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Can Insomnia Cause Headaches? (Research Summary)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Personally, I used to get regular headaches when I had insomnia.

Turns out, there’s a decent amount of research connecting headaches and sleep trouble.

If you’d like to learn about this relationship and how it is usually treated, read on.

Does Insomnia Cause Headaches, Or Is It The Other Way Around?

Several studies have examined the relationship between insomnia and various types of headaches in different ways.

But which condition causes which?

Research does suggest that insomnia is a relatively common complaint in those with chronic migraines (1).

However, a broader look at the subject reveals that the link between insomnia causing headaches is much stronger (2).

SummaryInsomnia and headaches are commonly both found together. However, it’s more likely that insomnia initially caused the headaches than the other way around.

How Are Headaches and Insomnia Treated

If someone has both headaches and insomnia, they’re typically treated using similar methods as just treating insomnia. This includes:

One study found patients with comorbid insomnia and chronic migraines and put them into 2 treatment groups (3):

  1. CBTi - Classic cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia
  2. Control group - Patients maintained a consistent food/liquid intake, and did relaxation exercises (stretching and acupressure)

Headache frequency was reduced by similar amounts by the end of the study period, however, the CBTi group continued to improve until the follow-up. Headache frequency reduction at the follow-up was 48.9% for the CBTi group, and just 25.0% for the control group.

Another study found that CBTi reduced the number of monthly headaches by 6.2 days (4).

SummaryWhile it depends on the individual, most physicians will prescribe CBTi, and possibly sleep medication to patients with both insomnia and headaches.

Online Treatment of Insomnia and Chronic Migraines

One aspect of CBTi that sometimes scares people off is the time commitment.

Having to go to an appointment on a weekly basis for a month or two isn’t always easy.

Many therapists have begun offering CBTi in a digital form online. A recent study has shown that it is still highly effective (5). Logically it should be, but it’s good to have research backing it up.

References

  1. Sleep in Patients with Chronic Migraine
  2. Headache and Insomnia: Their Relation Reviewed
  3. Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Behavioral Insomnia Treatment for Chronic Migraine With Comorbid Insomnia
  4. Cognitive‐Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia to Reduce Chronic Migraine: A Sequential Bayesian Analysis
  5. Digital Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia in Women With Chronic Migraines

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.