Why Your Migraines May Be Worse In The Winter

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Those who often experience migraines know that they're much worse than normal headaches. Depending on the severity, a migraine could last anywhere from several hours to a number of days. While each person may have different symptoms, the Cleveland Clinic names nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light, sound, and noise, and pain on one side of the head as the most common. Because of this, this medical condition could impact your daily life in a negative way.


Further, while migraines can develop during any season, some may experience them more frequently during the winter, and if this is the case for you, perhaps you're wondering why. Below, you'll find the root cause of many winter migraines, as well as eight specific reasons why they may worsen during this time of year. However, keep in mind that they're often caused by a number of things and can't be pinpointed to just one cause. To determine which of these things you may be experiencing the most frequently, you could keep a journal of both your routine and symptoms.

The root cause

As you'll discover, there are a number of things that could be worsening your migraines in the winter, but they all boil down to one root cause: changes. Whether that be changes in your routine, diet, patterns, or surroundings, all of these things can cause poorer health. Further, these changes are most likely interconnected; perhaps you eat worse because your routine has changed, or maybe you work out less because the weather is colder. 


Therefore, when treating winter migraines, try to limit the amount of change your body is going through. Because the weather goes through such drastic changes during the winter, this can affect our schedule, but it doesn't have to. If you often work out, fall asleep, see friends, or eat at a certain time, continue to stick to that routine — planning out your day hour by hour could help you stay consistent. However, keep in mind that you may need to make some slight adjustments, such as heading to the gym instead of going for a run outside, since the sun sets much earlier. 

Alcohol or caffeine intake

Around the holidays, many consume more alcohol and caffeine than they normally do throughout the rest of the year. While alcohol is typically for celebration purposes, caffeine may be used to try to increase one's productivity during the dark winter months.  


However, consuming excessive amounts of either alcohol or caffeine (or sometimes less than your normal amount of caffeine) could cause more migraines than normal — as the American Migraine Foundation and the Cleveland Clinic point out, both these beverages are common triggers for migraineurs. Further, even after the holidays, many may still partake in these drinks because the winter can be a tough time, whether because of seasonal depression or a milder case of the blues. Excessive drinking can also come with some negative side effects like dehydration and sleep disturbances that can contribute to migraines as well. Therefore, while you should limit your intake of both these beverages throughout the whole year, this is especially important during the winter.



You've probably heard that exposure to too much light, both artificial and natural, can cause headaches: According to The Migraine Trust, 80% of migraineurs report that they are extra sensitive to light during a migraine. However, while this is true for many, not enough light can also be an issue, too. Because there's less natural light during the winter, many rely more on artificial lights to perform tasks, but if they aren't bright enough, they may cause them to strain their eyes. According to Verywell Health, fluorescent lighting, which is often used in offices and other commercial buildings, is oftentimes insufficient for performing tasks, as it may not be bright enough. Therefore, if you often find yourself straining to read or see something, using a brighter lamp could benefit you. However, you'll need to identify if the issue is too much or too little light, as both of these things could cause problems.


Additionally, string lights are also used more frequently around the holidays, and flashing, twinkling, or extra bright lights could be a migraine trigger. If you discover that this is the case, try to limit your exposure to these decorations; for instance, you could look away when driving through a fully decorated neighborhood. 


Certain smells have been known to trigger migraines. According to the American Headache Society, 95% of those who experience migraines often say that smells either cause or worsen their symptoms. Typical triggers include candles, diffusers, vehicle exhaust, soaps, perfumes, and foods like alcohol, dairy products, and meats. 


Perhaps you're wondering why this would be worsened in the winter, as you could be exposed to these scents year-round. One of the main reasons is the holidays, as around this time, many are exposed to more scents than normal. Special foods are served, more alcohol is consumed, perfumes from family members are in the air, and more scented items like potpourri are used to decorate. Further, because the sun sets much earlier, scented candles may be lit more often during the winter to provide light and to create a cozy atmosphere. If you find that you're struggling with strong scents, try to limit your exposure to common triggers as much as possible. 

Increased use of technology

It's quite common for many to increase their screen time during the winter. Since the weather is darker and colder, many spend less time outside and therefore have more time for their phones or TV screens (via rtor.org). But increased screen time brings with it a number of negative health effects, including an increased propensity for migraines. According to the International Headache Society Global Patient Advocacy Coalition, technology use has been linked to a higher likelihood of migraines caused by the brightness of the screen lighting and flickering imagery. Gazing at screens can also make our eyes strained and tired, another contributing factor. Therefore, rtor.org recommends trying to spend less time on your phone or computer or watching television during the winter. Some ways to accomplish this include replacing your screen activities with a hobby like reading books or pursuing art projects, making sure you're getting in your daily exercise, and planning out your daily schedule, which will help you avoid reaching for your technology out of habit during moments of downtime or boredom. 


Cold weather

There are two ways that the weather can affect those who struggle with migraines: It could directly cause them, or it could create more change that inadvertently causes them. If you often stick to the same schedule even throughout the winter, you may be dealing with the former. Depending on where you live, the weather could be affecting you more than you think. According to a 2004 study published by Headache, some people are sensitive to changes in weather patterns or barometric pressure, which can cause headaches. 


Or, maybe the weather is affecting you inadvertently by ruining your schedule. Perhaps you often go for a jog outside every morning, but the snow, ice, and cold weather are causing you to sleep in longer. The sun setting earlier could also be causing you to neglect your friendships and spend more time alone on technology. If so, try to return to the good habits you often stick to in warmer weather, and don't let the cold become an excuse.

Sleep patterns

No matter what time of year, it's important to get the right amount of sleep. During the winter, as the weather changes, sometimes our routines change as well, which may lead us to sleep either too much or too little. According to a 2016 study published by Medicine, poor sleep quality has been linked to more migraines. 


To combat this, it's obviously important to get the right amount of sleep each night. For most adults, at least seven hours is recommended (via Mayo Clinic), but you should listen to what your body needs and how you typically feel in the morning. You should also try to stick to a sleeping schedule where you fall asleep and wake up around the same time every day, as developing a routine will help you fight off poor health. At the same time, this can sometimes become a vicious cycle where migraines keep you awake and don't allow you to get a good night's rest. If this is the case, be sure to talk to your doctor about ways to ease your pain. 


In the summer, many of us may find it easy to drink enough water throughout the day. This is because, when we feel hot, an icy beverage can make us feel cooler. However, when it's cold outside, some of us may drink less water, which could be causing dehydration and therefore more frequent migraines. According to Everyday Health, there are three things that could be making you more dehydrated in the winter: dry indoor heat, overdressing and then sweating more than you realize, and having less water on hand, since you may not feel as thirsty. 


If this is the case for you, there are two ways you could get yourself to drink more water. The first is choosing to drink either room temperature or hot water instead of always opting for cold. Maybe you often feel the coldest in the morning, in which case you could start your day with a mug of warm water and lemon juice, which some believe can also aid digestion. Another trick you could try is purchasing a water bottle that tracks how much water you need to drink per hour, like the 32-ounce Sursip from Amazon that costs about $16.

More stress

The winter can bring more stress overall, which could be causing your migraines. Perhaps during the holidays you experience more social interaction with family and friends than you normally do, which could be contributing to this. Or, maybe your anxiety is heightened because of all the changes that come with a new year, and you're being too hard on yourself to stick to your resolutions. Another contributing factor may be that you're not getting enough vitamin D from the sun, which has been linked to feeling more anxious or depressed, according to a 2018 study published by the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. 


Because of all this, it's extremely important to take care of yourself during the winter. Get creative and find ways to make your day more enjoyable, whether that be through nature walks in the cool air or through trying out some fun new hobbies. Whatever works to make you feel more relaxed will benefit your health overall.