Cluster headaches are a very unique type of headaches because of their close ties to nightly sleeping patterns. People who have recurring cluster headache often describe being woken up in the middle of the night by them in excruciating pain. This pain is marked by sharp, steady, or burning pain on one side of the head and behind one eye. The pain may not last very long in each cycle, but it is very intense and severe. Although these headaches occur in cycles, they can come on very unexpectedly and seriously disrupt one’s sleep schedule.
This is an explanation of why cluster headaches often happen during sleep and how healthy sleeping patterns can help prevent their occurrence.
Headaches and Sleep: When Do Cluster Headaches Commonly Occur
Unlike other types of headaches, cluster headaches often happen when a person is at least two hours into sleep. After about two or three hours of falling asleep, the body typically begins to transition from REM sleep to non-REM sleep. This transition may play a role in triggering a cluster headache attack because of the changes in brain activity involved.
Cluster headaches are also believed to involve abnormal functioning of the brain’s blood vessels or vascular system, which slow down and relax during the cycles of sleep. But once a cluster headache strikes, it is usually impossible to go back to sleep or even sit still.
The Effect of Sleeping Patterns on Headaches at Night
Research has shown that sleeping patterns can affect the likeliness of having a cluster headache during sleep. There is a strong connection between poor sleep quality and the occurrence of cluster headaches. Many medical professionals believe that the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the body’s biological clock, is an activation center for cluster headaches. This means that if an individual’s sleep cycle is disrupted from its normal schedule, then a cluster headache is more likely to occur.
Studies have also revealed that numerous sleep disorders are closely associated with cluster headaches. These disorders include obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy. Sleep apnea, for example, is an aggravating factor and possible cause of cluster headaches. This means that if a sleep disorder is properly monitored treated, the likelihood of cluster headaches during sleep may decrease as well.
Preventing Cluster Headaches During Sleep
Many of the triggers of cluster headaches are lifestyle based, which means that individuals who experience them can take control of their own symptoms. It is advised to avoid alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and bright lights before bedtime. Scheduling in time to relax and unwind at the end of the day promotes better sleep, as well as reducing food and fluid intake right before bed.
People with cluster headaches should also try to go to bed and get up at the same times every day to keep their biological clock working on a consistent schedule. Physicians may prescribe melatonin, a natural supplement, to help facilitate normal sleep cycles, especially for people who do shift work or travel a lot for work.
There are preventative medicines that have proven very effective for cluster headache sufferers, such as blood pressure medications, anti-epilepsy drugs, and herbal products. Oxygen inhalation, triptans, and ergotamines can provide on-the-spot treatment for cluster headaches when they strike in the middle of the night as well.