Migraine affects over 38 million people in the U.S. Migraine is more than just a simple headache. Those who suffer from migraine experience this type of headache in four distinct stages:
- Prodromal: This is the period prior to migraine when sufferers might experience fatigue, irritability, food cravings, and depression.
- Aura: Not all migraine sufferers experience this stage, but for those who do its most notable feature is disturbances in vision such as blind spots.
- Attack: The attack stage is the one most people think of when they think of migraine. This includes migraine symptoms like pain, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and extreme fatigue.
- Postdromal: During the postdromal phase of migraine, migraine sufferers might experience what is known as a “migraine hangover.”
What is a migraine hangover?
The postdromal stage of migraine is one of the stages of migraine with the least research. When the attack stage begins to recede, the migraine experience is not quite over. The last stage can feature a host of symptoms, including:
- Extreme fatigue
- Continued sensitivity to light, sound, and smell
- Inability to concentrate
These symptoms may not seem as extreme as the pulsing, blinding pain of the attack stage, but sufferers report that this migraine hangover can be just as debilitating as the migraine itself. They may feel foggy and slow-moving. Echoes of the migraine may resound in their head if they move too quickly.
Overall, a migraine hangover may only last for 24 hours, but self-care is essential during this time.
Many migraine sufferers feel guilty for staying in bed after migraine pain recedes, but returning to your regular routine too quickly after migraine may trigger another one. Take another day after the pain subsides to truly rest and relax. Nap when you need to, and spend some unhurried time in nature or with your kids (or both!).
Dehydration is a common aspect of the migraine hangover, especially for those who experience nausea and vomiting during the attack stage. Drinking plenty of water helps your body to return to its normal function and combats headache and fatigue.
Many migraine sufferers find themselves craving junk food during the migraine hangover stage. As much as possible, stick to nourishing, healthy foods and avoid potential migraine triggers.
On the other hand, some migraine sufferers feel like large amounts of calories, including fatty foods, help them to replenish their energy faster. Many split the difference and stick to comfort foods that, while not exactly healthy, aren’t just chips and soda. Listen to what your body is telling you, and respond accordingly. In general, fresh fruit, simple soups, and whole grain carbohydrates (rice, pastas, and oats) are easy on the body and deeply soothing.
Whether you decide to go the junk food or healthy eating route, be mindful of food’s effect on your body and adjust as needed. You may feel like you could eat for days, but your body might only be able to handle ginger ale and toast.
Artificial light can trigger migraine pain again, so during a migraine hangover avoid screens as much as possible. Instead of watching TV or catching up on social media while you rest, read, color in an adult coloring book, or complete some other task that doesn’t require a computer, phone, or TV screen.
Protect your light-sensitive eyes in general. Feel free to wear sunglasses inside if that’s what you need.
Now is not the time to start training for a marathon or pick up a new CrossFit regimen, but light exercise is a good way to slowly bring yourself back during a migraine hangover. A walk in the woods, gentle yoga class, or easy swim can be relaxing and rejuvenating. Depending on how long the attack stage was, your body may be sore from lying still for so long. Wake it up gently with slow and measured movement.
Try a complementary therapy
Many migraine sufferers sing the praises of the chiropractor, acupuncturist, and massage therapist during a migraine hangover. These complementary therapies may work to relax and re-set your body’s systems.
Ask for help
While all you want during the attack stage is to be left alone, during a migraine hangover it can be lovely to be spoiled a little while you rest and recover. Ask your partner and kids to take over for one more day while you relax. This is a great time to get familiar with food delivery services in your area, too.
Take it easy
If taking another day off just isn’t a possibility, take it easy as you return to your normal activity. If you head back to work, try to break up periods of intense concentration or computer use with moments of closing your eyes and breathing deeply. Learning how to use mindfulness meditation can help here for both pain and stress.
If you are at home with kids or taking care of your family, try to prioritize on your first few days back. You may be tempted to leap up out of bed and start cleaning or tackling household chores, but returning to your stressful daily routine could send you right back to bed. Does the house really need its spring cleaning the day after a migraine? Can the yardwork wait just 24 more hours, or can you work in the flowerbeds instead of trimming the hedges? Ease, rather than dive, back into your regular day.
You may be tempted to make up for lost time after migraine pain is over, but a migraine hangover is no time for extreme socializing. Choose your activities wisely, focusing on the things that are important and cannot be re-scheduled.
This may be difficult for people who have chronic migraine pain and feel like they are constantly letting people down. It is important to remember that too much activity during a migraine hangover can trigger another migraine, which can lead to more downtime and more cancelled activities. Your friends and family will understand and want you to feel better. Keep the lines of communication open, and don’t push yourself.
What are your favorite ways to get through a migraine hangover?