Study finds behavioral link between insomnia and tension-type headaches

February 15, 2009,

A study in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that the use of sleep or napping to relieve chronic pain caused by tension-type headaches could have the unwanted effect of decreasing the homeostatic drive for sleep, leading to reduced ability to initiate and maintain sleep at night. Use of sleep as a coping mechanism for pain over time could lead to the development of poor sleep hygiene and serve as a perpetuating factor for chronic insomnia.

Group comparisons on triggers of headache indicate that a significantly greater proportion of the headache group relative to the control group (58 versus 18 percent) reported sleep problems as a trigger of headaches, and women in the headache group reported a significantly higher rating of pain interfering with sleep. Eighty-one percent of women who suffer from tension-type headaches reported going to sleep as a way of managing their headaches; this method was also rated as the most effective self-management strategy for pain.

Principal investigator and lead author, Jason C. Ong, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center, said the extent to which headache sufferers rated sleep as being an effective method for coping with pain was somewhat surprising

"Insomnia is a common complaint among headache sufferers. While napping may relieve pain, it may also result in poor sleep hygiene, thus triggering sleep disturbance or perpetuating an insomnia episode," said Ong.

A high proportion of both the headache and control groups (97 and 70 percent) reported stress as a trigger of headaches. No significant differences were found between the groups on use of medication to relieve headaches.

A total of 65 women were recruited from undergraduate psychology courses at a university located in the southeastern U.S.; 32 participants who were confirmed to have tension-type headaches, as classified by the International Headache Society System, were placed in a headache group, and 33 were classified as controls who experience minimal pain. The average age of members of the headache group was 21.9 years, while the average age of the control group was 18.9 years.

The average time since the first headache of any type was 9.4 years for participants in the headache group, with an average of 8.11 headache days per month. Participants reported an average of 12.2 tension-type headaches over the past year, and 2.1 tension-type headaches in the past month, with a median duration of 2.0 hours. The average tension-type headache intensity rating using a 0-to-10 scale was 5.6. Six participants in the headache group also met criteria for migraine disorder.

Secondary analyses were conducted on self-report data from participants who completed a psychophysiologic assessment investigating the pattern of physiologic, affective and behavioral responses to a picture-viewing task. All participants completed a research questionnaire packet that included measures pertaining to pain history and pain coping strategies. Electromyographic (EMG) activity, self-reported affect and self-reported oral motor behaviors were also analyzed.

The authors conclude that the assessment of daytime napping behaviors among individuals who report insomnia and headaches may be important for developing behavioral sleep interventions. They also note that clinicians should be aware of the challenges of managing pain without causing sleep disturbances.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Explore further: Pilot study in Kenya shows link between chronic pain and glutamate consumption

Related Stories

Pilot study in Kenya shows link between chronic pain and glutamate consumption

February 16, 2018
Chronic pain is among the most vexing health problems, including in the developing world, where most research suggests that the prevalence of pain is similar to the United States and other developed nations.

Fixing pain management could help us solve the opioid crisis

February 2, 2018
Australia is facing a critical public health issue of poorly managed pain. The combination of poor health outcomes, inappropriate prescribing for pain and non-prescription use of opioids has resulted in opioid-related deaths ...

Severe and lingering symptoms occur in some after treatment for Lyme disease

February 1, 2018
In a study of 61 people treated for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, Johns Hopkins researchers conclude that fatigue, pain, insomnia and depression do indeed persist over long periods of time for some people, despite ...

More children are starting school depressed and anxious – without help, it will only get worse

January 30, 2018
This article is part of a series that draws on the latest research on back to school transitions. In it, experts explain how best to prepare children for school, and counter difficulties such as stress or bad behaviour.

We overstate our negative feelings in surveys, new research shows

December 18, 2017
We tend to overstate our negative feelings and symptoms in surveys, shows a new study by a team of psychology researchers. This bias wears off over time, but the results point to the possibility that measurements of health ...

When sexual assault victims speak out, their institutions often betray them

January 11, 2018
A 27-year-old medical resident in general surgery is sexually harassed by two men – the chief resident and a staff physician at the hospital. She feels trapped. When one of the men's actions escalates to assault, she struggles ...

Recommended for you

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

Flu shot only 36 percent effective, making bad year worse (Update)

February 15, 2018
The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses.

IFN-mediated immunity to influenza A virus infection influenced by RIPK3 protein

February 15, 2018
Each year, influenza kills half a million people globally with the elderly and very young most often the victims. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37 children have died in the United States ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.