Are Writers More Likely to Get Migraines?

Lately on Twitter I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about their migraine headaches. I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately too. Today it dawned on me…these people are all writers. Every one of them.

Is this a coincidence, or are creative people more likely to get migraines?

I’ve been getting migraines since I was a little kid. They happened the most frequently when I was in middle school, I think. Several times I had to go home from school. Other times I endured until the end of the day, feeling every bump on the school bus shatter my mind, until I could stagger to my room, close the blinds, and try to sleep while my mother covered my forehead with her hand (when I think of the great acts of my mother, that is number one on the list).

I used to think that sunlight caused the headaches. Later I realized it was combinations of various factors like too much sodium, too little sleep, not enough protein, irregular meals, and dehydration that caused the migraines. I closely monitor those factors now to prevent the headaches from happening regularly, but they still occur on occasion. Lately they have been a problem.

But is there a connection to writers? Are migraines more likely to occur in creative minds? Or in some warped way, do migraines cause creativity?

I will say this: One of the most profound epiphanies I’ve ever had came during one of my worst migraines. It was during my second summer in Hiroshima in high school, and my host family decided to drive up to the mountains to have tea and take a hike. I couldn’t say no to the trip, but as we drove, my headache got worse and worse until I dreaded every bend in the road.

It was then that I started to experience what I can only describe as an opening of my mind, an outpouring of thoughts. Maybe it was caused by the headache, maybe by the lush green surroundings; whatever the cause, my mind opened up in a way that I had never experienced.

This is going to sound crazy, but as I was driven through the mountains, my mind figured out the meaning of life. It was not 42. It was much more complicated than that. I let go of my mind–I stopped trying to control my thoughts, and I just let them wander, as they seemed to want to find the answer to the question of why we are here.

When we reached our destination, I came to my senses. My headache was completely gone. It was the weirdest feeling. I felt like a new man.

When I got home that night, I wrote down everything. Unfortunately, those papers are long gone, so I have no great enlightenment to share with you today. It had something to do from making mistakes, learning from them, sharing them with others…and then something big that followed that process that really gave meaning to life. Oh well.

It just makes me wonder the sheer amount of brilliance you could generate if you induced headaches among a dozen people and had them meditate in a room for an hour. I bet the readings on that room would be really weird.

What do you fellow writers think? Do you get migraines? How do they affect your life? I know many of you have them way worse than I do.


35 Responses to “Are Writers More Likely to Get Migraines?”

  1. I don’t get migraines, though my mother suffers from them. However, I have suffered from insomnia through most of my life, which I can imagine is linked to creativity, as indeed, I do wake up in the middle of the night with epiphanies that end up in my writing. Sometimes if an idea won’t let go of me, I get up in the wee hours and sit down at the computer, or with my journal, and start writing it all down. After a night of insomnia, I do sometimes have headaches from the lack of sleep, but they don’t rise to near the level I’ve heard described by people who suffer from migraines.

    I sympathize with anyone who gets migraines. The pain sounds awful. Still, I had to laugh when I read this line of yours: “Unfortunately, those papers are long gone, so I have no great enlightenment to share with you today.” Ha-ha on me, and here I thought I was going to discover the meaning of life while reading a blog post in the middle of the night – as we computer-age insomniacs often do. Guess I’m stuck just living life, instead of figuring it out, which is probably where you were heading with all that anyway.

    However, if you have another meaning-of-life migraine, please post. I’ll be waiting up.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I’m sorry I forgot the meaning of life! You’d think I’d remember something like that…but no.

      Insomnia sounds really rough too. I wish there were a “good” insomnia–one where you don’t need to sleep as much and can get more work done. Does it ever feel like that? Or are you always/often tired?

      • It’s not so much that I’m always tired. I’m usually full of energy. However, I’ve had dark circles under my eyes since I was a little girl, and I do feel the frustration of not getting that delicious feeling of satisfaction from a full night’s sleep. I’ve experienced it only often enough to know what I’m missing. Sometimes a little meditation or hypnosis before bed can help. Maybe I’ll try that tonight…

    • Jasmin says:

      I’m a light sleeper who occasionally have insomnia. Anything can wake me in the middle of the night and I can’t fall back to sleep. I went to my doctor to find what can help me sleep better. He suggested a supplement called Melatonin because he thought that I might be lacking it. Melatonin is a hormone that the brain naturally produces to signal sleep. I tried it and it works! 3mg is too much for me since I get drowsy the next day. I take half the pill almost every night. I don’t want my body to stop making the melatonin.

      I also found out recently that the temperature of one’s bedroom can have an effect on one’s sleep. I have a heater in my room and layers of blankets on my bed. These few additional in my life enable me to sleep like a log. Not even an earthquake can wake me! Well, it probably can and should, but you know what I mean. It hurts me to wake up in cold mornings and the rest of the house is not as warm and comfortable as my bedroom.

      Hope this helps, Cara. Sweet dreams tonight!

      • This is what I love about the Internet. Sometimes I find potential answers to problems when I wasn’t even trying. I’ll mention this to my doctor. In the meantime, I’ll ask my husband if we can experiment with the temperature. Thanks, Jasmin. Sleep tight!

  2. Adam says:

    Does that guy in the picture look like Tiger Woods or is that just me?

  3. Harley says:

    That’s really interesting, Jamey. I hate you get migraines. My husband gets them frequently but it’s still no cake walk. I’ve never thought of the correlation between migraines and creativity. It’s got me thinking, Mr. Stegmaier. Great post. Thanks.

  4. Jasmin says:

    I was really hoping the meaning of life is 42. It’s such a nice even number. I never have migraines before and hopefully never will. I had headaches and I usually give myself a head massage during those painful moments. So maybe a head self massage can help.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAdGQSd6nFQ

    Or you can train Biddy to massage your head like this cat massaging the other cat’s stomach.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKKQH9bNI8w&feature=related

    Hope you feel better. 🙂

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Someone else asked about 42. Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, that’s the number that was calculated as the meaning of life in the novel A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

      • Jasmin says:

        You remembered it correctly. The meaning of life is 42, according to that novel. I have only seen the movie and the book is as thick as the Bible. Someday I will read the book before watching the movie.

  5. Ariel says:

    While there is an interesting correlation between psychological disorders and genius, the difference in underlying mechanisms would lead me to hypothesize that the same does not hold true for migraines.
    First, the link between creativity or genius and mental instability most often materializes in the form of a mood disorder (see the wikipedia stub: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creativity_and_mental_illness or consider such examples as Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Percy Shelley). Great scientists are also often known for their eccentric, sometimes incorrectly labeled “autistic” behavior. Certainly the cause of these behaviors is not known, but current theories include improper or abnormal wiring of neuronal connections or changes in the balance of genes during development.
    Migraines, like epilepsy, result from an increase in abnormal electrical activity. Although a recent paper suggests that familial forms of migraines may be errors in sensory processing (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17141570) the point is these are MECHANICAL problems rather than developmental. It is therefore unlikely that what goes wrong in a migraine would predispose a person to become a writer. However, I should concede that many patients – yourself included – refer to stress, in particular eye stress, as a trigger for a migraine. It is possible that of the subset of individuals who are predisposed to migraines, writers spend more time hunched over paper or computer and therefore INDUCE migraines more frequently – skewing the results.

    (see, I told you I tend to ramble)

    • Lori says:

      Well put Ariel! My hunch matches your hypothesis, but I didn’t have the evidence to back it up. Thanks for bringing on the science 🙂

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Hm, that’s an excellent hypothesis. Thanks for all the scientific backing to your answer. So it’s possible that writers are more likely to feel stressed and then more likely to get migraines.

      Personally, I haven’t known actual writing to cause migraines. But I tend to be a fairly anxious person (not necessarily stressed, but anxious), so maybe that fits into this theory. Thanks!

  6. Lori says:

    Three quick thoughts:

    1) I think many people, writers and non-writers, creatives and non-creatives alike, in social forums on the internet (Twitter, Facebook, blogs on the NYTimes) talk about migraines to sympathize with fellow suffers. It’s good to know you’re not alone, and it’s useful to trade possible remedies. The correlation you’ve spotted in your own network between writers and migraine suffers is likely due to the fact that your network has a high percentage of writers that make up the mix.

    2) In terms of creative inspiration, inducing headaches brings new meaning to “suffering for your art.” I’d be more inclined to try mind-altering substances. Probably a better experience all around: for the art and the artist. 😉

    3) I suffer from migraines, though I recently discovered my main trigger and remedied most of my problems. I sympathize completely.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      1. I definitely hear you about sympathizing on Twitter. I know it’s a very specific sample. I’m just a little surprised that among all the people I follow on Twitter, the writers are the ones who always have the headaches.

      2. You’re probably right. I once tried to have a beer on an empty stomach in a musky bar Montpelier, France with the intention of writing something brilliant and literary. Instead I ended up with a headache from all the cigarette smoke around me.

      3. If you don’t mind sharing, what is your trigger? It could enlighten some of the writers who read this blog, not to mention me.

      • Lori says:

        Hopefully YOU don’t mind me sharing 🙂

        My trigger and solution only applies to female suffers: I found a near-exact correlation between my birth control (the pill) and migraines. I’d get a migraine every Monday during my placebo week; it happened three months in a row. My doctor’s best theory was my body was going through hormone withdraw. She offered the solution to find other forms of birth control with lower doses of hormones, but I personally opted to stop taking the pill altogether. Two months later (it takes a while for the pill’s hormones to work their way out of your system): no more hormone-related migraines.

        Serious lack of sleep or hunger will still trigger one for me, so I’m not totally off the hook. In fact, I rang in 2010 with a migraine. Awesome.

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          Hopefully that’s not a sign of the decade being one long headache for you :). I’m glad you found the source of your migraines.

  7. Mercedes says:

    Also, writers are a chatty bunch and we discuss things that other people might deem too private.

    A high percentage of writers commit suicide. And a high percentage of migraine sufferers commit suicide. Maybe writers are knocking themselves off because of migraines!

    Or not.

  8. Hi – I would like to say thanks for an interesting site about a subject I have had an interest in for a while now. I have been lurking and reading the posts avidly so just wanted to express my thanks for providing me with some very good reading material. I look forward to more, and taking a more proactive part in the discussions here, whilst picking up some knowledge too!!

  9. jyoti says:

    Strange I came across this post when I had a mind to write one this myself. Heh I am not sure if writers suffer from Migraines more often than non-writers, but I am a writer and I can say that mine started when I decided I had to a be a writer because nothing else will let me be. It’s been close to four years, and my headaches are moody. Sometimes they don’t come for months and sometimes they don’t leave for months. In fact, I just visited a doc regarding scalp pain in the crown area. He tells me it happens when your migraines don’t happen. I may have to live with it. Apparently, it’s nothing to worry about. I’d say I agree because I know what Migraines are. So scalp pain any day!

  10. Sean S. says:

    Not sure but I think I may have the reverse of what is being talked about in your blog. I write, invent and am in may ways very creative. When I start doing these activities my head is fine. However, after about half an hour or so my ideas are coming at a great rate and I start getting a headache. I can work for about another half to full hour and the headache gets so bad I cant think straight and have to take a nap. I haven’t tried meds as I try to avoid such things.

    Sean

  11. I have always thought my migraines were a by-product of my creativity. I didn’t begin getting them until I was fifteen and that was right after I wrote my first ‘book’. That was fifty years ago and I still have them some 80 published novels later. Both my sons have them as well as both my grandson and granddaughter. All four are creative writers. Yes, this is a definite correlation between migraine and creativity in my household.

  12. stkmw02 says:

    I just googled “migraines and writing” because I currently have a terrible migraine but woke from sleep following a dream that I had to record with as much detail as possible. I chavent been able to read or type because this migraine somehow eliminated the word portion of my thought process so my head is working solely with pictures (I would explain if it mattered) and I typed the entirety of the Dream as well as this comment without looking at my phone. My eyes are closed. Right now. I don’t see the keyboard in my head or any of the words. It’s like they are literally spilling out of my thumb on the text pad of my phone and I can’t explain it. I thought no my migraine was compounded by my insomnia because it was two am when I woke. There has to be some connection here because this migraine which is approaching one week in length feels like it is literally rearranging my thoughts and processing in my brain. My senses are heightened and I feel like I’m going crazy. Im thinking that’s how I can type this way because I gave a hypersensitivity to where I am even with my eyes closed. Like I can feel every hair on my head and so moving my thumb from muscle memory I guess. I hope you still check this blog because I’ll want to coherently discuss this when I recover.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      A one-week migraine sounds incredibly burdensome–I hope you’re doing okay. It’s interesting to hear that your brain was working via images instead of words, though.

  13. Susanne Varga says:

    Yes, am writer and artist – sensitive to sound/music and smells too. Tend to cross-fertilize between wide-ranging subjects. Have a friend to appreciates all the above, but does not ‘create’ -nor puts ideas from different areas together creatively, neither makes leaps across subject areas – though he has the intellectual capacity to deal with subtleties and complexities. My son is more like myself, also more emotionally sensitive/deeply affected, has a brain that ‘churns’, goes rapidly through thoughts, makes leaps across – and is more prone to headaches and migraines. Over-stimulation/excitement may trigger the ttension of headaches, and emotional loading of thought, and the inflammatory process that causes migraine.

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