Headache Hygiene – What is It?

Headache hygiene is the practice of taking care of yourself in a way that will reduce the likelihood, frequency, intensity, and severity of headaches. One may surely wonder if this is possible. Indeed it is! Many lifestyle factors influence migraine and other headache conditions. Therefore, taking care of these lifestyle factors may help reduce the risk of severe attacks.

These include two simple steps:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Trigger avoidance

Lifestyle Changes

Migraine is not a predictable disorder for all people. Simple things like changes to a normal routine can lead to a severely disabling migraine attack. Understanding how lifestyle affects the severity and frequency of attacks can be a large part of successful migraine prevention.

It is unrealistic to expect anyone to completely change a certain lifestyle. However, certain things are relatively easy to do. For example:

  • Maintain regular sleep patterns. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise regularly. For example, aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week will help reduce frequency or severity of migraine.
  • Eat regular meals, do not skip meals, and eat a good, healthy breakfast.
  • Reduce stress. Limit stress by avoiding conflicts and resolving disputes calmly. Some people find it helpful to take a daily “stress break.”
  • Avoiding known triggers (see table on Common Triggers).
Common Triggers 
 CategoriesTriggersExamples
DietarySkipping meals/fasting
Food Items
Aged cheese
Alcohol/red wineChemicals [eg. MSG (monosodium glutamate)]
Caffeine withdrawalProcessed meats (containing nitrates)
MedicationsNitroglycerine
ChronobiologyChange in sleep patternsNapping
Oversleeping
Too little sleep
EnvironmentalWeather changesExtreme heat or cold
Bright lightsSun without eye shades
Odors/pollutionSmog, perfumes, chemicals
Flashing lights or screens
HormonalEstrogen level changes (rapid fluctuations in estrogen levels)Menstruation
Hormone replacement therapies
Birth control pills
Menopause
StressWorkUnrealistic timeliness
HomeFinancial issues
FamilyJob changes / moving
Childbirth / marriage
Death/loss
Stress LetdownDiscontinuation of workWeekends / vacations
Ending a project or stressful task (such as a presentation)
PhysicalInjuriesHead trauma
Over-exertionExercising when out of shape or in heat

Establishing daily routines that help reduce migraine attacks is important for long-term migraine prevention. For example:

  • Schedule a relaxation period that includes relaxation strategies such as:
  • Take slow, deep breaths.
  • Focus the mind on a relaxing image or scene.
  • Try soft relaxing lighting and sounds.
  • Exercise on a regular basis, even if your daily routine changes (such as when traveling, when you have house guests, or when your workload increases).
  • Maintain the medication treatment plan designed by you and your physician. Early intervention may help prevent the migraine from progressing into a severe, disabling attack.

Trigger avoidance

Triggers are specific factors that may increase your risk of having a migraine attack. The migraine sufferer has a sensitive nervous system that, under certain circumstances, can lead to migraine. Triggers do not “cause” migraine. Instead, they are thought to activate processes that cause migraine in people who are prone to the condition. A certain trigger will not induce a migraine in every person. In a single migraine sufferer, a trigger may not cause a migraine every time. By keeping a headache diary, you will be able to identify some triggers for your particular headaches. Once you have identified triggers, it will be easier for you to avoid them and reduce your chances of having a migraine attack.