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Sleep Disorders and Headaches Connected – Children that suffer Headaches might have Sleep Problems

January 29th 2006

Sleep Disorders and Headaches Connected – Children that suffer Headaches might have Sleep Problems

Children - headaches and sleep

Many children that suffer from daily chronic headaches also suffer from sleep disturbances, especially a delay in sleep onset. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe there may be an association.  The findings will be presented at the 24th Annual Conference on Sleep Disorders in Infancy and Childhood in Rancho Mirage, California.

Kenneth Mack, MD, PhD, pediatric neurologist specializing in headache and the senior study investigator said "What's novel in our study is the finding that a high percentage of patients with headache have sleep disturbance."  One-fifth of the children with episodic headaches also had sleep problems. The children “also have the same sleep disturbances: a delay in sleep onset."


The study involved 100 children, ages 6 to 17 with chronic daily headaches.  The researchers consider a child with 15 or more headaches per month as having chronic daily headaches.  The study also included 100 children in the same age category with episodic headaches.  These headaches are less frequent.  They found that teenagers had the highest level of risk.  Dr. Mack says that teenagers typically need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. 

The time of year and stress level also appear to impact headache risk.  A family history of headaches will also raise the risk in children.  Children that awaken during the night or too early in the morning are at a higher risk.  Many of these children do not feel refreshed after sleeping.

It is not know whether the headaches cause the sleep disorder of vice versa.  They could also have a common cause, or one problem could be an early sign of the other.  According to Dr. Mack "They feed on each other: sleep problems make the headaches worse, and the headaches make the sleep problems worse."


The researchers believe the treatment must be simultaneous for both conditions.  The use of medicine and non-medicine approaches may be needed.  Key to the treatment is “attention to maintaining routine in the child's schedule and developing good sleep hygiene. Dr. Lenora Lehwald, M.D. says "Educating the patient and family on things like good sleep habits may in and of itself help to improve the sleep quality and thus the headaches in the long run."

Good sleep hygiene involves “basic and simple practices” in the evening routine.  "A child should use his bedroom for just the types of activities that would be sedating and relaxing," she says. "TVs, video games -- things that are exciting and get the child interested, motivated and activated -- should not be in the bedroom. Also, it's important for children to have a routine for calming down and preparing for sleep the last hour they plan to be awake. They should choose activities that make them drowsy, like reading."  

Girls are more likely to have to have chronic daily headaches.  Chronic daily headaches occur in up to 4% of girls and 2% of boys.  Episodic headaches are believed to affect between 10 to 20% of all children. The preferred medication is migraine medicine that also helps with sleep, according to Dr. Mack.    



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By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication Staff Writer

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:49 PM