Can Cramming For a Test Give You a Headache?

Find why you might get a headache from studying.

If you’re getting ready for that big exam by cramming the entire textbook into one night of studying, be forewarned: A headache may be in your future.

First off, it’s true that college students are vulnerable to headaches. In a self-reported study of more than 300 university students in Brazil, the headache prevalence was 87%, mostly tension-type and migraine headaches1

Second, everyone’s headache triggers are different. But there are a few known headache and migraine triggers that might come up when studying for the big test.

For instance, long-term use of a computer or reading for long periods can cause eyestrain. Moreover, in some people, a symptom of eyestrain is headaches.

Stress over making the grade — and pulling consecutive all-nighters to do so — doesn’t help either. Stress is a known trigger of tension headaches and migraines. In fact, in recent research of more than 5,000 participants (presented at the 4th European Headache and Migraine Trust International Congress), it was found that an increase in stress was directly correlated with an increase of headaches, and that these effects were higher in younger age groups. 2

Additionally, lack of sleep can trigger headaches and migraines in some people. And the two together — stress and irregular sleep patterns — can really impact your head pain. One small observational study of chronic tension headache and migraine sufferers found that two consecutive days of either high stress or low sleep were “strongly predictive” of a headache. 3

Avoiding Triggers

There are some tips that can help students survive the semester with fewer headaches. Take frequent study breaks to reduce eyestrain, find a comfortable chair to reduce neck and back pain that may lead to tension headaches, and get plenty of rest.

Show References

Hide References

1. Souza-e-Silva HR, Rocha-Filho PA. Headaches and academic performance in university students: a cross-sectional study. Headache. 2011 Nov-Dec;51(10):1493-502.

2. Schramm et al.: EHMTI-0143. The association between stress and headache: a longitudinal population-based study. The Journal of Headache and Pain 2014 15(Suppl 1):F23.

3. Houle et al.: Stress and Sleep Duration Predict Headache Severity in Chronic Headache Sufferers. Pain. 2012 Dec; 153(12): 2432–2440.



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