How Social Distancing Amid COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Migraine Patients


Migraine sufferers reported worsened symptoms during social distancing, which may be attributed to reduced sleep quality and physical activity.


Social distancing practices aimed at minimizing COVID-19 spread amid the pandemic appeared to reduce sleep quality and physical activity in many individuals, leading to worse migraines, according to new research.

The observational study in Italy included 261 migraine sufferers with or without aura who practiced social distancing as a result of stay-at-home orders from March through May 2020. The results were published in the April edition of Nutrients.

The participants’ physical activity (PA) levels and intake frequency of main Italian foods were tracked, and the investigators used the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) questionnaire to measure participants’ sleep quality. 

Twenty-eight percent of participants reported that their migraines worsened during social distancing, whereas 33% said their headaches improved and 39% said their headache frequency was “stable.”

Overall, patients’ physical activity significantly decreased during social distancing, driven by the reported decrease in median walking minutes per week (METs). Simultaneously, time spent at the computer significantly increased in patients reporting headache worsening and in those reporting stable headache frequency. However, computer screen time did not significantly increase among patients reporting an improvement in their headaches.

Social distancing was associated with poor sleep quality as well, according to the findings. The investigators reported an increase in ISI scores in those reporting headaches worsening and stable headache, whereas patients indicating an improvement in their headache only reported slightly increased scores of initial and intermediate insomnia.

Notably, the reduction of physical activity was associated with poor sleep quality. “This correlation was already reported in the general population, imputed to multiple physiological and psychological factors,” the investigators wrote.

The study participants also reported a major increase in the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes, and cereal, as well as an increase in consumptions of sweets, across all subgroups. 

Overall, the investigators recommended exercise training and treatment for sleep disorders, “particularly in low pain threshold and frequent mood disordered migraines.”


1. Di Stefano V, Ornello R, et al. Social distancing in chronic migraine during the COVID-19 outbreak: Results from a multicenter observational study. Nutrients. April 19, 2021.doi:10.3390/nu13041361.

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