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Why daylight saving time can give you a headache and how to avoid it

The time change can trigger migraines and cluster headaches.
/ Source: TODAY

Add a headache to the list of potential health problems you may experience as daylight saving time starts.

Americans spring forward at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 10, setting clocks ahead one hour and losing one hour of sleep in what’s become a controversial annual tradition.

“Be aware you may get a migraine or headache attack the next day,” Dr. Fred Cohen, a headache specialist and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, tells

“Anything that disturbs the sleep pattern could instigate a headache.”

Anyone can be affected, not just people who regularly get headaches or migraines, Cohen says.

It can happen in November, too, when Americans fall back one hour and slumber longer because that’s a change in sleep pattern as well, he adds.

But the transition is particularly tough on human health in the spring: People face a greater risk of heart attack and stroke in the days after losing one hour of sleep. They can experience mood disturbances.

There are also more fatal car accidents, medical errors and hospital admissions, studies show.

Why you can get a headache with daylight saving time

Changes to the sleep cycle are a headache trigger for many people, Cohen says, including himself.

It has to do with the role of sleep in reducing inflammation. When we’re going about our day thinking and feeling, our body uses messenger molecules called neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, he explains.

“When they’re used, it’s like spent fuel — there’s a waste product. This waste is inflammatory and the body doesn’t like it, so when you sleep, the body cleans itself up. That’s what the brain is doing — it’s cleaning itself up,” Cohen says.

“If that gets changed, those waste products could remain, hence inflammation,” which can lead to headaches and migraines, he notes.

Seasonal changes, particularly in the spring, can also trigger cluster headaches, described as “bouts of extreme, stabbing pain” around the eye and temple at the same time every day, according to the Association of Migraine Disorders.

It happens because the changing amount of daylight can reset our biological clocks, affecting everything from hormone levels to body temperature, and these irregular circadian rhythms are linked to cluster headaches, it notes.

March 21 marks Cluster Headache Awareness Day because most sufferers experience a “reactivation” of attacks during the seasonal shift in the spring as well as in the fall, the International Headache Society notes.

Because cluster headaches can appear in the spring, they can be mistaken for allergies or sinusitis. They’re considered “one of the most painful things humans can experience,” Cohen says.

How to avoid a time change headache

Adjust your sleep accordingly to maintain your regular routine. If you normally sleep seven hours a night, make sure you still get that amount when the time change comes, Cohen advises.

Since the start of daylight saving time means waking up one hour early, go to bed one hour early until you adjust. Get good quality sleep and don’t let the spring forward transition disturb your sleep pattern.

“No one is immune to a headache,” Cohen says. “For good headache health, you need good sleep health.”