With the high levels of stress that people live in these days, it is no wonder that headaches have become a common part of our lifestyle. We do not think twice before popping in that pain reliever and moving on with our work. Tension-type headaches have become one of the most common types of headaches across the world today. While some people cope with these tension headaches by sleeping or taking a short nap, many have adjusted to a life where tension and headaches go hand-in-hand. However, several new research studies have now firmly established a link between tension-type headaches and insomnia. Yes, the very sleep that you depend on to cure that nagging headache can actually become evasive due to your headache. A study carried out at the Rush University Medical Center has shown that taking a nap to relieve the pain from a headache is actually a potential behavioral link between sleep disturbance and headache. It was found that insomnia is one of the most common complaints amongst tension-type headache sufferers. While taking a nap relieves a headache, it causes more harm than you can possibly imagine. It decreases the brain's requirement for sleep in the nighttime, thus lowering your ability to initiate the sleep process and then continue to sleep at night. Is a temporary relief from headaches worth developing insomnia in the long run?

What is Tension-Type Headache?

The most common form of headaches, tension-type headache occurs in nearly three-quarters of the population. The occurring pain can range from being mild to even being disabling in some cases. Some people can have recurring tension-type headaches on a daily basis, while others get it during periods of excessive or increased stress and anxiety. Tension-type headaches are also known as:

  • Tension headaches.
  • Muscle contraction headache.
  • Stress headache.
  • Ordinary headache.
  • Idiopathic headache.
  • Psychomyogenic headache.
  • Psychogenic headache.

These terms are not used frequently, and the condition is generally just referred to as tension headaches.

At one point of time, tension headaches were thought to be caused by psychological issues, caused by either the mind or emotions. However, studies have now proven that tension headaches are caused by physical or neurobiological cause.

Relationship Between Insomnia & Tension-Type Headaches

It has been observed in several studies that people who tend to sleep or take a nap in order to relieve a tension headache are at a risk for developing insomnia. Insomnia is thus a risk for people suffering from tension-type headaches. The study from Rush University Medical Center, based in Chicago, conducted a study on 32 women with tension headaches and 33 women with minimal levels of pain who were the control subjects. The study looked at pain-related self-management strategies that these women used to support the hypothesis that managing tension headaches with sleep ultimately leads to insomnia in the long run.

Factors studied during the study included headache triggers, pain interference with sleep patterns. The participants also used pain management strategies that were not advised by a doctor. Participants in the headache group ended up reporting a substantially high number of sleep problems as a headache trigger. Stress was also another trigger of a headache. Most of them used to sleep as a strategy for managing the tension headache pain. About 81% of the participants in the headache group were using sleep as the most commonly used strategy for managing tension headaches. They also voted sleep as being the most effective pain management strategy to combat tension-type headaches.

The findings from this study clearly established a direct relationship between disturbed sleep and triggering of tension headaches. The use of sleep as a pain management strategy was also leading to participants being unable to sleep in the night, a potential cause of insomnia in the long run. As the sleep cycle does not get completed during the night, there is a higher chance for a tension headache to get triggered again the next day and the sufferers are again resorting to using sleep to manage the tension headache pain. This vicious cycle is continuing and the ultimate result is the development of insomnia amongst people with a tension-type headache.

Overall, the identification of insomnia in individuals suffering from a tension-type headache requires an improved management of tension headache symptoms, as well as better pain management strategies. As tension-type headaches are the most common type of headaches amongst people today, it is imperative that physicians develop a working system to identify and treat tension-type headaches properly so that this cycle of sleep disturbance can be broken.

Treatment of Tension-Type Headaches

If you suffer from infrequent episodic tension-type headaches, then you only need to take medication when you are actually having an episode of a headache. Over-the-counter analgesics or pain relievers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or even aspirin are some of the best options to take in tension headaches. You can also try to drink a cup of coffee as caffeine is also known to cure tension headaches. Be mindful that pain relievers should be taken no more than twice a week for a headache. Otherwise, it can lead to medication overuse headaches as well.

In case you have frequent and long lasting tension-type headaches, then it is recommended that you visit your doctor for some prescribed medications or find out more about preventive treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy, relaxation techniques, etc.

Also Read:

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: November 4, 2017

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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