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Saunas and Migraine Relief: How Sauna Sessions Can Help

by Max
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Saunas and Migraine Relief - How Sauna Sessions Can Help

For those who know them best, there is almost nothing more annoying and unsettling than a migraine. Migraine headaches come about in people in several different ways and can affect people at varying levels of strength. But the one point of similarity between all people who experience migraines is that they all hurt quite badly. There is a world of home remedies floating around today that claim to bring about migraine relief but today we’re going to talk about one of the best real natural remedies available that you can use to ease the pain of your migraine. That natural remedy (of course) is using a sauna! There is a wealth of info that shows spending time in the sauna can actually lead to relief from headache pain and on top of the science, there are more than a few reasons why you may want to spend time in a sauna either way! Let’s get into the ways that saunas can help you get some relief from heavy migraine pain.

First, a Note on Migraines

Unfortunately, there is no real ‘cure’ for migraines. The scientific community isn’t even close to saying specifically what causes migraines let alone what can cure them. If you are currently dealing with migraines that are serious enough to interfere with your well-being, talk to your doctor and see what options are available to you. While some people can easily find relief from their symptoms in a sauna, there’s no guarantee that sauna therapy is the right way to attack a migraine, especially if your symptoms are uniquely strong. But with all of that out of the way, let’s learn about the ways that spending time in the sauna could lead to some relief from your headache pain.

How Saunas Can Help with Migraines

There are several reasons that spending time in the sauna can help get you closer to the migraine relief you’re looking for. Let’s get into the main reasons here.

How saunas can help with migraines

Saunas Promote Good Blood Flow

You may not associate headaches all that closely with blood flow but the two are actually quite closely related. One of the main reasons scientists believe that we get headaches or more specifically migraines has to do with changes or insufficient blood flow to key areas of the brain. So the logic goes, then, that if you can up or simply normalize your blood flow to your brain, you may find some relief from your headache symptoms. This is actually why cardiovascular exercise is regularly listed as a migraine relief trick. While aerobic exercise is one good way to get your blood flow into a better state, saunas are another!

Several key processes kick off the moment that you step into a hot sauna. The first and most essential is that your body’s nervous system picks up on the extreme heat in the room around you and instructs your body to get to work keeping you cool. Increased blood flow actually isn’t one of the processes that strictly keeps you cool. But rather, your blood flow increases because of all of the new work your body is taking on. While sweating may seem completely unconscious, it takes a lot of effort and connected signals to get your sweat receptors to start releasing at the right time!

As you spend more and more time in the sauna during your session, your heart rate will maintain a healthy new higher average compared to when you’re just sitting in a normal environment. That increased heart rate will let more blood flow through the veins and pathways surrounding your cerebral mass of blood pathways. Therefore, if the root of your migraine is poor blood flow to the key centers in your brain, you may just find some high-quality relief by spending time in the sauna.

Saunas Help Release Dopamine

While the pain of migraines is indeed very real, the thing that makes that pain even more real is the amount of focus that we put on it. It’s not our choice, of course, to be distracted by a migraine, it’s worth knowing that more minor migraines without auras can sometimes be countered by bursts of dopamine or other positive shocks to your nervous system like adrenaline. Today let’s talk specifically about dopamine because without even knowing it, spending time in the sauna is a great, natural, and repeatable way to engage your dopamine receptors. And just this simple action could be enough to give a bit of relief from your migraine symptoms.

The reason that saunas engage your dopamine receptors has to do with what happens when your body successfully doesn’t overheat from spending time in the sauna. It’s true, every time that your body successfully doesn’t fall into the 95 degrees Celsius of the sauna, that’s considered a major success for the body. After your nervous system alerts the brain that the body risks getting too hot, the brain gives the rest of the body clear instructions as to what each system must do in order to keep the body cool and prepared to last the session. While there are near infinite processes that happen at this moment, the most important is engaging your sweat glands and creating heat shock proteins which help keep your body cool. This is a huge understatement of the milliad of tasks the body takes on during a trip to the sauna but all that’s important for the explanation here is that your body is indeed working very hard. And all of that hard work doesn’t go without reward: after your body returns to the normal resting temperature outside the sauna, the nervous system and the brain agree to release a small amount of dopamine which reinforces those processes for the next time you use the sauna.

This small release of dopamine may indeed be small but it is more than enough to affect someone’s mood. This is why saunas are regularly called a mood aid. Small chemical changes in the brain have often been paired with headache and migraine aid namely with caffeine and dopamine. This means that by simply spending time in the sauna (and not getting overheated!) you will be engaging your dopamine release system and prepping your body for a good release of the classic feel-good chemical. For some of us, this may be more than enough to lead to some ease from migraine symptoms.

The Dry Air in a Sauna Can Help with Migraine Relief

There are several people, this writer included, who suffer from migraines and find relief in the driest places possible. Especially if your migraine is induced by smog or other kinds of strong smells, there is a good chance that the purity and dryness of the air in a sauna can help you get some good and earned relief from your migraine.

Taking conscious deep breaths of the air in a sauna could be more than enough to help clear up the worst of your migraine symptoms if they came about from strong chemical odors in your area. On top of this, those deep breaths will come about naturally in the sauna, as the body manually slows down our breathing speed a bit when we start getting hot and sweaty in the sauna. That slowing of breathing paired with our already altered blood flow is more than enough to help some of those with migraine symptoms all the same.

Saunas Can Reduce Tensions Headache Symptoms

While there is relatively little research about saunas and migraines, there is an exciting study that shows that spending time in the sauna habitually over an extended period of time can lead to long-term relief for people who suffer from chronic tension headaches. The study worked with patients who suffered from tension headaches for more than 15 days each month. This is perhaps even more intense and frequent than those who suffer from occasional headaches.

Tension headaches are specifically headaches that are both classically painful but also are paired with a physical sensation of pressure or tension usually on the front of the head or behind the eyes. It is more than possible for a migraine to be a tension headache as well, for example.

The study first found subjects who fit the description of suffering from serious chronic tension headaches and then instructed them to take habitual (three to four) sessions in a traditional wood-burning sauna for a month. After a month, functionally a month spent in sauna therapy, a majority of the subjects reported a reduction in their headache frequency as well as the strength of their symptoms. Of course, those who were already seeking medical treatment for their headaches continued their regular traditional medical procedures at the same time as the sauna therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions on Saunas and Migraines

Migraines are a complex and involved problem, so it’s more than natural to have some questions after learning about all of the relief you can find in the sauna. Let’s get into the biggest and most common questions about saunas and migraines here:

How Long Should I Spend in the Sauna for Migraine Relief?

There is no universal number of minutes that person needs to spend in the sauna in order to bring about migraine relief. This both has to do with the difference in size of the people of the world as well as the wide differences between all kinds of migraines in the world today. One person’s migraines could feel entirely different or come about in ways fully different from someone else. With this in mind, there is luckily no hard and fast rule as to how long you must spend in the sauna in order to bring out some migraine relief.

A good indicator that your body is working hard in the sauna and that most of the benefits relating to your migraine are on their way is sweat. Once your body starts getting sweaty, this means that your body is fully engaged and working hard.

But at the same time, don’t think that you can just stay in the sauna until your migraine clears up. There are several reasons that spending too long in the sauna can be dangerous for people at the peak of their health, let alone people suffering from migraines. Never spend more than 20 minutes in the sauna per session without taking a break for rehydrating. Especially for those suffering from a migraine, it is essential that you keep your water level up. So, consider bringing a bottle of water into the sauna with you if you feel like you may get too dehydrated.

How Do I Know if the Sauna is Helping My Migraine?

Depending on the person, relief from migraine symptoms can either be instantaneous or take a rather long time to fully come out. The first thing you may notice when it comes to migraine relief is that if you are feeling a pulsing sensation in your head during the peak of your symptoms, that will likely be the first symptoms to clear up. This is because your blood flow will make some major adjustments as soon as your body starts adjusting to the sauna, as we explained above. But when it comes to the relief related to dopamine relief, this very likely won’t manifest in your body until well after you’ve gotten out of the sauna. Your mentality about saunas and migraines ought to be about this: Don’t expect your sauna to evaporate as soon as you step foot into a sauna. Rather, know that saunas are a great way to naturally reduce your symptoms or even lead to long-term relief if you make your sauna use a real habit.

What Type of Sauna is Best for Migraines?

Because there are so many kinds of migraines that come about for many many kinds of reasons, there is no way to choose one sauna over another as the ‘best’ for migraine relief. But instead, let’s talk about some of the most common triggers and relief connections for migraines and which, then, are most likely to tie to your relief.

We talked above about the dry air of the sauna being good for the lungs and even tied to migraine relief but this is, of course, not true for all of the world. There are actually several types of migraines that are triggered by excessively dry air, for example. Even worse, there are even migraines that are directly triggered by heat, unfortunately. So, if you are a person whose migraines are triggered or made worse through exposure to dry air, consider trying a steam room to find your relief. And for those with the opposite trigger, that being humidity, expect to find more pure relief in a traditional wood-burning sauna.

Something else to consider when it comes to types of saunas and migraine relief is that there are likely many people who would prefer to use an infrared sauna rather than a wood-burning sauna or a steam room. This is because many people today depend on public sauna facilities. What’s one thing you can’t avoid in a public sauna, noise! Noise is one of the biggest and most annoying triggers for migraines and excessive noise can be especially hard to deal with for those already in the middle of a migraine. And because infrared saunas are made for one person, you can likely take on a new level of tranquility during your session that you’ll appreciate all the more in the middle of a migraine.

Can I Use the Sauna with Migraine Medication like Excedrin?

Many people who deal with migraines use over-the-counter medication like Excedrin to help with their symptoms. And luckily, there is no risk of taking a sauna while taking Excedrin or other migraine relief medication of the same class. One of the key ingredients in migraine relief medication, however, is caffeine. So this means that if you are using migraine medication in the sauna, you will have to be especially vigilant of your water intake. This is because caffeine actually speeds up our dehydration.

Conclusions on Migraines and the Sauna

Migraines and the medical mystery of the century and those who suffer from them can often feel alone and without relief because of the number of questions out in the world and the very few answers to match them. We can then all take respite knowing that one certainty related to migraine relief is that spending time in the sauna, especially on a habitual level, can easily lead to a reduction of your most painful symptoms. But like any other reason for using the sauna, using the sauna with a migraine requires its own special attention. Be sure that you are always fully hydrated and that you are ultra-aware of your comfort level. There is no shame in leaving the sauna a bit early if you feel overwhelmed.  In the same way that no two people’s migraines are the same, no two people’s relief will be the same either. But the only way to learn whether or not the sauna can make a difference for your own migraine symptoms is to take a trip to your local sauna for yourself and find out!

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