How Your Smartphone Can Trigger Migraines

Is Your Phone Triggering Headaches?

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Are you glued to your smartphone all day or surfing the Internet on your tablet for hours on end in the evening before bedtime?

While you or your loved one are probably already trying to cut back on your screen time, knowing that it may be contributing to your migraines might provide additional motivation.

The Link Between Screen Time and Migraines

According to a study in Cephalalgia, excessive screen time could be one of the culprits behind a person's migraine headaches.

In this study, nearly 5,000 young adults (average age of 20 years) completed surveys reporting screen time exposure (which included exposure to computers, tablets, smartphones, and/or television) along with whether or not they experienced migraine or non-migraine headache symptoms. The survey measured screen time using a six-point scale:

  • No screen time exposure = 0
  • Less than 30 minutes = 1
  • Thirty minutes to two hours = 2
  • Two to four hours = 3
  • Four to eight hours = 4
  • Over eight hours = 5

Results found that as screen time exposure increased, the odds of having a migraine attack increased (mostly migraines without aura, as opposed to migraines with aura). No association was found between screen time exposure and non-migraine headaches.

Excessive Screen Time Exposure Is Linked to More Migraines

It's hard to say what the precise biological link between screen time exposure and migraine development is, as it likely varies for the individual. For some, it could be a more direct relationship. For example, the blue light from a television or phone screen or the brightness or the luminous glow of the light could trigger a migraine.

On the other hand, for others, the link could be more complicated. For instance, screen time may reduce a person's overall migraine threshold, so that exposure to other migraine triggers are more likely to trigger an attack. In other words, screen time may make a person more vulnerable to getting a migraine if they are already prone to them.

It could also be that high screen time exposure creates more opportunity for migraines to occur. In other words, a person watching excessive television may skip meals which could trigger a migraine. Likewise, a person who stays up late to play video games may develop an erratic sleep pattern. Since fasting and sleep deprivation are common migraine triggers, excessive smartphone use or other forms of screen time could indirectly lead to more migraine attacks.

Other potential migraine triggers that may occur as a result of excessive screen time include poor posture, eyestrain, or eating more migraine-triggering foods (we are all probably guilty of eating too much chocolate when sitting in front of the tube).

Stress too is a well-known migraine trigger. Could it be that those of you who are more stressed are more likely to be on their phones or sitting in front of the television? This, of course, is all speculative and a far reach, but it is meant to get your mind thinking about how one action (like excessive screen time) can affect so many aspects of your health, including your migraine health.

Staying off Your Smartphone or Tablet

While research has not yet proven that reducing screen time can reduce or ease migraine attacks, it seems prudent enough to cut back. Of course, this may not be an easy task, but do your best. Consider these strategies to help you reduce your screen time:

  • Schedule a no-tech time in your home, especially at mealtimes and family time.
  • Set a timer on your computer or television.
  • Leave your cell phone in your car at night.
  • Look into a hobby that takes you away from technology like swimming, being out in nature, painting, board games, or going to the library.
  • Consider talking to your doctor about reducing your screen time, especially if it is very high. 

If you do find that your screen time is triggering your migraines, consider digging deeper to find out why, and focus on fixing that. Is it the glow from your computer screen? Do you need an eye exam? Would neck and back stretching breaks help? Are you using screen time as a means of occasional relaxation (which is sensible) or as a means of avoidance?

In the end, reducing your screen time is likely to have a number of other health benefits besides possibly reducing your migraines. For instance, research shows that excessive screen time is linked to obesity, vision problems, a low level of physical activity, attention problems, and hyperactivity.

In the end, cutting back on Internet surfing and video games may not only help your head, but your waistline and eyes too—another incentive to press the "off" button on your smartphone.

A Word From Verywell

Managing or avoiding (if possible) triggers is an essential component in migraine therapy. That being said, avoiding screen time is probably unreasonable for most people. Not only is technology an essential component of daily life functioning, but it also provides comfort and enjoyment for many people.

The take-home message here is moderation. If you find a pattern between high screen time exposure and your migraines, cutting back is a good idea. In fact, you may find that decreasing your screen time not only reduces your migraines but improves your overall quality of life and well-being, as you now have time to engage in other enriching activities.

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