Hacking Holiday Headaches - Cerebrum Health Centers
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Hacking Holiday Headaches

Hacking Holiday Headaches

Holiday Headaches

‘Tis the Season for Stress Headaches

When you think of the holiday season, a few things come to mind: coffee, fireplaces, celebrations, family, food, and much more. While all of the above are wonderful parts of this time of year, they can also be stressors that eventually turn into headaches – or worse, migraines. In preparation, let’s try to take everything in moderation, keeping in mind the common headache triggers and knowing when to take a break from situations you can’t control.

Everything in Moderation

Unfortunately, the common triggers of stress and headaches include the fun (and sometimes mandatory) parts of the holidays. With some knowledge of how and why they may lead to headaches, you can set proper boundaries for a happy and healthy holiday.


There are several things likely at play when it comes to alcohol-induced headaches or migraines. One of those could be alcohol byproducts known as congeners, which are linked to headaches and often found in darker-colored alcohols. Wine, brandy, and whiskey are among those likely to contain more congeners. Histamine is also found in alcohol – sound kind of familiar? Probably because you have heard of “antihistamines” before, which are taken to reduce inflammation. This chemical, however, increases inflammation and is also found in the body, so when alcohol urges the immune system to create more of this chemical, it causes even more inflammation throughout the body. Thus, a headache develops.

Headaches can occur within 30 minutes to 3 hours of drinking, in which a person could only have had a glass or two before their head starts to hurt. It’s also possible that such a headache may not show up until after one’s blood alcohol level returns to normal (usually the next morning), causing a delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH). For the holidays, just know yourself and your limits, and ultimately, you can’t go wrong with the in-moderation rule. A 5-ounce glass of wine should be fine every now and then; just keep testing yourself, especially if you’re prone to migraines already. Try drinking a glass with a meal, and definitely don’t drink if you’re stressed.


The most common type of stress-induced headaches are known as tension headaches, which 80 percent of adults in the US deal with from time to time. There is no single cause, though people are often stressed from work, school, finances, family, friends, or relationships. These headaches can also be triggered from a single stressful event, like those common during the holidays. Having family crammed in the house, cooking all day, and managing schedules around the holidays – all of this can create a constant tension headache or several episodic ones. During this time of year, try to take a minute to yourself, and focus on you. Whether that means taking a bath, stepping into the other room during a stressful encounter, or taking a nap, make sure you’re doing what you can to keep yourself healthy and able to enjoy the festivities.

Caffeine (holiday coffees)

There’s been a lot of different views on whether caffeine can create or treat headaches. What’s great is that it’s not terrible for you – again, the moderation rule comes into play. We all know this time of year is full of seasonal coffee drinks like the infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte, so we’re probably all hyped up on our favorite brews. Keep in mind, however, that while caffeine can reduce inflammation and help relieve a tension headache, too much of it can make you dependent. So, rather than caffeine being bad for you, it’s mostly when you stop drinking it that it becomes bad. Caffeine narrows the blood vessels surrounding the brain, so when it isn’t being consumed, the vessels expand again, causing pain – or, headaches. Pace out your caffeine intake, and to combat the aftereffects, drink plenty of water. You can never go wrong with water.


This is what we meant when we said sometimes “mandatory” holiday stressors. You can’t always avoid travel, more specifically, air travel. It’s pretty simple; as the barometric pressure that surrounds you begins to drop, there becomes less oxygen available. Sometimes, you may even find that your ears pop, and you’ll actually feel the pressure closing in on your temples. Eventually, you adjust, but it can be the onset of a headache if you don’t drink plenty of water or get enough sleep the night before. Prepare for flights – especially long ones – by getting plenty of sleep, eating enough, and drinking a lot of H2O.

Lack of sleep

I think we all kind of know this on our own, as we feel it often when we don’t get enough sleep. Our minds aren’t as alert, and we feel sluggish and achy. Our heads gradually feel more pain, and then we’re in full-fledged headache mode. Coffee helps, as we mentioned before, but one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to get enough sleep every night. Just like water, we need sleep to sustain us and keep us functioning. You see, the deepest stages of our sleep cycles are necessary for producing enough serotonin and dopamine, both of which are known as the “feel good” neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers both depend on getting adequate sleep.

Our Holiday Wish for You

At Cerebrum Health Centers, we want you prioritize yourself for your family’s sake, by getting enough sleep this holiday season – even with the traveling, cooking, and entertaining.