Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain

Migraines cause pain as real as the pain of injuries — with one difference: Healthy habits and simple nonmedical remedies sometimes stop migraines before they start. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Medication is a proven way to treat — and prevent — migraines. But medication is only part of the story. It's also important to take good care of yourself. The same lifestyle choices that promote good health can reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines. In fact, combining lifestyle measures with medication is often the most effective way to handle migraines.

Seek a calm environment

At the first sign of a migraine, retreat from your usual activities if possible.

  • Turn off the lights. Migraines often increase sensitivity to light and sound. Relax in a dark, quiet room. Sleep if you can.
  • Try temperature therapy. Apply hot or cold compresses to your head or neck. Ice packs have a numbing effect, which may dull the sensation of pain. Hot packs and heating pads can relax tense muscles; warm showers or baths may have a similar effect.
  • Massage painful areas. Apply gentle pressure to your scalp or temples. Alleviate muscle tension with a shoulder or neck massage.
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage. In small amounts, caffeine alone can relieve migraine pain in the early stages or enhance the pain-reducing effects of acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and aspirin. Be careful, however. Drinking too much caffeine too often can lead to withdrawal headaches later on.

Sleep well

Migraines may keep you from falling asleep or wake you up at night. Likewise, migraines are often triggered by a poor night's sleep. Here's help encouraging sound sleep.

  • Establish regular sleep hours. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day — even on weekends. If you nap during the day, keep it short. Naps longer than 20 to 30 minutes may interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Unwind at the end of the day. Anything that helps you relax can promote better sleep: Listen to soothing music, soak in a warm bath or read a favorite book. But watch what you eat and drink before bedtime. Intense exercise, heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can interfere with sleep.
  • Minimize distractions. Save your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Don't watch television or take work materials to bed. Close your bedroom door. Use a fan to muffle distracting noises.
  • Don't try to sleep. The harder you try to sleep, the more awake you'll feel. If you can't fall asleep, read or do another quiet activity until you become drowsy.
  • Check your medications. Medications that contain caffeine or other stimulants — including some medications to treat migraines — may interfere with sleep.

Eat wisely

Your eating habits can influence your migraines. Consider the basics:

  • Be consistent. Eat at about the same time every day.
  • Don't skip meals. Eating breakfast is especially important.
  • Avoid foods that trigger migraines. If you suspect that a certain food — such as aged cheese, chocolate, caffeine or alcohol — is triggering your migraines, eliminate it from your diet to see what happens.
Aug. 15, 2012 See more In-depth