What does headache hygiene really mean?

To practice good headache hygiene means to take care of yourself in a manner that will help lessen the severity intensity and frequency of your headaches.  In order to do this properly, you have to understand the connection between lifestyle and headache.  

Your lifestyle

Your lifestyle probably affects how many headaches you have, and how frequent they are much more than you realize.  Many of the lifestyle changes that are part of good headache hygiene will not only benefit you with regard to your headaches, but also will boost your general health and quality of life.

Make sure to read the list below carefully, evaluating whether you currently adhere to these standards.  If you do not, it’s time to make some changes. 

  • Stay well-hydrated, making sure to drink plenty of water.
  • Make sure to exercise at least three times a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes each time. Walking is a great way to get your exercise.
  • Ensure that your sleep patterns are regular. This entails going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, including on weekends. 
  • Do not skip meals, and make sure that you take your meals at the same time daily. Take the time to eat a healthy breakfast.
  • Work to reduce your life’s stress level. Do whatever you can to reduce and eliminate stressors in your life, and change your approach to dealing with the sources of stress that are unavoidable.  Work on staying calm.
  • Avoid anything that you know to be a headache trigger for you.
  • If you have been prescribed medication for your headaches, ensure that you maintain the treatment plan exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

What to avoid: headache triggers

Different people have different headache triggers.  While some headache sufferers have very few triggers, others have several. 

There are a wide variety of possible triggers out there, and they fall into a large number of different categories.  Below is a list of some of the most common categories, and examples of each:

  • Stress triggers: Disagreements with loved ones, problems at work, exams, assignment deadlines
  • Dietary: Specific food and drink items (examples include aged cheese and red wine), and skipping meals
  • Sleep: Inconsistent sleep and waking times, sleep deprivation, oversleeping
  • Physical: Injuries, such as head injury, and over-exertion (such as might happen when exercising in very hot conditions.
  • Stress letdown: This can occur when you have been doing something intensely, and then suddenly stop. This happens to some people when on vacation, and on weekends. 
  • Hormonal: For women, changes in the level of estrogen (for example, during menstruation).
  • Environmental: For example, exposure to certain odors (like perfumes), bright lights, and changes in weather (http://www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/assets/1/7/Headache_Hygiene.pdf).

Headache diary

If you are at a loss as to how you can figure out what your headache triggers are, here is a tip: keep a headache diary.  Every time you have a headache, record it, and take time to figure out what you were eating and doing before the headache occurred.  Take a close look at the list of trigger types we listed above when doing so (http://www.achenet.org/resources/headache_hygiene__what_is_it).