When it comes to managing migraines, it can be tempting to focus on avoiding just one trigger. We also have a tendency to pin all our hopes on that one thing which will keep us migraine free – such as a new medication or one single diet.
The reality is that reducing migraines is about finding the balance between avoiding a whole heap of triggers, while working on incorporating as many strategies as we can to manage migraines. And, the triggers and treatments are unique to each migraine sufferer.
In Dr Josh Turknett’s book, The Migraine Miracle, the analogy of balloons and weights are used to describe the balance we need to aim for to reduce migraines.
Imagine that you are in a basket, to which you can attach balloons to lift up into the air. When in the air, you have a “safe zone” to float about in – but if you elevate too high past your safe threshold, then you will come into migraine territory.
The balloons are your triggers. Some are big balloons, and some are smaller. You can attach a certain number of balloons and still stay in the safe zone. But add one balloon too many, and you will fly up past the threshold and – bam! You have a migraine.
You also have weights to attach to your basket to keep you within the safe zone. Yep – you guessed it - the weights are the strategies you use to manage your migraine – such as diet, medications, supplements and lifestyle.
For example, here are my balloons:
• Change in weather
• Irregular sleep
• Irregular blood sugar levels
• Caffeine and alcohol
• Heavy exercise
• Exposure to chemicals including scents
I can experience a few of these things, and still be OK. But add in one too many, and sure enough, I’ll develop a migraine about 4pm that day.
The weights I use to help keep me safe are:
• Supplements or medication
• Herbal medicine to manage stress, keep liver healthy and balance hormones
• Regular sleep
• Nutrition and diet
• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
• Gentle exercise and movement every day
• Stress management techniques
• Using natural products
• Modified lighting
• I’m afraid I can’t change the weather, but managing all the other factors can mean barometric pressure changes don’t affect me as much as they once did.
Over time, the balloons and weights can change. For example changes in hormonal profile, digestive health, work situation and so many other factors can influence how we need to manage migraines.
A good place to start to manage your own migraines is to write down all your balloons and weights. Check in each day whether you are still in the safe threshold and whether you might need to check you have enough weights to keep you in the safe zone.
And if you would like some support to help you work out the cause/s of your migraines, or come up with treatment strategies, why not book in for an online consultation and we can figure it out together.
Managing sleep is a vital, yet complicated, aspect of migraine treatment which is often overlooked.
Too little sleep can trigger a migraine attack. Too much sleep can also trigger a migraine attack. Sometimes a sleep (particularly in the early stages of an attack) can treat a migraine. Getting good quality restful sleep can help prevent migraines. Yet migraine sufferers often have difficulty obtaining good quality restful sleep.
Yep! It sure is complicated.
Let’s unpack a few things here.
Firstly, people living with migraine (according to the American Migraine Foundation), are between 2 and 8 times more likely to experience sleep disorders, compared with the general public.
This insomnia can stem from conditions which are often associated with migraine – such as anxiety and depression, stress, pain, teeth grinding and sleep apnoea.
And yet - and this is really not fair - not getting enough sleep can increase the number of migraine attacks, creating a cycle of sleep problems – which leads to more migraines – which leads to more sleep problems.
This is why addressing those factors which impact on sleep is often a priority in the natural treatment of migraine.
Too much sleep – such as sleeping late on holidays and weekends, or afternoon naps - can also trigger a migraine.
So, the key is to work on balance and consistency when it comes to sleep:
• Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time every day – even on weekends. The best number of hours varies from person to person – but aim for 7-8 hours. If you are a young person, you may need more sleep than this. If aged 50 or older, you may need less sleep.
• Create a calming bedtime routine. Avoid technology at least one to two hours before going to bed, try a warm shower or warm bath with Epsom salts, diffuse lavender oil, turn down the lights.
• Avoid naps. If you have a migraine attack and or need extra sleep that day, try aiming for an earlier bed time in the evening instead of an afternoon nap.
• Keep the bedroom for sleep. Don’t watch TV, scroll, talk or text on your phone, study or eat in the bedroom. Keep clutter out of the bedroom and use natural bed materials. Consider an air purifier or Himalayan salt lamp.
• Try a sound machine or sound app – I like Sleep Stream.
• If you find yourself awake during the night, don’t watch the clock – it will make you anxious and more frustrated if you can’t sleep. Get up for a little bit, have something to eat (often migraine sufferers get low blood sugar during the night), try a guided meditation or deep slow breathing.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
• Spend some time outside during the day in natural light. Morning sun on your face is particularly good for helping to regulate sleep patterns. If you can exercise gently in the sunlight in the morning, even better.
As a naturopath, I also often prescribe specific sleep supplements to help establish a sound sleep routine, or improve the quality of sleep.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist