Sleep and Migraine: Assessment and Treatment of Comorbid Sleep Disorders

Headache. 2018 Jul;58(7):1074-1091. doi: 10.1111/head.13357. Epub 2018 Aug 10.


The relationship of sleep and migraine is unequivocal and familiarity with the nature and magnitude of these associations may inform clinical practice. Recent prospective, longitudinal, and time-series analysis has begun to unravel the magnitude and temporal patterns of sleep and migraine. Prospective evidence has shown that sleep variables can trigger acute migraine, precede and predict new onset headache by several years, and indeed, sleep disturbance and snoring are risk factors for chronification. The presence of a sleep disorder is associated with more frequent and severe migraine and portends a poorer headache prognosis. Interestingly, the disorders linked to migraine are quite varied, including insomnia, snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs, circadian rhythm disorders, narcolepsy, and others. Insomnia is by far the most common sleep disorder in headache patients. In fact, the majority of patients with chronic migraine presenting for treatment have insomnia. Despite a rapidly expanding literature, very few controlled treatment studies have been published to guide clinical practice. This paper focuses on clinical assessment and treatment of sleep disorders. An algorithm is presented for sleep disorders management in the migraine patient, which highlights major sleep disorders and psychiatric comorbidity. Diagnostic procedures are recommended that are conducive to clinical practice. Suggested tools include the sleep history, screening mnemonics, prediction equation, and sleep diary. New developments in treatment have produced abbreviated and cost-effective therapies for insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea that may reach a larger population. Revisions in the diagnostic manuals for sleep and headache disorders enhance recognition of sleep-related headache. Recommendations include behavioral sleep regulation, shown in recent controlled trials to decrease migraine frequency, management for sleep apnea headache, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia abbreviated for the physician practice setting, sleep-related headache trigger, and others. There is no empirical evidence that sleep evaluation should delay or supersede usual headache care. Rather, sleep management is complimentary to standard headache practice.

Keywords: chronification; insomnia; migraine; psychiatric comorbidity; sleep apnea headache; sleep disturbance; snoring; triggers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity*
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology
  • Migraine Disorders / therapy*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy*