If you suffer from migraines, the odds are good that you’ve tried many strategies to relieve your headaches and stop from developing new ones. One problem people often realize is linked to migraines is sleep problems. You might know this and try to get as much sleep as you can.

However, new research suggests that it’s neither the amount nor the quality of sleep (strictly speaking) that are linked to migraines. Instead, it’s sleep fragmentation–interrupted sleep–that leads to migraines. If that’s the case, talking to your dentist might be one of the most helpful things you can do, because we can help with some common causes of interrupted sleep, especially snoring and sleep apnea.

young man laying wide awake in bed at night with a headache

Finding the Link to Sleep

Researchers noted that about half of all people with migraines report that sleep problems are linked to their migraine attacks, but the nature of the connection has been hard to track down. To try to better define the link, researchers recruited 98 adults who had episodic migraines. By definition, episodic migraines occur on fewer than 15 days each month, and for this study, subjects needed to have at least two migraine days per month.

Subjects completed electronic diaries twice a day, recording details about their sleep, headaches, and other health habits for six weeks. For more objective measures of sleep, subjects also wore a wrist actigraph.

Researchers then analyzed the headache and sleep data, adjusting for migraine triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, stress, day of the week, and physical activity. The subjects experienced 870 headaches over the study period. Getting inadequate sleep (less than 6.5 hours) and subjectively poor sleep were not linked to migraines on either the day after waking (day 0) or the following day (day 1). However, fragmented sleep–defined as self-reported low sleep efficiency–was linked to 39% higher odds of migraines on day 1. However, on fragmented sleep was related to a 36% lower risk of migraines on day 0.

What Is the Cause?

Researchers in this study didn’t speculate on a mechanism, saying that more research was needed to understand the clinical and neurobiologic implications of sleep fragmentation and its impact on migraine risk.

However, there are two closely related conditions that could link your sleep problems to your migraines. The first is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when your breathing stops during sleep, usually because your airway closes. This forces your brain to awaken enough to resume breathing. You usually don’t notice waking up, even if it happens hundreds of times a night. What you do notice is that you’re still tired in the morning.

Also a potential problem is TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorders). TMJ has also been linked to migraines. When you’re asleep, your body might try to maintain an open airway by clenching your jaws. This can strain muscles, interfere with sleep, and potentially trigger migraines.

Let Us Help You Track Down the Cause

If you think that poor sleep might be linked to your migraines, we can help. We will screen you for bite and airway problems. We can then refer you for a sleep test, the only way to diagnose sleep apnea. Then we can help control your migraines by treating TMJ.

To learn how you can sleep better and have fewer headaches, please call (907) 349-0022 today for an appointment with an Anchorage TMJ dentist at Excellence in Dentistry.