Can Circadian Dysregulation Exacerbate Migraines?

Jason C. Ong*, Hannah L. Taylor, Margaret Park, Helen J. Burgess, Rina S. Fox, Sarah Snyder, Jeanetta C. Rains, Colin A. Espie, James K. Wyatt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Objective: This observational pilot study examined objective circadian phase and sleep timing in chronic migraine (CM) and healthy controls (HC) and the impact of circadian factors on migraine frequency and severity. Background: Sleep disturbance has been identified as a risk factor in the development and maintenance of CM but the biological mechanisms linking sleep and migraine remain largely theoretical. Methods: Twenty women with CM and 20 age-matched HC completed a protocol that included a 7 day sleep assessment at home using wrist actigraphy followed by a circadian phase assessment using salivary melatonin. We compared CM vs HC on sleep parameters and circadian factors. Subsequently, we examined associations between dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO), the midpoint of the sleep episode, and the phase angle (time from DLMO to sleep midpoint) with the number of migraine days per month and the migraine disability assessment scale (MIDAS). Results: CM and HC did not differ on measures of sleep or circadian phase. Within the CM group, more frequent migraine days per month was significantly correlated with DLMO (r =.49, P =.039) and later sleep episode (r =.47, P =.037). In addition, a greater phase angle (ie, circadian misalignment) was significantly correlated with more severe migraine-related disability (r =.48, P =.042). These relationships remained significant after adjusting for total sleep time. Conclusions: This pilot study revealed that circadian misalignment and delayed sleep timing are associated with higher migraine frequency and severity, which was not better accounted for by the amount of sleep. These findings support the plausibility and need for further investigation of a circadian pathway in the development and maintenance of chronic headaches. Specifically, circadian misalignment and delayed sleep timing could serve as an exacerbating factor in chronic migraines when combined with biological predispositions or environmental factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1040-1051
Number of pages12
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018


  • circadian rhythms
  • migraine
  • sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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