Weekend Migraine Attacks Are A Thing, But There Are Ways To Help Prevent Them

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
A woman having a weekend migraine attack with eyes closed while her fingers are placed on the eyes.
Alessandro De Carli EyeEm / Getty Images

I’ve been a migraine sufferer for the past 20 years, and while I’ve noticed some patterns to my migraine attacks (hormone fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and stress are my top triggers), the timing of them seems to be all over the freaking map.

Recently, though, my husband observed something interesting. He realized that I did the bulk of my complaining about migraine attacks on the weekends. Like, we’d finally get some sleep, destress some, and them — BOOM — I’d get hit with a migraine attack.

I realized that he was 100% right. It was like damn migraine was waiting for me to finally be relaxed and happy, and then they’d come to wreck my life. It sucked, and I realized that it was probably a pattern that had been going on for years.

I don’t get migraine attacks every weekend (and I definitely get them at non-weekend times too), but if migraine is going to strike, it’s more likely to hit me then. Ughhh.

After doing a bit of research, I was surprised but reassured to learn that “weekend migraine” is totally a thing and a common way that migraine presents for lots of folks out there.

According to the National Headache Foundation, weekend headaches are often caused by changes in sleep patterns, as many of us tend to get a bit more sleep on the weekends (moms of little ones, you’ll get there someday soon, I promise). They recommend trying to keep your sleep schedule consistent throughout the week, including on the weekends — which means not sleeping later than usual on those precious weekend mornings.

Damn, that sounds hard, right? And it’s kinda tricky because you’re supposed to make sure you get enough sleep to prevent migraine in the first place, but for many of us, sleeping in on the weekends is the only way to make up for lost sleep! SIGH.

Another trigger might be that heavy caffeine drinkers tend to consume somewhat less caffeine on the weekends, and this may also contribute to headaches, especially if you go from drinking, like, three strong cups of coffee a day to zero on the weekends. Talk about caffeine withdrawal crash.

“If a person normally consumes large amounts of caffeine-containing substances during the week, a withdrawal or rebound headache may occur on weekends or holidays if similar amounts are not consumed,” writes the National Headache Foundation. “The pain producing mechanism of the headache is probably due to the vasodilation of cranial arteries.”

That’s interesting. I guess I better remember to drink all the coffee on the weekends (or just quit coffee altogether, which is NOT going to happen).

But an even more important factor to pay attention to may be your stress levels. As Francisco J. Gomez, MD, shares in Patient Care Online, he sees many patients who work all week at stressful jobs and then get “breakthrough headaches” during the weekend after they’ve finally had a chance to destress and unwind.

Dr. Gomez cites a 2014 study published in Neurology that helps confirm his theory. The study looked at migraine sufferers in their 40s (*shoots up hand*), and asked them to record their triggers and symptoms in a migraine diary. The researchers found that migraine attacks tended to occur soon after the sufferers felt themselves destressing from their weeks.

So if a sufferer noted that their stress was starting to decrease on a particular evening, they would go on to have migraine symptoms within 6–18 hours after that.

Mind absolutely blown. It’s like they’re describing my life.

A fun bit of nerdy biology here too. According to the study researchers, the theory is that higher levels of stress during a work week cause your body to manufacture natural glucocorticoids (steroid hormones) and that when your stress level drops, so do your glucocorticoids levels. This drop may be what leads to “let-down migraine,” which are similar to what happens when people withdraw from steroids. Who knew?

All of this is to say, yes, weekend migraine attacks are a real thing. And let’s not forget that migraine symptoms in general can be totally crippling and awful. I think so many people fail to realize that migraine is more than “just a headache” and involves all of our body systems. Attacks can be truly incapacitating.

However, it looks like there are a few things we can do to stop the weekend onset of migraine:

1. Keep our sleep schedules consistent.

2. Keep our coffee consumption consistent.

3. Take care to even out our stress levels so things don’t come crashing down for us during the weekend.

Some of these are easier said than done (honestly, only No. 2 feels easy!). But our well-being and happiness are just as important as anything else, so it’s worth it to make these changes in whatever way we can.

I have spent the last few weekends working on these things, and I think it’s helping. I had my normal PMS migraine attack this past weekend, but I made sure not to sleep in too late and tried my best to keep my stress levels at a manageable place during the week. So that monthly migraine wasn’t nearly as bad as it usually is.

I’ll take what I can get. I think most of all, it’s just really helpful to become more mindful of what your triggers are and to learn that there are actionable steps you can take toward wellness. You deserve it.

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