Despite debates over daylight saving time, most people can agree that changing the clocks twice a year is a real headache. For the 40 million Americans who experience cluster headaches and migraines, many believe that losing sleep causes their pain. 

But according to headache specialist Fred Cohen, MD, the disruption to our sleep schedules is the actual problem.

“There have been recent studies that show specifically that changes in sleep habits, not just a decrease in sleep, can trigger a migraine attack,” says Cohen, assistant professor of medicine and neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and published headache researcher, in a release. “There have been many theories to why, but the main component comes back to melatonin.”

Cohen explains that melatonin has many functions, not just regulating our sleep patterns. Melatonin has been linked to having effects on various neuro-peptides, including ones related to migraine attacks such as Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). Throughout the day, our brains use neuro-peptides to function. These peptides then turn into waste by-products that are pro-inflammatory. 

“Sleep serves as our brain’s way of cleaning itself,” says Cohen in the release. “When we sleep our brain removes these waste products. Sleep deprivation can lead to the accumulation of these by-products, and result in more headache/migraine attacks.”

If a person experiences chronic sleep deprivation, Cohen says it should be determined if a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, is present. Insomnia and sleep bruxism have also been correlated with headache and migraine attacks.  If no other conditions are present, improving sleep hygiene is the first step to improving sleep, says Cohen in a release.

Cohen offers 10 tips to improve sleep ahead of the fall time change

  1. Maintain a regular bedtime: Avoid marked variations in bedtime and awakening (even on weekends).
  2. Avoid use of electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime and during the middle of the night.
  3. Do not drink alcohol after dinner; if you consume alcohol try to keep it at least three to four hours prior to bedtime.
  4. Do not nap during the day, especially if you have difficulty falling asleep at night.
  5. Regular exercise in the morning or afternoon may deepen sleep. Avoid strenuous physical activity just before bedtime.
  6. Find a comfortable bedroom temperature and maintain it throughout the night. Avoid temperature extremes.
  7. Avoid heavy meals within two hours of bedtime. A light snack at bedtime, such as milk, cheese, and crackers, may help you to sleep.
  8. Avoid stimulants and caffeine (ie, coffee, cola drinks, cocoa, chocolate) after 3 pm.
  9. Avoid the use of tobacco.
  10. If you have difficulty falling asleep, don’t stay awake in bed for more than 30 minutes. Instead, get up and engage in some quiet activity, such as reading, until you become sleepy. Then return to bed. Do not watch the clock.

“If these adjustments do not improve your sleep, you should see your primary care doctor to discuss next steps,” says Cohen in the release. “You may require medication or insomnia cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat your sleep deprivation.”

Photo 44683755 © Antonio Guillem |