Thursday, April 20, 2006

Trigger: Lack of Sleep

My biggest headache trigger is sleep, or rather lack thereof.

Most nights, I average 7 to 7.5h of sleep. Clearly this isn't enough for my body, as evidenced by the fact that I have chronic headaches. If I consistently get less than 8h sleep a few nights in a row, I suffer brutal headaches. Today is one example. Right now, my headache is pretty much as bad as it gets. I can function, but not well. I am intellectually and emotionally spent after a hard day trying to cope at work. My head and back and neck are aching like there's no tomorrow. I hurt all over.

If I can manage to get 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night for the next few nights, I can break the cycle and get a few days of modest relief. So unfortunately, I'm not one of those people, like Oprah, who can function on 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

Being a night owl, physiologically, this is difficult. My body's desire is to be up late at night. I often feel like I "wake up" in the evenings, and find myself most mentally alert. Around 9pm, I am often the most "alert" and ready to take on projects and be in planning & doing mode. As a result, it's hard to go to bed when I don't "feel" tired. I may even be exhausted from a day of headaches, but my mind is most active.

When I force myself to bed at 10pm on those nights, I often lie there thinking, scheming, and planning, with my active mind, whether I like it or not. It's hard to quiet my brain.

My neurologist was interested when I highlighted lack of sleep as my major trigger. Or at least I think it's a major trigger. I can't get enough consistent sleep to prove it. So he challenged me: if it's your major problem, why not get 8-9h sleep per night for the next 30 days? Sounds simple enough, but it's easier said than done.

Considering that my alarm goes off at 6:45 on a work day, that means I need to be sound asleep by 10:30pm. Which means "lights out" by about 9:45 or 10pm since I typically lie awake a good 30-45 min. Now, that means I need to start getting ready for bed around 9:30pm, because being a girl, these things take time (pills, contact lenses, face washing, teeth brushing, face cream applying, clothes for next day?) This, it seems, is impossible.

I try, but I don't try hard enough. I routinely work late and don't get home until about 6:30, which gives me very little "evening" time: time to visit with David, time to exercise, blog, cook a healthy (trigger-free dinner), have a social life, do chores, do projects, etc. So it's hard to do the "in bed by 10pm" thing.

Thus, I've concluded, I'm my own worst enemy. Wanting to keeping my life balanced, and keeping things done in my life (chores, projects, taxes, investments, exercise) means I stay up too late every night.

Somehow, I need to change the priority. I need to go to bed, simply, for a week or so in a row and see how my headaches behave. Maybe an hour long blog wasn't a good idea, either. I need some brevity. : )

I'm admitting I need to change. I need to force myself against instinct. I need to re-learn how to be an early-to-bed person. But it's tough to go against one's physiological makeup.

In this way, I feel partly responsible for my own headaches. This makes me feel worse.

And I'm pissed that I need so much sleep to control my headaches. It really isn't realistic for a productive, active adult. But I need to keep trying. And I need to face that this is just my reality. And like anything else, nothing is as easy as it sounds.

Consider dieting: if it were so bloody easy to eat small quantities and exercise, we'd all be in textbook shape. Now since 60% of Americans, or something like that, are overweight, that's a pretty strong indicator that saying and doing are very different things. I have 200 million people backing me up. Big people.

I know, I know. I am responsible for my own fate, my own health. So as much as it goes against my basic character, and makes me feel "not me", I need to start going to bed earlier.

I'll let you know how it goes. But I'm curious: if you're a fellow headache sufferer...what's your experience with headache and sleep? How much do you need? How much do you get? Is this a potent trigger for you? Comments would be appreciated. : )


  1. Sleep is such a huge part of what's going on with me most of the time, and I say it that way because it's not just a trigger. Because I have bipolar type II disorder, my sleep goes completely haywire at random times for various lengths of time. I'll go from not being able to sleep at all for 2 days straight to sleeping for 2 days straight (seriously) and then evening out and sleeping normally for a few days, and then starting all over again. Or I'll get into a cycle like I'm in now where I'll sleep for 12-15 hours a day roughly and my body sort of slowly gets used to it.

    Oversleeping and lack of sleep are both triggers for me, but when it turns chronic like now where I'm sleeping excessively for weeks at a time, I mainly experience it as an increase in my pain level--it just manifests as a much stronger pain intensity than 'normal' until I get back to a more reasonable sleep schedule--I hope that makes sense.

    I don't like sleeping pills so mostly I try to wait it out and my pdoc adjusts my medications as needed. Right now I'm going through a big med change for my bipolar meds so that accounts for much of the sleep problems.

  2. sorry I haven't been commently lately, I've been crazy busy, and I have been meaning to comment on your Tension Headache vs Migraine Headache question for a while now. I think I will tackle both here.

    First, I suffer from chronic Tension Type headaches with migraines thrown in there for good measure. A bad tension headache can be just as painful as a migraine, but I find when people ask about my head and I say, "I have a tension type headache today" and the common responce is, "oh, so not a migraine?" meaning, oh, it's not too bad. I completely understand how people could dismiss you. I find it helps to print out a "Pain comparssion chart", I often carry one around with me, and show it to people, saying, look read this, usually I'm between a 2-6 everyday, bad days are 7-8 and up. After they read that, they start to understand.

    About sleep. I am definatly a sleep trigger person, altbough I think I'm jsut about a everything trigger, lol. Definatlly lack of sleep is a problem for me, but I try to keep a good schedule, and get to bed at about 10 or 11 and up around 6:45. I find that if the alarm goes off at 6:30 and then I re-set it, and give myself an extra 15mins to sleep, it helps my head, if I just bolt out of bed when the alarm goes off, there are usually concequences to pay.

    have a good day!

  3. I tracked my sleep for some time, and for me, it can be a trigger (too little or too much) but not always.

    But then again, my sleep is messed up by my CFS and Fibro--but better now that I'm on Lyrica. (But still-headaches more days than not).

    It's just so frustrating, trying to figure out the code for our individual headaches, and even then, it's not always certain.