Fragmented Sleep Linked to Future Migraines, Study Says

March 3rd, 2020

fragmented sleep

Migraine sufferers are two to eight times more likely to suffer from sleep disturbances, and nearly half of migraineurs identify sleep deprivation as a trigger. Now, a new study published in the journal Neurology shows how fragmented sleep – the act of involuntarily waking up throughout the night – can trigger migraine headaches up to two days later.

Investigators from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA conducted a prospective study of 98 adults who suffered from episodic migraines. For the study, participants were asked to log information on sleep, migraines, and other health behaviors in an electronic diary. In addition to self-reported data, researchers also analyzed data collected from a wrist actigraphy device.

Over the course of six weeks, participants reported 870 headaches, with an average of 8.4 headaches per study volunteer. The average sleep duration was 7.7 hours. Surprisingly, the results of the study suggested that neither poor sleep quality (not resting during the night) nor short sleep duration (less than 6.5 hours) were associated with migraine episodes.

On the other hand, investigators found that sleep fragmentation, measured both by actigraphy and self-reported data, was linked to migraines not the day immediately following the fragmented sleep episode (day 0 in the study), but the day after that (day 1).

In terms of why fragmented sleep seems to have a delayed effect on migraines, experts don’t have a definitive answer yet. However, authors hypothesize that “[I]t is plausible that fragmented sleep represents changes in hypothalamic control (…) that may portend a higher risk of migraine more than 24 hours prior to headache onset.”

Though the authors note that further research is needed to understand the relationship of migraines and segmented sleep, this study adds to the growing body of evidence about the protective effects of sleep in human health. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults 18 to 64 years get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, and adults older than 65 should not sleep less than 8 hours.

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