First, a quick primer on migraine hangovers
A migraine hangover is known in the medical community as a migraine postdrome. Migraines have four distinct stages, each with their own symptoms, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS):
- Prodrome: This is the initial stage of a migraine, and it can happen up to 24 hours before the headache hits. It can cause symptoms like food cravings, mood swings, uncontrollable yawning, fluid retention, and peeing more than usual.
- Aura: During this phase, you may see flashing or bright lights, or what looks like heat waves. You may also have muscle weakness or the feeling that you’re being touched or grabbed.
- Headache: Also known as the “attack,” this is the portion of a migraine that gets the most attention. It usually starts gradually and builds. Worth noting: Not everyone with a migraine will have a headache.
- Postdrome: This is the migraine hangover part. During this phase, you may feel confused or exhausted for up to a day.
What does a migraine hangover feel like?
Everyone experiences migraine hangovers differently, says Medhat Mikhael, MD, pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. “People may feel a little fatigued or like they want to sleep,” he says. “Some people will feel the opposite—more hyper because they’re glad the migraine headache is gone. But most will feel fatigue.”
- Kiran Rajneesh, MD, neurologist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center
- Medhat Mikhael, MD, Medhat Mikhael, MD, is a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center.
- Pengfei Zhang, MD, Pengfei Zhang, MD, is an assistant professor of neurology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
How to care for yourself during a migraine hangover
This is a little tricky. “Most of the medication we use for migraine is not incredibly effective for postdrome or non-headache pain symptoms,” says Pengfei Zhang, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Taking care of migraine pain “is our endpoint in the clinical setting,” Zhang says. Meaning, once your headache pain is gone, doctors consider treatment a success.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about the final phase of a migraine, however. Kiran F Rajneesh, MD, director of the Neurological Pain Division at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says there are several ways potentially make yourself as comfortable as possible during this period.
“Drink plenty of water and electrolytes,” Dr. Rajneesh says. To which, Dr. Mikhael adds that this can help the brain to recover function faster.
“Yoga, biofeedback and light exercise can help by releasing endogenous endorphins,” Dr. Rajneesh says.
Tension is common during a migraine hangover, according to Dr. Mikhael says. “Light stretching and hydration are important to relieve body aches,” he says.
Eat small meals
This can help replenish your energy and lower the risk of nausea, Dr. Mikhael says.
Try to avoid bright lights
This, along with avoiding loud noises, can help you take it easy when you may already feel overstimulated, Dr. Rajneesh says.
Nap if you can
Dr. Mikhael acknowledges that napping may not be possible if you have to go to work or have a busy schedule.. “If you can rest, taking a 20- or 30-minute nap will make a huge difference in how you feel,” he says.
Ultimately, it’s best to do what feels good for you when it comes to a migraine hangover—and migraines as a whole. “Some people don’t have a postdrome,” Dr. Zhang says. “Other people have it last a day. Everyone is different.” If you fall into the latter category, Dr. Rajneesh says, “It’s important to pace yourself and plan your activities accordingly.”
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