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  • Writer's pictureSam Kelokates

Lifestyle Management for Migraine

Migraine, often described as a throbbing, pulsating nightmare of a headache, affects millions of individuals worldwide. While they are a common neurological condition, the experience of a migraine is far from ordinary.

Picture this: an intense, pounding pain that can last for hours or even days, accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and an overwhelming desire to retreat to a dark, quiet room.

If you've ever experienced a migraine, you know just how debilitating it can be.

But here's the good news: while migraine may be a part of your life, they don't have to take control of it. That's where lifestyle management comes in.

In this blog, I'll briefly talk about the impact lifestyle choices can have on reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

Migraine can become a chronic condition, but with the right strategies and a bit of know-how, you can learn to outsmart attacks and regain control of your life.

Let’s talk the power of the SEEDS approach and how each part can contribute to a healthier lifestyle that can result in fewer migraine attacks.

Planting the SEEDS of Wellness

Imagine that your journey to migraine management is like cultivating a flourishing garden. To reap the rewards, you need to plant the right seeds, nurture them, and watch them grow.

For migraine management, the SEEDS approach is your toolkit for sowing the seeds of better health and fewer migraine attacks.

Each letter in SEEDS represents a fundamental area of lifestyle management. They form a holistic strategy for achieving migraine relief and a better quality of life.

So what is SEEDS?

S = Sleep

E = Exercise

E = Eat (both food and drink)

D = Diary (or journaling)

S = Stress

Research has shown that improvements in these lifestyle areas can help to improve chronic migraine!

S is for Sleep

It's no secret that a good night's sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. But when it comes to managing migraines, the quality and quantity of your sleep can be game-changers.

Let's explore the relationship between sleep and migraine, the importance of screening for sleep apnea, and effective behavioral modification techniques to enhance your sleep hygiene.

The relationship of poor sleep and migraine

If you've ever experienced a migraine attack after a restless night, you're not alone. Poor sleep is not just a potential migraine trigger; it can also contribute to more frequent and severe attacks that leads to migraine from episodic to chronic.

Research has shown that individuals who suffer from both poor sleep and migraine often report lower quality of life, increased mood disorders, higher levels of stress, and more unhealthy behaviors.

The connection between sleep and migraine is multi-faceted. Sleep disturbances can trigger migraine attacks, and migraine can disrupt your normal sleep patterns.

This can create a vicious cycle. Understanding this relationship is the first step in using sleep as a powerful tool in migraine management.

Screening for Sleep Apnea

One of the crucial aspects of managing your sleep for better migraine control is screening for sleep apnea, especially if you experience chronic daily headaches upon awakening.

Sleep apnea is a common comorbidity in migraine patients and can significantly impact both your sleep quality and migraine frequency.

An excellent tool for assessing your risk of obstructive sleep apnea is the STOP-Bang screening questionnaire. This questionnaire consists of a series of "yes" or "no" questions related to your sleep and health habits. Each "yes" answer is scored, and your total score can help determine your risk level.

Based on your total score, you can be categorized as having low, moderate, or high risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

Identifying and addressing sleep apnea through interventions like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can not only improve sleep apnea-related headaches and reduce sleep disturbances.

Behavioral Modification Techniques for Sleep Hygiene

Now that you understand the significance of sleep in migraine management and have assessed your risk for sleep apnea, let's explore practical strategies to improve your sleep hygiene.

One effective program is stimulus control therapy, which focuses on creating an environment conducive to restful sleep:

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool to promote sleep.

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same times daily.

  • Reserve your bed exclusively for sleep to strengthen the association between the bed and rest.

  • If you find yourself unable to fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes, leave the bedroom temporarily to avoid associating it with frustration and anxiety.

  • Discourage the use of electronic devices such as phones, tablets, and televisions in the bedroom, as they can hinder your ability to fall asleep.

By implementing these behavioral modifications and creating an optimal sleep environment, you can convert chronic migraines into episodic ones and experience a significant improvement in your overall well-being.

Remember, addressing sleep is just one piece of the puzzle in managing migraines, and the SEEDS approach we've introduced will continue to provide valuable insights into achieving better migraine control.

If you think you have a sleep disorder, please talk with your primary care physician or consult a sleep specialist!

E is for Exercise

The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Migraine

It's a common misconception that individuals with migraine should avoid exercise to prevent triggering an attack. While physical activity can worsen attacks in progress recent research suggests quite the opposite effect occurs when performed regularly outside of attack.

Low levels of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle have been linked to an increased risk of migraines.

This raises an important question: Are individuals with migraine less likely to exercise because they want to avoid triggering a migraine attack, or does a sedentary lifestyle actually elevate their risk of experiencing migraines?

Exercise to Prevent Migraine

Incorporating exercise into your migraine management plan can be a game-changer. Exercise offers many benefits not only reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks but also contribute to an overall improved quality of life for individuals living with migraines. Read more here: Benefits of Strength Training for Migraine

What Types of Exercise Are Beneficial?

The good news is that multiple forms of exercise can be beneficial for migraine patients. Whether you prefer walking, jogging, cross-training, or cycling, incorporating regular physical activity into your routine can yield positive results.

To maximize the benefits, aim for at least 30 to 50 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardiorespiratory exercise, done 3 to 5 times a week. This aligns with the general health recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine.

For those who lead a sedentary lifestyle or have limited exercise tolerance, starting with light to moderate exercise for shorter durations is still a step in the right direction. Read more here for where to start when exercising!

E is for Eating

Migraine triggers are as unique as the individuals who experience them, and this is particularly true when it comes to food triggers.

What sets off a migraine in one person may not affect another in the same way, making the identification of these triggers a highly individualized process.

The Power of Professional Guidance

When it comes to managing your diet as someone living with migraine, seeking professional guidance is a wise step.

A registered dietitian, specifically one well-versed in migraine management, can be an invaluable ally. They can help you create a tailored approach that considers your specific trigger foods, nutritional needs, and overall health goals.

Why is working with a dietitian essential? Well, they bring expertise to the table. They can help you systematically identify potential food triggers through techniques like elimination diets, while ensuring you still receive a balanced and nutritious diet.

Simple Strategies to Start Today

In your journey to manage migraine through diet, remember that some of the quickest strategies involve avoiding fasting and dehydration.

Skipping meals, especially breakfast, is often linked to increased attack risk. The body's response to fasting can trigger attacks, emphasizing the importance of regular meals and snacks throughout the day.

Hydration is equally critical. Dehydration can act as a potent migraine trigger for many.

Maintaining proper fluid intake not only supports overall health but also helps mitigate the risk of migraines. Aim to drink an adequate amount of water daily, and pay attention to your body's signals for thirst.

Read more on fluid intake here: Water: How much should you drink every day

D is for Diary

To manage migraine effectively, one often-underutilized but powerful tool is the headache diary. Keeping a detailed record of your migraine experiences can provide valuable insights, aiding in diagnosis and treatment planning.

Why Keep a Headache Diary?

Imagine trying to complete a complex puzzle without a picture on the box to guide you. That's what managing migraines can feel like without a headache diary. These journals serve as your invaluable roadmap, helping you and your healthcare provider make informed decisions about your migraine management.

What to Record in Your Headache Diary

  1. Headache Frequency: Start by documenting when headaches occur. Note the date, time, and duration of each episode. This information alone can reveal patterns that might not be apparent otherwise.

  2. Triggers: Track potential triggers These can include missed meals, stressors, changes in weather, hormonal fluctuations, and more. Identifying triggers is a crucial step in understanding your migraines better and taking proactive measures to avoid them.

  3. Symptoms: Beyond the pain itself, migraine often come with an array of symptoms. Record any accompanying symptoms like nausea, vomiting, aura, light sensitivity (photophobia), and sound sensitivity (phonophobia).

  4. Medication Use: Keep a detailed record of any medications you take to manage your migraines. Include both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, their dosages, and the timing of each dose. This information can help you assess the effectiveness of your treatment regimen.

  5. Lifestyle Factors: Don't forget to note lifestyle factors like sleep patterns, dietary choices, and exercise routines. These can all impact your migraine frequency and severity.

The Power of Diaries

A headache diary is not just a record-keeping exercise; it's a useful tool that can significantly impact your migraine management journey. Here's how:

  1. Accurate Diagnosis: Diaries provide your care team with a clear picture of your migraine patterns and triggers. This information helps us to accurately diagnose the type of migraine you have.

  2. Treatment Planning: Armed with data from your diary, your healthcare provider can craft a more personalized treatment plan. Whether it involves medications, lifestyle modifications, or alternative therapies, the insights gleaned from your diary guide these decisions.

  3. Progress Monitoring: As you implement your treatment plan, your diary becomes a yardstick for progress. You can track changes in headache frequency, severity, or triggers over time, helping you and your healthcare provider assess the effectiveness of your chosen interventions.

So, grab that journal or app, and start chronicling your journey to a migraine-resistant future.

S is for Stress

Stress and migraine share a complex relationship that many with migraine are familiar with. While it's not entirely clear whether stress directly causes migraine, there's compelling evidence to suggest that it can trigger and exacerbate migraine.

Fortunately, there are a variety of stress management techniques that can provide much-needed relief for migraine sufferers:

  1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help reduce stress and anxiety.

  2. Relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery are relaxation techniques that can alleviate muscle tension and promote a sense of calm. These exercises can be particularly effective for individuals who experience muscle-related migraine triggers.

  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It has been shown to reduce catastrophizing, migraine disability, and the frequency and severity of headaches.

  4. Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a technique that teaches individuals to control physiological processes, such as muscle tension or heart rate, using real-time monitoring. It can help individuals gain better control over stress-related physical responses.

With stress management, you'll likely discover that reducing stress can have a profound impact on migraine severity. Many migraine sufferers report fewer and less severe headaches when stress is effectively managed.

By learning stress-reduction techniques, you not only improve your overall well-being but also equip yourself with powerful tools to navigate migraine.

Empowering Your Migraine Journey

In the journey of managing migraine, lifestyle plays a pivotal role in your success. By understanding the SEEDS approach – Sleep, Exercise, Eat, Diary, and Stress – you've gained valuable insights into how to better navigate the complexities of this neurological condition.

As you move forward, remember that small changes can yield significant results. Prioritize restful sleep, engage in regular physical activity, explore dietary modifications, keep a headache diary, and embrace stress-reduction techniques. These lifestyle adjustments can empower you to take control of your migraine journey.

Also, I do want to mention that you can be doing all the "right" things; getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, have strong stress management skills, and still get migraine attacks.

This doesn't mean these strategies have failed you. And it doesn't mean that you aren't doing enough to manage your condition.

Migraine is a complex neurological condition. While implementing simple lifestyle changes can be very helpful for some people, they may not be as helpful for others.

Additionally, recognize that migraine triggers and responses are highly individualized. Consulting with healthcare professionals, such as neurologists, dietitians, and therapists, can provide personalized guidance tailored to your unique needs.

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