There’s long been a complex relationship between sleeping and headaches. For example, bad sleep can lead to a splitting headache, yet sleep itself can relieve a bad headache.
A new study by Steven B. Graff-Radford and Antonia Teruel takes the relationship a step further, examining numerous studies on headaches and sleep disorders and their associations. Here’s a review of their findings:
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This common sleep-related breathing disorder has been associated with so-called awakening headaches. Those are the headaches that hurt so much they wake you up while you’re asleep. Studies have shown that these types of headaches happen more frequently and intensify as OSA increases in severity. The good news is that people with OSA who have tried continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment report improvements with awakening headaches.
Insomnia. The inability to fall asleep is the most common sleep disorder among adult and children headache patients. For example, a study of 1,283 people who come down with migraine headaches found that more than 50 percent found it hard to fall and stay asleep at least once in a while. More than one third said they frequently found it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. For more information on insomnia, read the article Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes, Types, and Effects.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). A study of 200 headache patients found that a higher number of them reported RLS symptoms than a control group of subjects without headache problems. About 60 percent of those with RLS said they were affected by migraine headaches.
Sleep walking. Children with regular migraine headaches report a higher frequency of somnambulism, i.e. sleep walking.
Narcolepsy. In another study of 100 patients with proven narcolepsy, or excessive daytime sleeping, a prevalence for migraine headaches was noted in 44.4 percent of women and 28.3 percent of men, about 40 percent of the narcoleptics in the study.
The authors concluded that continued studying of the relationship between sleep disorders and headaches could lead to better diagnosis and treatments for both. They cited a recent study of 43 women with migraines who received either instructions to improve their sleep behavior or placebo instructions. The women who received real sleep modification instructions within six weeks reported a significant reduction in migraine headache frequency and intensity.
So next time you have a bad headache, a mind-numbing migraine or have a headache that wakes you up, consider whether poor sleep or a sleeping disorder may have played a role. Ask your doctor if you’re not sure and maybe even talk to your dentist, who might be able to build an oral device to help you sleep better.