Getting better sleep is perhaps the most crucial – and elusive – lifestyle improvement for those with migraine headache.
Without adequate sleep (and especially deep REM sleep), the body and brain can’t repair itself. Many of us with a history of chronic migraine may not even remember what it feels like to wake up from sleep refreshed and energized. Instead, most people with migraine will not only have poor sleep and fewer REM deep sleep cycles than healthier people, but migraines will actually start in the middle of the night. The result is waking up with a headache – a horrible way to start the day.
Some people even wake up very early in the morning – between 1am and 4am with the headache, and never fall deeply back into sleep. This is because both adrenaline and glutamate levels peak at this time when the brain is starved of proper nutrition and fluid to regenerate. The solution is to give it the proper nutritional support prior to going to bed in the form of sufficient electrolytes, glucose, tryptophan, and GABA-enhancing prebiotics. All of these ingredients will help to counterbalance the excess cortisol and glutamate that normally peak when the brain is stuck in a dysfunctional circadian rhythm. For more info on circadian rhythms, check out this article.
My question is always: are there simple culinary Folk Medicine remedies that can help to solve these seemingly intractable problems? The reason I always ask this question first is because I’ve never found there is NOT a simple, affordable, safe Folk Medicine solution that works as good, but usually better, than pharmaceutical options – which just scramble our fragile systems even more.
As it turns out, honey has long been recognized throughout history for its energy and brain boosting effects. Now, science is catching up on the explanations for why honeys is so supportive of brain health.
Honey has an appreciable nutritional value. Raw honey possesses anxiolytic, antinociceptive, anticonvulsant, and antidepressant effects and improves the oxidative status of the brain. Several honey supplementation studies suggest that honey polyphenols have neuroprotective and nootropic effects. Polyphenol constituents of honey quench biological reactive oxygen species that cause neurotoxicity and aging as well as the pathological deposition of misfolded proteins, such as amyloid beta. Polyphenol constituents of honey counter oxidative stress by excitotoxins . . . and neurotoxins . . . Raw honey and honey polyphenols attenuate the microglia-induced neuroinflammation that is induced by ischemia-reperfusion injury or immunogenic neurotoxins. Most importantly, honey polyphenols counter neuroinflammation in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is involved in spatial memory. Honey polyphenols also counter memory deficits and induce memory formation at the molecular level. (Source)
From the research I’ve done into sleep and migraine, I’ve created this delicious sleepy-time drink that can be consumed prior to bed and actually works to help establish solid, regenerative sleep. You won’t find this recipe elsewhere on the web, so if you have any friends with sleep issues, please share this article!
But first, a few lifestyle choices that will act as powerful (and obvious!) leverage points for better sleep:
- Limit screen time past 9pm. Turn off your cell phone, get off the computer, turn off the TV. Why not even turn off your router! Give yourself a break. Develop clear boundaries around technology use.
- Implement a simple relaxation routine into your evening prior to sleeping. This could be as simple and variable as taking a hot bath, making the space for mediation or prayer, reading poetry, snuggling with your kids, making love to your Beloved or exchanging massage with them, doing some yoga, or burning some incense (I personally love sweetgrass, palo santo, or cedarwood shavings burnt on charcoal). Anything that relaxes you!
- Get outside during the day (or supplement with Vitamin D) and move your body. Getting both sunlight and exercise improve sleep and serotonin production. If you can’t get outside, look into vitamin D supplementation. It’s been shown to be chronically low in people with migraine, and is essential for establishing healthy sleep patterns (and a host of other things, including digestion). Blood values for vitamin D should be a minimum of 30ng/ml, up to 80ng/ml. Low vitamin D levels have also been associated with low serotonin levels.
- Examine your relationship to caffeine and coffee, and adjust accordingly. Some of us are so sensitive to caffeine and coffee that drinking a small amount in the early morning can be one reason we have a hard time falling asleep even long after the coffee was consumed.
- Take good care of your adrenals. “An effective way to manage chronically elevated cortisol levels is to ensure that the adrenal glands are supported by proper nutrition. Vitamin B6, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and vitamin C often become depleted with prolonged hyperactivity of adrenal gland activity and increased production of cortisol.” (Source). Most people with migraine are depleted of B6 an B5 because their gut flora have become so dyregulated that the gut flora no longer produce the B vitamins for them, and their ability to absorb the nutrients and cofactors needed to utilize them in food is also compromised.
- Reduce your histamine load. High levels of histamine interfere with sleep. You can follow a low-histamine diet until you get your histamine overload addressed.
Restorative Sleepytime Drink Recipe
In order to increase blood volume, serotonin, melatonin, GABA, and energy for the brain, our ideal drink would include electrolytes, glucose, tryptophan, and prebiotics. To make this recipe simple and avoid complicated and lengthy prep time prior to going to bed, you’ll want to prep the milk portion of this recipe and the honey and salt portion separately and have them prepared for easy mixing every night.
Also keep in mind that there is some evidence that tryptophan needs to be consumed prior to the honey for the honey to get the tryptophan into the brain, in which case it is valuable to drink the nutmilk portion throughout the day and the honey portion prior to bed. However in this case, if drinking the honey with the nutmilk prior to bed is more appealing than the honey/salt alone (whether or not you have had the nutmilk earlier in the day), that is a good option.
This recipe is only for those who tolerate honey, which doesn’t spike insulin levels like other simple carbs. The honey used in this recipe must be organic. Honey can accumulate GMO pollen grains and pesticides. A lot of conventional honey is made from bees fed high fructose corn syrup, and/or is adulterated with high fructose corn syrup. Highest quality is of importance here. Honey is an amazing food full of 18 amino acids. It is antibacterial and soothing to the throat and stomach. Honey raises blood sugar gradually, unlike consumption of refined sugars.
Sesame seeds are the seeds highest in tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin). They also contain calcium which helps the body to utilize tryptophan. Almonds also contain tryptophan as well as magnesium, which aids in sleep. You can make a nutmilk out of both sesame and almonds, or either of these alone, or experiment with variations on this theme (pumpkin seeds are also high in tryptophan, and shredded coconut contains it as well).
Note: Almonds are expensive and extremely water and labor intensive – they actually have to import bees from New Zealand to pollinate monoculture almond groves. Therefore, a simple sesame seed nutmilk is the more sustainable option.
Here’s an example of the ratio of almond to sesame seeds that I personally enjoy most:
1/2 cup hulled raw sesame seeds (the majority of the oxalate content is in the hulls, so get unhulled)
1/2 cup of almonds
4 cups of water
Blend on high power and strain through a cheesecloth, nutmilk bag or fine mesh strainer. I personally prefer a mesh strainer even though it requires me to use a clean finger rotated in a circular motion in the strainer to help the nutmilk through. After all the milk has been strained through, I empty the strainer of the larger chunks before pouring the next portion through. The nutmilk made with a strainer rather than nutmilk bag seems richer and thicker.
Honey & Salt Portion:
1 cup of water warm enough to dissolve honey (but not boiling, to preserve vitamins and enzymes in honey)
2/3 cup of organic raw honey (10 Tablespoons)
2 Tablespoons of Himalayan Pink or Sea Salt
To Make Your Drink Each Night:
Warm or cold, drink the following mixture prior to brushing teeth and going to bed:
1/2- 1 cup of the nutmilk
1 teaspoon of the honey salt mixture
1 teaspoon of resistant potato starch (to feed friendly flora and increase GABA).
This nutmilk recipe is also delicious used throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels up, and not only for consumption prior to bed. In that case you can also just store the mixture in the fridge with all the ingredients already combined, just be sure to agitate the potato starch if you do that, as it tends to settle at the bottom.
Comments are open for this post. Please let me know how it works for you! Happy Sleeping!