Triggers for migraine

Various triggers are known to set off migraine:

  • missing meals
  • altered sleep patterns — too little sleep or sleeping in on weekends, long distance travel, shiftwork
  • bright lights and loud noise
  • alcohol, chocolate and certain cheeses (although most migraine sufferers can eat what they like)
  • strenuous exercise in someone who isn’t accustomed to it (although regular exercise may help prevent migraine attacks)
  • relaxation after stress, especially at weekends or on holidays
  • menstruation.

(Adapted from BASH, 2010)

Altered sleep patterns

Both too much and too little sleep may trigger attacks; a common time for migraine is Saturday morning when you adjust from a weekday to weekend routine. If this appears to be a problem for you, it’s a good idea set the alarm on the weekend for the same time as during the week.

Foods that can trigger a migraine

A food is classed as a trigger when:

  • a migraine develops within 6 hours of consuming a particular food or drink
  • the effect can be reproduced (although not necessarily on all occasions)
  • withdrawal of the food or drink leads to improvement in migraines.

Common triggers include chocolate, cheese, wine and citrus fruits, and food additives, such as flavour enhancers used in Asian or processed foods. However, food triggers for migraine are much less common than was previously thought and there is no reason to routinely avoid all cheeses and chocolate. The strongest dietary trigger is missing meals, so migraine sufferers should avoid skipping breakfast and try to have three regular meals a day.

Keep a headache diary

Keeping a headache diary can help to identify food and other triggers. However, many migraine attacks will have no obvious triggers.

Find out more 

Read more about the treatment of migraine, including medicine and non-medicine treatments.

  • British Association for the Study of Headache. Guidelines for all health professionals in the diagnosis and management of migraine, tension-type-type headache, cluster headache and medication overuse headache. Hull: BASH, 2010. (accessed 13 December 2011)