My relationship with migraines is a long and unhappy one. They showed up around puberty and have stuck by me ever since. No one knows definitively what causes the mother of all headaches, and there is no cure. As they do with many sufferers, migraines have negatively affected every aspect of my life and cost me dearly. On the eve of my wedding day, I fell so violently ill that I threw up seven times.
I’ve since been through the stages of anger and resentment, sadness and self-pity. Now, in my 40s, I’ve finally arrived at acceptance. Migraines are a part of who I am, a biological marker I must wear — not with pride, exactly, but with acquiescence. Instead of popping pills, which only precipitated more “rebound” headaches, I have shifted to a pre-emptive approach. I’ve learned that, taken together, certain lifestyle tweaks in the following areas can mean the difference between weekly and more sporadic attacks.
Light. While the majority of people who suffer from migraines are sensitive to light (“photophobia”) during an attack, bright light or glare can also trigger a headache. At the risk of looking like a diva, I wear sunglasses 365 days a year, even on overcast days.
Diet. There’s no standardized anti-migraine diet. The usual suspects for triggering migraines include aged cheese, processed meats, additives such as monosodium glutamate and aspartame, and even chocolate. (The jury is still out on caffeine. Though a well-timed cup of joe may stave off a migraine, too many cups could spark one.) In addition to avoiding certain foods, I’ve learned it’s important not to skip or delay meals to avoid drops in blood sugar.
Sleep. Too much or too little sleep both have the potential to bring on a migraine. While the optimal amount of sleep varies from person to person, several studies have indicated that poor sleep habits increase the frequency and intensity of migraines. Since I need more sleep than the average adult, not getting enough shut-eye is a guaranteed trigger.