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Tension Headaches, Naps and Insomnia

Filed in
  • Headache

American Academy of Sleep Medicine  |  Feb 15, 2009
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Maybe it’s not such a good idea to take a nap when you have a headache.

A new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows there may be a link between headaches, naps and insomnia.

The study involved 32 women who have tension headaches. Their average age was about 22 years. Ninety-four percent of the women reported that stress was a trigger of their headaches.

Eighty-one percent of the women reported using sleep as a coping strategy for headaches. This made sleep the number one self-management strategy.

Sleep also was rated as the most effective intervention. Other common self-treatment methods were:
  • Medications
  • Relaxation
  • Distraction
  • Hot or cold compress

So is sleep the best treatment for tension headaches? Not exactly. Fifty-six percent of the women also reported that sleep problems are a trigger of their headaches.

“Insomnia is a common complaint among headache sufferers,” said principal investigator Jason C. Ong, PhD. “While napping may relieve pain, it may also result in poor sleep hygiene, thus triggering sleep disturbance or perpetuating an insomnia episode.”

So taking a nap may provide immediate headache relief. But the daytime sleep may cause you to be more alert that night.

This may lead to an episode of insomnia. Then the insomnia could trigger another tension headache the following day. To break this cycle, practice good sleep hygiene and limit the use of naps as a headache treatment.

The NINDS recommends other treatment options. These include therapies that help you manage stress or relax your muscles. You may want to take a hot shower or apply moist heat to the back of the neck. A massage or gentle neck exercises also may be helpful.

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