Migraine Triggers and How You Can Avoid Them

A woman closes her eyes in pain and holds her head, she is suffering from a migraine.

Though some people think of a migraine as just a bad headache, it’s actually a disease with a clinical diagnosis. Marked by changes in your nervous system, a migraine attack is often accompanied by several various symptoms. One of the most common is a headache. Others that frequently accompany a migraine attack are sensitivity to light and smells, nausea, and vomiting.

Migraine Triggers.

Because of the severity of some migraine attacks, they can be extremely debilitating. People who regularly suffer from migraines have school, work, and many other aspects of their lives disturbed. Since attacks are caused by different things, many people who suffer from the disease learn what their specific “triggers” are. Triggers can be things like certain foods, alcohol, or stress. Below are a list of common migraine triggers, and what you can do to manage and hopefully avoid them.


Across multiple studies, stress is consistently tracked as one of the most common triggers or causes of migraines. Stress from work, stress around relationships, or other regular stressors in life can all contribute to migraine attacks. Unfortunately, it’s not just stress from external issues that can be a trigger. Constant stress from the fear of an impending migraine creates a terrible cycle, and therefore causes many people to suffer even more.

Ways to combat stress:

One of the first steps to combat stress can be to acknowledge it. Most people are very busy in their day-to-day lives, and don’t allow themselves a chance to relax and reflect. If you are someone who frequently suffers from migraine attacks, it’s possible or even likely that stress is one cause. To start, try taking 5-10 minutes per day to do some deep breathing exercises, giving your brain and nervous system a break. Other activities you can incorporate into your routine to combat stress include yoga, meditation, and regular physical exercise. If you feel like stress is negatively impacting your life and you’re unable to relieve it, speak to a doctor. They can help you figure out the best way to manage your symptoms and stress.


Many people have discovered that certain foods act as migraine triggers. There are also foods that tend to be common triggers among migraine sufferers. Some of these most frequently shared dietary triggers include MSG, artificial sweeteners, cured meats, aged cheeses, and chocolate. Another dietary consideration is that many people note skipping a meal can also act as a trigger.

Ways to combat dietary migraine triggers:

Keep a food journal. In it, you can track each meal, as well as when you experience a migraine attack. This way, you can hopefully pinpoint certain foods that may be a migraine trigger for you. Other ways to combat dietary migraine triggers are to eliminate the most common from your diet altogether. Generally, eating a well-balanced diet and eating on a regular schedule will lessen your chance of a migraine attack.

Caffeine and Alcohol.

Caffeine and alcohol are both common triggers for migraine sufferers. In part, this is because they are both diuretics, meaning they can make you dehydrated (another common trigger). In the case of alcohol, up to one third of migraine sufferers report that it can cause an attack. That said, many people who suffer from migraines can drink moderate amounts of alcohol without being affected. Caffeine is a bit more complicated. Though some people list it as a common trigger, it can also prevent migraine symptoms. Some headache medications even include caffeine as a key ingredient.

Ways to lessen caffeine and alcohol triggers:

With both caffeine and alcohol, tracking your personal reactions is key. It could be that you do not tolerate either, in which case you should eliminate them from your diet. If you find that you can consume moderate amounts, or that caffeine actually helps you, that’s valuable information. In either case, make sure that you drink plenty of water along with both caffeine or alcohol. Though the actual drinks may not affect you, being dehydrated could also act as a migraine trigger.

Poor sleep habits.

Irregular or poor sleep habits are another common migraine trigger. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your health. It is closely tied to immunity and is responsible for restoring many aspects of your body each night. As well as your physical body, it is also tied to your emotional health and mental wellbeing. Because sleep is so important to the healthy functioning of your body, a lack can create many negative side effects. For migraine sufferers, one of these side effects can be a migraine attack.

Ways to improve your sleep habits:

Decide on a regular sleep and wake up time that gives you an adequate number of hours of sleep per night. Stick to the same schedule each day, so that your body grows accustomed to your sleep patterns. At least 30 minutes before you go to bed each night, ditch your electronics and dim the lights. It’s great to spend this time reading, meditating, or doing another relaxing activity. During your waking hours, make sure to get some exercise and exposure to daylight. Both habits help ensure a great sleep. Avoiding coffee after 12pm and limiting your overall alcohol intake are also great ways to get a good sleep. Many people rely on alcohol to facilitate sleep, but it will actually disrupt your proper sleep cycles.

Sensitivity to light.

Another very common characteristic in migraine sufferers is a sensitivity to light. This can include the light from a computer screen, fluorescent lights, or even sunlight. Light sensitivity as a migraine trigger is actually one of the symptoms used to diagnose migraine disease.

How to avoid sensitivity to light:

Since light is all around us in various forms, it can be very difficult to avoid this trigger. Some people are able to find relief from computer screen light by wearing specialized therapeutic  glasses. If you’re sensitive to sunlight, you can also try wearing sunglasses whenever possible.

The bottom line.

Migraine attacks can be very debilitating and can greatly interfere with day-to-day life. If you are having trouble pinpointing your triggers, or avoiding migraines, help is available. Speak to your doctor or healthcare professional to see how best to manage your symptoms and live with less migraine pain.

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