If you suffer from occipital neuralgia, you’ll understand how debilitating the condition can be. Attacks can come on quickly and cause intense pain behind the eyes, at the base of the skull, and across the forehead. And anyone with occipital neuralgia will know that trying to sleep during a flare-up isn’t easy.
But thankfully, some strategies can help to manage your symptoms and help you get a better night’s sleep.
What is Occipital Neuralgia And How Does it Affect Sleep?
Around three in every 100,000 people suffer from occipital neuralgia each year. While this might not sound like a lot, if you are one of the unlucky ones, the condition is all too real.
Occipital neuralgia is characterized by sharp, shooting pains over the back of the head, neck, and scalp, which doctors call the occipital head region.
These attacks are often triggered by twisting your neck, turning your head, or pressing against the occipital head region. But even the lightest touch or simple activities, such as brushing your hair, can cause a flare-up. And since occipital neuralgia attacks can be triggered so easily, the condition can make it very hard to sleep at night.
But help is out there. There are several medical treatments and lifestyle changes you can implement to decrease pain and get a better night’s Sleep. After all, Sleep is crucial to our health and well-being, especially if you suffer from a chronic health condition like occipital neuralgia.
So, read on to see what you can do to relieve your symptoms, fall asleep quicker, and stay asleep longer.
9 Tips For Better Sleep with Occipital Neuralgia
Sleep deprivation can make chronic pain from occipital neuralgia worse. So, try these strategies to break the pain cycle and allow your body to rest and recuperate.
1. Work With Your Doctor
Before trying to treat your occipital neuralgia alone, book an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms, confirm your diagnosis, and find a treatment plan that can work for you.
Occipital neuralgia is relatively rare, and the symptoms can mimic those of other conditions, such as chronic migraines.
If your doctor agrees that occipital neuralgia is the cause of your pain, they will be able to suggest the best course of action going forward.
In more severe cases, you may be prescribed an occipital nerve block. This anti-inflammatory steroid is injected into the greater and lesser occipital nerves. Results vary from patient to patient, but in a 2018 study, 95% of people reported a reduction in pain after treatment with an occipital nerve block. The beneficial effects can last for several months.
2. Visit a Chiropractor
Chiropractic care can dramatically reduce the pain of occipital neuralgia, particularly when used over a longer period.
A trained chiropractor will identify areas of tension in the head and neck that may trigger a response in the occipital nerves. After treating these tight muscles with gentle targeted massage or realignment techniques, many patients report a reduction in their pain, leading to a better night’s Sleep.
3. Apply For Topical Pain Relief
Applying a topical pain relief product right before bed can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.
Several natural, over-the-counter, and prescription strength options can help relax your muscles and reduce soreness and pain, including arnica cream, ibuprofen gels, and CBD ointments.
To make the most of these sleep-inducing benefits, apply for topical pain relief around 15 minutes before lying down at night.
4. Harness The Power of Hot And Cold
Occipital neuralgia is often caused by inflammation of the nerves and muscles. Applying cooling gels or pads and following up with a hot compress can help alleviate inflammation and calm your symptoms.
There are several specially designed heating and cooling gels and pads on the market. Still, if you’d prefer not to shell out extra cash, you can use ice packs and a hot water bottle with similar results.
If you have access to a sauna, this can also help to reduce tension and soothe inflammation, especially when used regularly.
5. Try an Elimination Diet
The food we eat can have a huge impact on our overall health and well-being. In recent years, science has discovered that diet can have a surprising effect on many chronic conditions, including occipital neuralgia.
Occipital neuralgia is an inflammatory condition, so eating an anti-inflammation diet can dramatically reduce the severity of symptoms for many people. Yet everyone is different, and finding out which foods trigger inflammation in your body is a careful process.
The most common culprits are dairy, refined carbohydrates, sugar, red meat, and alcohol. But to properly identify any trigger foods, you will need to eliminate these potential inflammatories from your diet before slowly reintroducing one food group at a time to see how your body reacts.
If you don’t want to go to the lengths of a full food elimination diet, you can still make some positive changes. Try cutting your consumption of inflammatory foods and replace them with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, berries, and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel.
6. Avoid Caffeine
Regular consumption of caffeine can have a negative knock-on effect on occipital neuralgia.
Caffeine narrows the blood vessels around the brain. But if you have a dependency and your brain doesn’t receive the caffeine boost it’s used to, those blood vessels can swell. This increases the pressure on your occipital nerves, which can trigger a flare-up.
Plus, don’t forget that caffeine is a stimulant, and consuming it too late in the day can have a detrimental effect on your Sleep. So, if you, like many people, are addicted to your daily cups of joe, it might be time to wean yourself off.
7. Practice Yoga
Occipital neuralgia can cause tight muscles in the neck, which can worsen the symptoms of this condition.
By practicing gentle stretches such as neck pain yoga, you can increase your range of movement, reduce muscle tension, and alleviate pain. Try gentle stretching whenever you feel a twinge. Repeat regularly throughout the day and before bed for the best results.
As well as targeted neck pain yoga, you may also want to try a full body practice that will help to reduce stress and, in turn, help you to sleep better at night.
But before starting a neck pain yoga or full body yoga practice, seek advice from a qualified medical yoga practitioner who can help guide you safely through the process.
8. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Engaging in relaxing activities each night before you hit the sack can make it much easier to fall asleep faster, even when suffering from pain caused by occipital neuralgia. So, create a night-time ritual before lights out to help your body and brain wind down for sleep.
Taking a hot bath is particularly beneficial for people suffering from occipital neuralgia, as the heat from the water can loosen your muscles and alleviate tension.
Other relaxing activities include meditation, aromatherapy, journaling, and reading. These habits can help to quiet a racing mind and set you up for the best night’s sleep possible.
9. Use an Occipital Neuralgia Pillow
There are plenty of short and long-term strategies to help relieve pain and improve the symptoms of occipital neuralgia during waking hours. Still, often, you need a solution once you’re actually in bed.
Many people with this painful condition report increased discomfort while lying down, making it particularly difficult to fall asleep at night.
One solution is a specially designed pillow that provides additional head and neck support, keeping your spine aligned and stable. There are numerous styles on the market, including pillows that contour to the natural curve of your body, for example, with a depression for your head and a raised area for your neck. This provides extra support to your vertebrae and prevents unnecessary movement during the night, which can trigger an occipital neuralgia attack.
Occipital neuralgia is a painful condition that can seriously impact your quality of life. And this is particularly true when the symptoms impede your ability to sleep.
But thankfully, there are several ways to treat the condition and improve your symptoms so you can feel more like yourself again.
Before trying any of the interventions above, speak with your healthcare provider, who can help you to discover the best ways to reduce your pain and help you sleep more comfortably.
For more tips on sleeping with chronic pain, check out our guides to the best sleep positions for neck and shoulder pain.