Managing Winter Migraines

Winter migraines characterised by seasonal weather changes can cause migraines to be experienced more frequently. Read which migraine triggers to watch out for and what treatments are available to help with migraine management and prevention.

Updated: Wednesday 24 April 2024

triggering of migraines

Migraines can be triggered by many different factors such as stress, tiredness, diet, sensory stimuli (such as certain sounds and visual cues), physical exertion and hormonal changes.

Working out exactly what is triggering your migraine can be a difficult challenge - it often takes time to narrow down what is setting them off.

If you’ve just recently been experiencing migraines, it’s important to think about what has changed in your day-to-day life that might act as a possible trigger. Two common migraine triggers to be aware of are the weather and environmental changes. Now that we’re deep into winter and the colder, dryer weather is in full effect, it’s essential to see if the frequency of your migraines has increased.

In this article, we provide a detailed overview of how the environmental conditions of the winter months can trigger migraine symptoms and how you can most effectively treat and prevent them.

What is it about the winter season that causes migraines?

Winter officially starts on the 21st December and ends on the 20th March. Winter is categorised by a stark change in weather and environmental conditions. In the UK, winter tends to bring much colder weather along with frequent rain. One revealing study that investigated the impact of seasonal weather on migraines reported that 43% of their sample cited seasonal changes as a key trigger; with 7% emphasising the role of winter as a direct trigger[1].

The winter season typically has a higher barometric pressure (essentially the weight of the air) due to the colder, denser air. Fluctuations and changes in barometric pressure are believed to influence electrical and chemical activity in the brain, which has been a suggested cause for an increased onset of migraines[2]. These fluctuations can change subtly or dramatically which can lead to the onset of a migraine. Furthermore, the winter months typically have dryer air, caused by low humidity. Dry air is also another recognised cause of migraines and headaches.

Furthermore, due to low humidity levels, winter months tend to have dryer air - another recognised cause of migraines and headaches.

What are other common winter migraine triggers?

In addition to weather changes, the impact of the winter season on our daily lives can also contribute to migraines. These include:


Dehydration is one of the most well known causes of migraines. Dryer air and an increased indoor heating temperature can lead to more frequent dehydration, so therefore it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Reduced physical activity

It’s widely reported that the colder, darker, and often more adverse weather conditions of winter can have a negative impact on our motivation to exercise, especially if this is usually done outdoors (e.g. running, walking or cycling).

High stress and poor sleep quality are two key migraine triggers that can normally be mitigated with regular, moderate exercise.

While exercise itself can have a positive effect on migraine frequency, it’s important not to exercise too strenuously as this could potentially result in an onset of exercise-induced migraines[3].

Shorter Days

The reduction of sunlight levels due to less daylight hours can also trigger migraines in several ways.

During the winter, reduced light intensity and daylight duration can increase the likelihood of Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D plays the important role of keeping our bones, teeth and muscles healthy, and is naturally acquired through absorption from sunlight by the skin. Research has linked Vitamin D deficiency with an increased onset of migraines and headaches. Ensuring sufficient Vitamin D supplementation through a healthy diet and specialised Vitamin D supplements may help to prevent the increased onset of migraines.

Additionally, the shorter days can shift our inner body clocks, known as our circadian rhythms, meaning our sleeping patterns can change. This could result in change of our sleeping patterns, potentially leading to oversleeping, not getting enough sleep, or just generally sleeping poorly - all of which are common migraine triggers.

Finally, the reduction in sunlight that occurs in winter can sometimes lead to a drop in serotonin levels, which has been known to trigger migraines.

Colds & The Flu

Winter months often see spikes in the spread of the common cold and the flu. The symptoms caused by these two respiratory viruses can sometimes trigger an onset of a migraine. This is known as a secondary migraine - whereby the migraine is a symptom of another health condition.

One common symptom of viral infections like colds and the flu is having blocked sinuses. This often leads to inflammation and the build up of pressure in the sinuses - both of which can trigger migraines.

What strategies can I use to cope with winter migraines?

Winter migraine symptoms can occur in different combinations and range from mild to severe, which is why it’s important to try each strategy to see which works best for you. You can read our 'Migraines: Everything you need to know' guide for an in depth explanation of symptoms and causes.

Common coping strategies consist of:

  • Try sleeping or lying down in a dark room. The intensity of migraines can be made worse by light and noise, so removing these stimuli can help to minimise discomfort until it passes.
  • Taking over the counter pain relief such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen may offer effective relief from headaches and discomfort caused by migraines.
  • For more severe migraines, highly effective prescription treatments called Triptans (such as Sumatriptan, Imigran and Rizatriptan) can provide powerful, fast-acting relief

When it comes to managing migraines in the winter, it’s important to be aware of the seasonal triggers, especially if your frequency or intensity of migraines has changed since the turn of the winter season. Be sure to try prevention strategies and a range of effective treatments to help with migraine management.

If you have any questions about migraines or treatment options, you can contact our expert pharmacy team.

Amber Mitchell-Hanna

Written by: Amber Mitchell-Hanna

Pharmica Medical Writer

Amber is an experienced writer and content specialist, graduating from De Montfort University with an LLB & an MA in Investigative Journalism.

She particularly enjoys creating informative health content, debunking medical misconceptions, and championing inclusion and diversity.

Find out more about how we ensure the accuracy of our content with our content guidelines.

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