Festive Season Headaches

Mince pies and mulled wine aren’t the only festive season staples. At this time of year, many of us also battle with more headaches than usual. Here’s why, and what you can do about them.

Alcohol + dehydration

At the time of year, a packed social calendar usually means drinking more alcohol but also being less diligent with our water intake. Dehydration plays a significant part in fatigue and loss of cognitive function, but even mild dehydration can cause headaches too. Experts believe that when you’re lacking in water, your brain contracts, causing it to pull away from your skull, an action which puts pressure on your nerves. Drinking plenty of water can slow down the dehydrating effect of alcohol and gives your liver more time to metabolise its effect on your body. Dehydration is also a common trigger for migraines, so if you are prone to them, it’s important to keep your intake of fluids up. To ward off dehydration, aim to drink water in and around your festive drinks and make sure you drink a big glass before bed and on waking too.

Changing sleep habits

Having a couple of drinks at your Christmas party can have a knock-on effect on your sleep for several reasons. When you have alcohol in your system you spend less time in the (REM) stage of sleep, the restorative stage which allows you to feel refreshed when you wake; according to one 2011 study, a dearth of REM is linked to painful pressure headaches. Alcohol in your bloodstream also tends to mean you move less in your sleep, causing tension in your scalene muscles which connect your neck to your collarbone and ribs. When these are constricted, headaches can be an unwelcome side effect. If that happens, it’s important to try to loosen them up with a few mobilising actions. Try tilting your head to one side, dropping your ear to your shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds before rotating your head back so that you’re looking at the ceiling. Hold again before bringing your head back round so that you’re looking down at the mid-point of your chest. Hold again and repeat on the other side.

Increased stress

Whether you experience migraines or not, the inevitable increase in stress at this time of year can be a real problem when it comes to headaches. Fluctuating levels of stress hormones cause a quick release of neurotransmitters which send out signals to blood vessels to constrict and then dilate, an action which can cause pain. To avoid this happening, try to maintain a consistent routine when it comes to bedtimes and waking times and schedule in as much relaxation time as possible, whether that involves some meditation, breathwork, exercise or even a nightly bath.