Insomnia and Headaches, Two Ills That May Have a Common Link

Sleep disturbances are widespread since it is estimated that 40% of adults suffer some inconvenience when sleeping. Among these, the most common is insomnia that can be sporadic or chronic, and the latter affects 12% of the population, that is, there are numerous people who, most of the nights, sleep poorly and little.

“The dream is a reversible state of loss of perception and response to external stimuli, this state occupies a third of the life of people, and its alteration produces problems in the body and the mind,” defined the Neurologist Mary Smith.

He said that in addition to insomnia, there might be other incidents during sleep such as snoring, nightmares, talking or walking asleep, restless legs, breathing disorders during sleep (apneas), teeth grinding (bruxism) or interruption of sleep due to a severe headache (hypnic headaches).

According to the member of the American Federation of Neurology, both headaches and sleep disturbances are very frequent, and it is essential to know if they have any physiological connection, if one alteration leads to the other or if, because they are so prevalent, they coincide in the same person.

Some headaches are indisputably related to sleep. hypoxemia (those that occur due to sleep apnea when there is inadequate cerebral oxygenation during sleep.)

Another case is a hypnic headache (appears shortly after falling asleep, awakens the sufferer and lasts half an hour or more, being severe and usually occurs at almost the same time every night, affects people 50 years or older.)

A migraine is an alteration that begins as pain on one side of the head or the back of the neck, increases quickly and is often accompanied by intolerance to light, noise smells, and sometimes, there is also nausea and vomiting. It can last three hours or more, it is a severe pain, which can be repeated several times in the month and that often begins at dawn, shortly before awakening.

Another interesting topic is sleepwalking. This alteration is more frequent in childhood, between 4 to 8 years when between 2 to 7% of children can be sleepwalkers, and it could be established that 35 to 55% of migraineurs have been somnambulists in their childhood. Sleepwalkers do not remember this event, and on many occasions, parents do not know what is happening.

It is located in the central and lower part of the brain, above the pituitary gland, it is a minimal area (it only has about 3 to 5 cubic centimeters and weighs less than 7 grams), but it is the “station” where numerous routes arrive and exit.

Numerous chemicals act by transmitting messages to other parts of the brain. Some researchers have called it the “master clock.” And in This is true, because it regulates the times of the organism: the menstrual cycle of the woman every 28 days, the pregnancy that lasts nine months, the hours of wakefulness and sleep, etc. The hypothalamus is involved in the circulation of melatonin and serotonin, and these two neurotransmitters are linked to a headache and sleep.

Another alteration that is usually a reason for consultation is chronic morning headache, that is, people who wake up most of the time with a headache.

This is a symptom that afflicts 7.6% of the population, who frequently suffer from insomnia, respiratory alterations during sleep, intense snoring, nightmares, depression or anxiety. This “headache of awakening” is seen more in those who breathe poorly during sleep, the typical situation of this alternative is “sleep apnea.”

When sleep disturbances appear in individuals who also suffer from headaches, a diagnosis of the cause of this problem should be made (clinical history, neurological examination, study with images, etc.).

If it is a migraine, and this is frequent, indicate preventive treatment (neuronal modulators) and treatment for the crisis (triptans) since the improvement of both situations (a migraine and sleep disturbances) should be sought simultaneously.

Although the vast majority of the consultations we receive for sleep disorders and headaches are not caused by structural alterations (tumors, circulatory, vascular or pulmonary alterations). It is advisable that the patient is always studied thoroughly: antecedents, medications consumed, examination clinical and neurological and complementary studies (laboratory and images), only then can a diagnosis of certainty be made and indicate the appropriate treatment.