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Sleep Disorders Impact Migraine and Chronic Headache

People with chronic headache have a high prevalence of insomnia and other sleep disorders, such as daytime sleepiness and snoring, according to a study published in the journal Headache. The incidence of insomnia is so high—almost 68% as compared to 39% of people with occasional headaches—that it may even be a risk factor for developing chronic headache. Meanwhile, a separate study, presented at the American Headache Society meeting, has uncovered a possible biological reason for the link.

In the first study, Italian researchers interviewed 105 people with chronic headaches and 102 with episodic headaches. Of the former group, 80 were diagnosed with medication overuse headache, 4 had chronic tension-type headache without drug overuse and 21 had chronic migraine. Those with chronic headache also had higher levels of anxiety or depression than people with episodic headache, and were more likely to begin having headaches at a younger age or have low educational levels.

In the second study, pain researchers from Missouri State University deprived rats of REM sleep for three nights while allowing another group of rats to sleep normally. The sleep-deprived rats expressed high levels of proteins that arouse the nervous system. One of these proteins regulates sensory responses in the trigeminal nervous system, which plays a role in migraine. Another protein is linked to the initiation of chronic pain.

“In stressful situations such as sleep deprivation, these arousal proteins occur at levels that are high enough to trigger pain,” said lead researcher Paul L. Durham, PhD. “People with headaches often have a hard time sleeping. It is easy to see how several nights of interrupted sleep can make people more susceptible to developing a chronic pain state.”

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