Migraines more common with sleep disorders, researchers find

Liz Meszaros, MDLinx | December 18, 2018

Migraine may be associated with sleep disorders, especially insomnia, according to results published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.


Insomnia is a greater risk factor for migraines than other types of sleep disorders.

“Previous studies have suggested that daily health behaviors can cause migraines,” wrote lead author Seung Ju Kim, RN, Institute of Health Services Research, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, and fellow researchers.

“Studies have shown that poor quality or poor duration of sleep can result in headaches, including migraines,” the authors wrote. But most of these studies were conducted in Western populations with small sample sizes.

“Asian studies on the relationship between sleep and migraine are lacking, and evidence is needed, based on representative samples,” they added. “Thus, the aim of this study was to suggest evidence on the association between organic sleep disorder and migraines, in the hopes that more developed strategies for managing new disease paradigms, including increases of sleep disorder or migraines, will be initiated.”

Of note, sleep times in South Korea are well below the average—462 minutes of sleep per night compared with the average night’s sleep of 502 minutes, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The number of South Koreans with sleep disorders rapidly increased each year from 2010 to 2016, according to the country’s National Health Insurance Service (NHIS).

Thus, Kim and colleagues conducted this study to assess any associations between sleep disorders and migraine using data from the NHIS national sample. Employing a matched cohort design, they enrolled 133,262 patients—66,631 patients with sleep disorders matched with 66,631 without.

In all, 11.72% of patients were diagnosed with migraine, and those with sleep disorders had a higher incidence of migraine than those without (12.04% vs 11.39; P=0.0002). Among these patients, researchers also found a statistically significant association of migraines in women, the elderly, lower socioeconomic status, those receiving medical aid, and those living in rural areas.

Researchers found a positive correlation between sleep disorders and a diagnosis of migraine (HR: 1.591; P < 0.0001). Among the various types of sleep disorders, insomnia had the greatest association with migraine (HR: 1.792; 95% CI: 1.740-1.846; P <  0.0001) compared with other types of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.

“Unlike previous findings, we distinguished the type of sleep disorder in analyzing for the association with migraines, and found that insomnia is a greater risk factor for migraines than are other types of sleep disorder[s]. Thus, the lack of sleep duration could result in the loss of physical condition, not just the quality of sleep, and optimal alternatives are needed to ensure substantial sleep duration,” they wrote.

“Based on these findings, health care professionals and policy makers need to review the present level of insurance coverage in sleep medicine, and educate patients for preventing unnecessary burdens due to sleep disorders,” concluded Kim and colleagues.

This study was funded by the Soonchunhyang University research fund.