Headaches can be frustrating, popping up when you're tense, stressed, dehydrated or otherwise unbalanced. It's easy to blame them on the obvious culprits: a late night, a skipped meal or an insane work schedule. But some of your healthiest habits could be to blame for that recent headache, too. Here are five good-for-you habits that can be a real pain in the head.
1. Catching Up On Sleep
Lounging in bed until well after the sun rises—especially if you usually get up early—may help you catch up on some much needed sleep. However, alternating high-stress days with stress-free "veg" sessions can trigger changes in the amount of stress hormones in your bloodstream. As these hormone levels change, your blood vessels constrict (narrow) and dilate (widen), which can trigger a headache—especially if the shift is sudden.
Sleeping in is always going to be tempting, but shifting a bit of your weekday workload to a weekend or another "off" day can help even out stress levels, preventing headaches in the process. Don't punish yourself after a long workweek by staying up late and then sleeping until noon. Instead, try to spread your workload throughout the week. If you need to grab some extra shuteye, try a short nap instead of a marathon sleep session.
2. Kicking Caffeine
Research about caffeine withdrawal has found that headache symptoms were among the most common effects of giving up the stimulant. That's no surprise to anyone who has ever tried to kick their morning coffee habit or to ignore the urge to grab a caffeinated soda after lunch.
If you're determined to go cold turkey, be prepared to face a few headaches. This withdrawal symptom tends to hit the hardest 12 to 24 hours after you stop consuming caffeine, peaking in intensity approximately one to two days after you quit, and typically subsiding after two to nine days.
Of course, the greater your daily consumption of caffeine used to be, the more severe the headache symptoms will be when you quit. If you want to avoid headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal, decrease your intake slowly, allowing your body to gradually adjust.
3. Drinking a Glass of Wine
Recent studies have touted the benefits of drinking one glass of wine each day, but if you're prone to migraines, red wine may be hurting more than it's helping by triggering these painful episodes. Red wine—and foods such as aged cheese, smoked fish and even some beans—contains a substance called tyramine that can trigger migraines.
If you want to prevent headaches, but not the benefits of light alcohol consumption, experiment with different drinks, such as white wine instead of red, to see which ones, if any, trigger your symptoms. Also note that most health experts agree on one thing regarding alcohol and health: If you don't already drink, you shouldn't start. There are many other habits that promote heart health that don't involve consuming alcohol.
4. Packing Your LunchWhile brown bagging is great for your wallet—and can help you avoid empty calories, sodium and fat from fast food havens—the lunch meat in your sandwich may contain nitrates, another migraine trigger. Check labels for this ingredient as you shop, and search for "nitrate-free" versions of sliced meats, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and other processed meats. Ready to experiment? Try a soy-based meat replacement or craft your sandwich from fresh roasted turkey or chicken—not the packaged deli slices.
5. Hitting the Gym
Regular exercise can help prevent chronic illness, boost your mood and lengthen your lifespan, among a host of other benefits. But while consistent sweat sessions are great for you, they can also trigger head pain if you've increased your workout intensity quickly, worked very intensely or become dehydrated. Overall, regular exercise has been shown to help diminish recurrent headaches, so don't limit your trips to the gym. Instead, keep an eye on your fluid intake, especially when increasing the length or intensity of your sessions.
Headaches are a nuisance to some and a truly debilitating health conditions for others. Treatment can take time, because many of the successful prevention strategies rely on careful trial and error. If your headaches are migraines, dietary triggers may be a key, whereas other types of headaches may be more likely to be triggered by dehydration, tension and other habits. Not sure? If headaches persist, be sure to speak with your physician.