Are You Using Sleep Medications with Migraines? Here’s what you need to know

Every person’s experience with sleep is different. For some, it is a positive experience while others struggle with chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep can be consistent for some and leave others exhausted depending on the day.

Circumstances can also affect our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is no wonder, with all the possible complications to sleep, that many resort to sleep medications. There are many types of medications used to induce sleep, including opioids, allergy medicines, and sedatives. These are simply band-aids to a bigger problem that needs to be investigated.

While pharmaceuticals can help in acute cases, they generally don’t provide the long-term relief you seek.  Even if lack of sleep is a trigger for your migraines, sleep medications can do more harm than good. Let me explain why:

  • Sleep Meds Lead to Rebound Insomnia.

First, with any sleep-inducing pharmaceutical (such as Benadryl or Ambien), you’ll find you have worsened sleep difficulties when you don’t take them after even a short period of dependence.

  • Sleep Medicine Leaves You Dependent.

Second, medications used to promote sleep are either chemically addictive or create a dependency in the brain that requires continued use to get sleep and keep sleeping.

  • Side Effects Are Common with Sleep Meds.

Third, sleep medicine is known to cause cognitive impairment over the long term. They also carry over into the waking hours, leaving you groggy and sometimes non-functional.

  • Perhaps most importantly, sleep meds for the most part, just knock you out, they sedate you, like alcohol does. They don’t allow for naturalistic “sleep”. And while being sedated and unconcious may sound good, sleep and sedation are not the same thing. Your brain knows the difference.
  • Lastly, the research is clear, sleeping medication doesn’t increase your sleep much beyond placebo trials, and is strongly correlated with an increased risk of death and cancer.

So, what should you do? There is hope. It is my goal to be your #1 resource on migraines, as I’m a huge advocate for finding relief in a natural manner from these debilitating headaches!

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Know Your Triggers to Avoid Sleep Meds

As I stated earlier, sleep medications can be detrimental to proper restorative sleep. One of the most important things you can do to help regain better sleeping patterns is to know your triggers.  Once you know what they are, you can create habits that help you fall asleep at night.

Some examples of habit changes include avoiding big meals, a large carbohydrate laden dinner and fatty foods a few hours before bedtime, creating a restful environment with no electronics, taking a warm (not hot) shower 30 minutes before bed, using safe supplements, and keeping a regular sleep schedule every single day of the week.

Some Migraine Treatments Help You Sleep

The good news is that some treatments for migraines can help you sleep. One natural supplement you can use is 5-HTP. 5-HTP naturally increases your body’s serotonin levels and therefore increases your melatonin (sleep hormone) levels. You can also take melatonin directly, but most migraineurs are missing serotonin from their system. This is a great way to fix two things with a single, natural step. As my college microbiology professor used to say, “one stone, two bird approach”

There are other ways to improve sleep, too, including:

  • Supplements like magnesium and L-tryptophan
  • Cognitive behavioral sleep therapy
  • Sleep-directed hypnosis
  • Practicing stress-relieving techniques like deep breathing and meditation before bed
  • Regular physical activity (you’d be surprised to find out how much exercise can help you sleep better)

Regardless of your level of difficulty in maintaining a good sleep pattern, getting help with your migraines shouldn’t be reduced to dependence-inducing drugs. The key is to seek treatment with a specialist who understands migraines and sees results from treatment. Natural treatment is available and often works well with other regimens; however, be sure to discuss any additions to your regimen with your doctor, and if you’re currently taking sleep meds, don’t stop cold turkey!   Work out a plan to come off them, this will give you some time to develop better sleep habits.


Everyday Health – Sleep Tips

Migraine Trust – Coping Managing Sleep

HealthTalk – OTC Sleep Aids