REM sleep lower in migraine sufferers: study

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People who suffer from migraines may get less quality REM sleep, according to researchers. 

In a new study published in Neurology –  the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) – the King’s College London and the Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation authors also found that children with migraines got less total sleep time than their healthy peers but took less time to fall asleep. 

“We wanted to analyze recent research to get a clearer picture of how migraines affect people’s sleep patterns and the severity of their headaches,” said author Dr. Jan Hoffmann of King’s College London and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “That way, clinicians can better support people with migraines and deliver more effective sleep treatments.”

For the meta-analysis in “Subjective Sleep Quality and Sleep Architecture in Patients With Migraine: A Meta-analysis,” Hoffman and others examined 32 studies involving 10,243 participants. 

The people involved answered a questionnaire to rate their own sleep quality and habits, with higher scores indicating worse sleep quality.

A woman trying to sleep
(Credit: iStock)

Many participants also took part in an overnight sleep lab, which recorded brain waves, oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate and eye movement.

Adults with migraines overall had higher average scores, and the difference between people without migraines was even greater in people with chronic migraines.

Adults and children with migraines had less rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep as a percentage of their total sleep time and children with migraines had more wake time, shorter time for sleep onset than children without migraines and less total sleep time. REM sleep is the stage of sleep that involves the most brain activity and vivid dreams and is important for learning and memory function.

“The meta-analysis does not prove a causal relationship between sleep and migraines,” the release said. “A limitation of the meta-analysis is that medications that affect sleep cycles were not taken into account.”

Pregnant participants and those with other headache disorders were excluded. 

“Our analysis provides a clearer understanding of migraines and how they affect sleep patterns and illustrates the impact these patterns might have on a person’s ability to get a good night’s sleep,” Hoffmann stated.

Further “longitudinal empirical studies,” the researchers said, are required to enhance the understanding of the relationship.

Migraines affect around 1 billion people worldwide and one in five women, according to the American Migraine Foundation. 

The Migraine Research Foundation reports that migraines impact 39 million men, women and children in the U.S. alone with nearly one in four U.S. households including someone with migraine.

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