV or phone screens and glare.11 This is common during a migraine, but less well known, it is also common in-between migraines.
Make sure you are wearing sunglasses outside at all times. Also ensure that your sunglasses are polarized – which means that they have extra glare protection.
A hat is also helpful to reduce glare.
What about inside? How can you deal with computer screens or harsh fluorescent lights?
First, adjust the brightness settings on your computer screens and other devices.
Be mindful of looking too long at bright screens i.e. TV screens in dark rooms. Avoid reading an iPad or phone screen for too long, at night or around bed time. The bright lights from these screens can be triggers.
If you are staring at your computer screen all day reducing the brightness may not be enough- especially under fluorescent lights. I didn’t experience relief in this situation until I started wearing coloured lenses. These are tinted lenses that block out the harsh brightness and make screens much more ‘comfortable’ to look at.
If you suspect you may be similar – there are manufacturers who specialize in lenses for migraine sufferers. Here is an example (I link to them because they offer a free refund).
My daily 3pm headaches surprisingly faded after wearing coloured lenses and managing my diet.
5) Be careful about your medications
Medications are a double-edged sword. They can be very helpful in providing temporary relief from pain, but none treat the underlying cause of migraines.
I still take medication for an acute migraine attack. But taking too many drugs can cause complications of migraine which can lead to rebound headaches, medication withdrawals and daily headaches or chronic migraines.
If you are taking 10 doses or more of strong medications a month then you may be at risk.
There is no drug I’ve discovered that comes close to a regular balance of sleep, work, exercise and rest.
Migraine brains prefer routine. The better I stick to my routine, the less migraines I get.
With these 5 tips, you know where to start reducing your migraines.
The question is... how many more migraines will it take for you to start?
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- MigrainePal qualitative pilot study conducted Aug-Nov 2013, n=20.
- Quantitative survey results from 6,653 migraine suﬀerers http://curetogether.com/migraine/treatments/
- Survey results from 1,591 chronic migraine suﬀerers http://migraine.com/chronic-migraine-in-america-2013/the-state-of-chronic-migraine/
- Survey results from 5,603 migraine suﬀerers at http://www.pa7entslikeme.com/condi7ons/135Pa7entsLikeMe
- Van Cauter, E.; Leproult, R.; Plat, L. (2000). "Age-related changes in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and relationship with growth hormone and cortisol levels in healthy men". Journal of the American Medical Association 284 (7): 861–868.doi:10.1001/jama.284.7.861. PMID10938176.
- "Brain may flush out toxins during sleep". National Institute of Health. http://www.nih.gov/news/health/oct2013/ninds-17.htm Retrieved 25 October 2013.
- Siegel, JM (2005). "Clues to the functions of mammalian sleep". Nature 437 (7063): 1264–1271. Bibcode:2005Natur.437.1264S. doi:10.1038/nature04285. PMID16251951.
- Crisp TM, Clegg ED, Cooper RL, Wood WP, Anderson DG, Baetcke KP, Hoffmann JL, Morrow MS, Rodier DJ, Schaeffer JE, Touart LW, Zeeman MG, Patel YM (1998)."Environmental endocrine disruption: An effects assessment and analysis". Environ. Health Perspect. 106. (Suppl 1): 11–56. PMC1533291. PMID9539004.
- Fürst P (October 2006). "Dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls and other organohalogen compounds in human milk. Levels, correlations, trends and exposure through breastfeeding". Mol Nutr Food Res 50 (10): 922–33.doi:10.1002/mnfr.200600008. PMID17009213.
- ”Global trends in Healthy Eating” Nielsen Report. Accessed Jan 2014. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2010/global-trends-in-healthy-eating.html
- Hay, K. M., Mortimer, M. J., Barker, D. C., Debney, L. M. and Good, P. A. (1994), 1044 "Women with Migraine: The Effect of Environmental Stimuli. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain" 34: 166–168. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.1994.hed3403166.