4 Surprising Migraine Triggers

3 min read

4 Surprising Migraine Triggers

These Useful Tips May Help Reduce The Occurrence Of Migraines


Most migraineurs know that avoiding certain triggers can help to keep migraines at bay. Some of the most common migraine triggers to avoid are stress, perfumes, caffeine, red wine and certain foods.

What follows are four lesser know triggers that can help reduce the occurrence of migraines even further:


1) Ponytails Or Tight Hair Buns

When hair is arranged in a ponytail or tight bun the scalp and facial muscles can become more sensitive over time, which can trigger a migraine. According to a study undertaken by the National Institute of Health, 50 of 93 females in the study experienced what is termed a “ponytail headache.”

Regarding ponytail headaches, Dr. Denise E. Chou, neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center says, “Patients don’t realize they have a migraine because it’s often undiagnosed. It affects about 12 percent of the population and roughly 18 percent of women.”


2) Bedtime Routine

Studies show that a large percentage of migraines occur between 4 am and 9 am in the morning. Sleep loss, oversleeping or sudden shifts to your normal sleep length can trigger migraines.

In 2006, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published an important study that focused on sleep behavior. This first-ever study of its kind was designed to observe the impact on migraines when changing a person’s behavior at bedtime. The study participants consisted of people with “transformed migraines” or those individuals who used to have an occasional migraine, but over time, saw their migraine frequency increase until they were classified as having chronic migraines (more than 14 days with migraine in a single month).

By following certain behavior patterns at bedtime, study participants were able to reduce migraine frequency by 29% while reducing migraine intensity by 40%.

A participating doctor in the study, Anne Calhoun, MD, stated “We found that beneficial changes in sleep habits were associated with reduction in headache frequency and severity and with reversion to episodic migraine. Therefore, behavioral sleep modification appears to be an effective treatment for transformed migraine when coupled with standard medical care."

Following are the behavioral sleep modifications made during the study:

  • Go to bed every night at the same time
  • Go to bed at a time that allows for 8 hours of sleep
  • Eliminate TV watching, reading or listening to music while in bed
  • Use visualization techniques that allow you to shorten time it takes to fall asleep
  • Limit fluid intake within two hours of bed time
  • Don’t take naps during the day


3) Light Flickering

It is fairly well established that people with migraines are often sensitive to bright lights. A lesser-known trigger for migraines, however, is “light flickering.”   Light flickering occurs when your eyes are subject to the back and forth shifting between darker visual images and bright lights – a situation which often arises when you are outside in bright sunlight. This is similar to the strobe-light effect that can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy.

To help with this condition, it is recommended that you wear dark sunglasses when outside in bright sunlight. This can help reduce the flickering effect between dark imagery and bright input, which may trigger migraines.


4) Sexual Activity

Strenuous physical exertion is known to trigger migraines. This can also hold true for sexual activity. Why does sex trigger a migraine? Some doctors associate the onset of sexual migraines with the tightening of muscles in the neck or shoulder region that can occur during sexual activity, while other research points to an increase in blood pressure as the cause.

It should also be noted, however, that a study published in the March 2013 issue of the journal Cephalagia found that about one-third of the participants experienced pain relief from sexual activity. The researchers aren't sure why this happens, but hypothesize that the rush of endorphins, the brain's natural painkillers, during sex may numb the pain of migraines.