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  • Writer's pictureKimberly King, MS, CNS-c

Lifestyle Solutions to Ease Headaches


3 ways to ease headaches infographic

It’s Monday morning, the alarm doesn’t go off in time, you barely grab a piece of toast, and you're rushing out the door to be stuck in traffic again. We’ve all been there. Our lives are busy. We rush from one place to another and yet seemingly never get anywhere. When you finally get a break suddenly your head is pounding. One more thing is out of your control, or is it? Many areas in our lives may help or hinder how often we experience headaches. Our daily stressors and how we manage them, along with the amount and quality of sleep we are getting consistently, are two key lifestyle factors we can begin to modify to help support a headache-free day.


infographic for stress management

Stress Management

A recent study indicated that over 75% of adults in the US experienced health events due to stress in the last month. Of those, almost 40% said headache was the prevailing concern (1). There is no way to avoid daily stressors; however, we can find better ways to cope with what comes up in our lives. These are ways to manage daily stressors to reduce the likelihood of experiencing headaches.




Yoga:  Frequency and intensity of headaches have both been shown to decrease for those who practice yoga. In addition, it can help you to feel more balanced and, therefore, respond better to future stressors. Engaging in 15-20 minutes of yoga 3-5 times weekly is a great place to start (2).


Meditation: I like to think of meditation as focus training. We do our best to focus on what we want for a period of time, instead of being taken over by all the silly and restless thoughts that pop into our monkey minds. This is a great way to decrease stress and build resilience (instead of spiraling) in as little as 10 minutes per day (3). Many apps like Calm or Headspace provide guided meditation activities for all levels to get started.


Cardio Exercise: Cardio exercise has been shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches and migraines. Since exercise gets our blood pumping, it keeps blood vessels strong and our cardiac system working its best (4), all supporting less stress accumulation in the body. Current recommendations suggest at least 150 min of moderate exercise per week (5). 


Explore Outdoors: Walking on a grassy surface for 30 minutes a day can have profound effects on our nervous system, helping our body reset and reduce stress (6). If you are unable to get outdoors, a Grounding Mat or other grounding products may be a great alternative.


Be Social: We humans are social creatures but yet are increasing spending more time alone. Getting connected regularly is key to our mental health and stress management. Spending time with those we appreciate puts us in a better mood, increasing relaxation and decreasing stress (6).


Sleep

sleep infographic

There are ways anyone can start to improve sleep hygiene that will foster achieving the recommended amount of sleep per night as well as improve stress management. In addition to ensuring you have a dark, quiet, and comfortable place to sleep, these are a few ideas to consider. In a recent study, those who changed their sleep habits reduced headache frequency and intensity by 50% in some instances (7). When starting to change your sleep habits, setting small goals and working to increase changes is key… it all counts!

 

Get natural light early in the day. Our circadian rhythm, or our internal clock, is influenced by light and darkness. By taking a walk early in the morning and/or at lunch, we are signaling its “wake” time. Later in the day, as it becomes naturally darker our body gets the message that it's time to sleep. Thus, making it easier to fall asleep (7). In Fall and Winter it can be helpful to use a Happy Light in the morning to mimic natural light and can help support sleep when natural light is much less abundant.


Develop a nightly routine. And stick to it. Going to sleep and waking at the same time every day (including weekends) sets the tone for our circadian rhythm to be better able to predict our sleep-wake cycles and become ready for sleep more easily (7).


Limit screen time a few hours before bed:  Blue light from screens greatly reduces our body's ability to sense darkness and, therefore, produces melatonin to allow for sleep.  To start, check if your devices come with a nighttime mode, which dims the screen and may even include a blue light filter. If not, Blue Light Filter Glasses can be a good option if you must use a screen (8).


Don’t eat within 2-3 hours of bedtime: Especially alcohol and fatty foods (9). Sleep is a time for our body to rest and restore. Digestion requires a lot of energy and, therefore, pulls focus from that restorative process. It also can impact blood sugar levels, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night (10).


Keep your bedroom between 60-67 degrees:  This helps to support REM sleep, where our body is in its deepest sleep (11). Do you ever find yourself wanting to stick your feet out from the sheets?

FUN FACT- Your body is attempting to cool you down to promote melatonin production!

 


alternative providers infographic

Engage the support of alternative healthcare providers

If you have your stress managed and feel like you are getting adequate amounts of restful sleep each night and still struggle with frequent headaches or migraines, many types of healthcare practitioners may work collaboratively with you to improve your quality of life. Nutritionists, Chiropractors, Acupuncturists, and Massage Therapists are a few known to provide excellent ongoing support.

 


Nutritionist: Yup—this is us! Headaches are one of the many symptoms we help people resolve through nutrition and lifestyle support. Sure, we have provided a fair amount of information in this blog series, but if you are ready to explore the root cause of your headaches, allow our team to uncover this. We will create a plan specific to your needs.


Chiropractor: A chiropractor uses tools or their hands to manipulate joints on the body and around the spine (12). Many symptoms associated with migraine include neck pain, tightness, stiffness, and other musculoskeletal discomfort. In a 12-month case study, 3 individuals showed increased improvement / decreased migraine frequency and/or intensity with the addition of chiropractic treatment (12). Working with a chiropractor to set up treatment on a case-by-case basis is important.


Acupuncturist: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice involving precisely placing very small needles along certain areas of the body to treat many areas of pain, reduce inflammation, and support wellness (13). By releasing hormones, needle placement increases circulation, relaxes muscles, and stimulates the immune system to reduce headaches (13). You’ll want to work with your acupuncturist to determine what type of treatment is best for you.


Massage Therapy: In a recent small study, over 70% of participants saw a reduction in their headache pain intensity from receiving massage therapy (14). According to the American Massage Therapy Association, deep tissue facial/neck and shoulder massages that use firm pressure and slow strokes to access and relax deeper layers of muscles are best for migraines and headaches. Trigger point massages are another direct pressure technique to relieve headaches, especially when pain is felt behind the eyes (14). Your massage therapist will work with you to find the best treatment based on your needs.


Summary

Even if your life is busy, stressful, and sleepless, there are ways we can begin to regain control of how we feel with a few simple lifestyle changes. Improving stress management, creating and inviting sleep space, and working with the right complementary healthcare professionals are great ways to reduce headaches and migraines and improve your quality of life.

 

Check out the following blogs for more information:

 

Disclaimer: Remember to always speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise routine. The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the guidance of your healthcare provider(s).

 

Written by Kimberly King, MS

Last reviewed and Updated June 4, 2024

 

 

References

1 APA. Stress in America 2022: Concerned for the Future. Apa.org. Published October 2022. Accessed May 2024. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/concerned-future-inflation#

2. Kisan R, Sujan M, Adoor M, et al. Effect of Yoga on migraine: A comprehensive study using clinical profile and cardiac autonomic functions. Int J Yoga. 2014;7(2):126-132. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.133891

3. Wells RE, O'Connell N, Pierce CR, et al. Effectiveness of Mindfulness Meditation vs Headache Education for Adults With Migraine: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2021;181(3):317-328. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.7090

4. Lemmens J, De Pauw J, Van Soom T, et al. The effect of aerobic exercise on the number of migraine days, duration and pain intensity in migraine: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2019;20(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-019-0961-8

5. CDC. Benefits of Physical Activity. Physical Activity Basics. Published May 10, 2024. Accessed June 1, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/physical-activity-basics/benefits/index.html#:~:text=Getting%20at%20least%20150%20minutes

6. Bonakdar, R. Chapter 13: Headache. In: Rakel, D. Integrative Medicine. 5th ed. Elsevier;2023.107-117.

7. Sleep, Insomnia, and Migraine. American Migraine Foundation. Published October 25, 2023. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/sleep-insomnia-migraine/

8. Pacheco D, Truong K. Can Electronics Affect Quality Sleep? Sleep Foundation. Published November 6, 2020. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-electronics-affect-sleep.

9. Pacheco D. Singh A. Is It Bad to Eat before Bed? Sleep Foundation. Published March 21, 2023. Accessed June 2024. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/is-it-bad-to-eat-before-bed

10. Chung N, Bin YS, Cistulli PA, Chow CM. Does the Proximity of Meals to Bedtime Influence the Sleep of Young Adults? A Cross-Sectional Survey of University Students. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(8):2677. Published 2020 Apr 14. doi:10.3390/ijerph17082677

11. The Best Temperature for Sleep. Cleveland Clinic. Published November 16, 2021. Accessed May 15, 2024. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-the-ideal-sleeping-temperature-for-my-bedroom

12. Bernstein C, Wayne PM, Rist PM, Osypiuk K, Hernandez A, Kowalski M. Integrating Chiropractic Care Into the Treatment of Migraine Headaches in a Tertiary Care Hospital: A Case Series. Glob Adv Health Med. 2019;8:2164956119835778. Published 2019 Mar 28. doi:10.1177/2164956119835778

13. Yue JH, Li A, Cui X, et al. Bibliometric analysis of acupuncture for headache from 1974 to 2022: A scoping literature review based on international database. Medicine (Baltimore). 2023;102(31):e34590. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000034590

14. Zagozdon RZ. Massage and Headache Relief | Massage Therapy Journal. American Massage Therapy Association. Published April 24, 2018. https://www.amtamassage.org/publications/massage-therapy-journal/massage-and-headache-relief/#:~:text=Because%20you%20are%20using%20firm 

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