While typically healthier than people in many other age groups, college students often battle headaches and migraines that are caused by stress, intense studying, lack of sleep, and other issues.
Although the occasional headache can be relatively harmless, intense episodes or persistent pains can interfere with day-to-day life. Certain headache disorders can be debilitating, to the point where some students need to seek immediate medical attention or collect long-term disability benefits.
Whether you’re looking to fight off the occasional mild headache or combat painful migraines, here are 10 tips for college students who suffer from headaches and migraines.
1. Reduce the strain on your eyes
Many headaches are caused by students putting too much strain on their eyes. This can be the result of poor lighting, blinding glares, excessively bright colors, or computer vision syndrome (CVS)—a condition caused when people stare at computer screens, tablets, or phones for extended periods.
Optimize your workspaces so that they put minimal strain on your eyes. Rather than working in the dark, turn on a few lights or remove the shutters from a few windows. Rather than positioning a bright light directly in front of your eyes, move it slightly out of your field of view.
As your school program already requires you to spend a significant amount of time in front of a computer screen, try to cut back on some of the more unnecessary screen time. Also, remember to take frequent breaks in between tasks!
2. Invest in an ergonomic chair
Bad posture can also be a cause for certain headaches. Unfortunately for college students, they are often required to sit in rigid classroom and library chairs for long periods.
To improve your posture, consider investing in an ergonomic chair for your own personal study time. Not only will an ergonomic chair help you correct some of the minor postural issues that go undetected but it will also provide a greater level of comfort.
3. Monitor your caffeine intake
While caffeine certainly has its benefits—improving memory, increasing alertness, temporarily decreasing fatigue, and even relieving certain headaches—it can also be the cause of headaches when not used in moderation.
When you consume caffeine, the blood vessels surrounding your brain narrow. When you stop consuming caffeine, those same blood vessels expand and put pressure on the surrounding nerves. This can cause what is often referred to as a “withdrawal” headache.
Rather than relying so heavily on caffeine to stay awake and be productive, carefully monitor your caffeine consumption to avoid painful withdrawals.
4. Stay hydrated
For many students, headaches are simply the result of dehydration. Even during simple tasks that involve very little physical activity, your body is constantly losing fluids that need to be replenished.
After a few glasses of water, most dehydration-related headaches are resolved within three hours. While you may choose to drink coffee, tea, soda, and other beverages throughout any given day, be sure to drink plenty of water in between.
5. Maintain a routine
One of the most effective ways to manage stress is to create a daily routine and stick to it. A routine provides you with a complete picture of what needs to be achieved, and subsequently, gives you the confidence to achieve it.
Besides potentially eradicating headaches and migraines, lower stress levels can also improve both your mental and physical health across the board—putting you at lower risk for certain conditions and illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and heart disease.
6. Create a sleep schedule
It’s not unlike university students to study well into the night when completing an assignment or preparing for an exam—forfeiting much-needed rest in pursuit of a good grade.
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation can be the source of headaches and migraines. Not to mention, it can actually have a negative impact on academic performance. Instead, create a sleep schedule that allows you to get 7 – 9 hours of rest at a consistent time each night.
7. Improve your diet
Sticking to a healthy diet can also eliminate certain headaches and migraines. According to one study, 42% of adults reported that eating a vegan diet or removing certain dietary triggers helped with their migraines.
Even if you’re unwilling to adopt a vegan diet at this time, most students can improve their diets significantly by preferring fresh foods—such as fruits and vegetables—to foods that are packed with preservatives and unhealthy sugars.
If you live in an apartment or suite, consider preparing your own healthy meals rather than resorting to takeout and fast food. If you’re on your college’s meal plan, consider selecting the healthiest options that are being offered whenever possible.
A healthy diet also requires you to refuel at the right times. Avoid the temptation of skipping meals when you’re studying for a test or using conventional meal times to catch up on sleep.
8. Exercise often
For students whose headaches and migraines are related to stress or lack of sleep, physical activity can often be the solution.
Exercise not only improves blood and oxygen circulation throughout the body, including the brain, but it also allows individuals to fall asleep more easily at night. Additionally, physical activity causes the body to release endorphins—hormones that are known to relieve both pain and stress.
9. Make your school aware of your condition
If your experience with headaches or migraines has become a legitimate disability, it’s wise to make your college or university aware by filing disability accommodation paperwork.
Although not required, it might also be worth discussing your condition with your professors directly. If severe, debilitating pain ever causes you to miss a lecture or assignment, a professor might be more understanding than if he or she had no knowledge of your disability.
10. Reevaluate your workload
Particularly for those who are working jobs while attending college, headaches and migraines can be the result of extreme stress.
Consider whether or not your heavy course load is contributing to your condition. There’s no shame in curbing the amount of work you take on each semester. In fact, doing so could even improve your academic performance.