Understanding Headaches and Their Causes

July 4, 2017

There’s nothing more distracting than a throbbing head, especially when you’re dancing. Headaches can happen to anyone at any time, and while they’re often treatable with over-the-counter remedies and some rest, it’s important to know their common causes. Dance Spirit spoke with Rosalind Gendreau, RN, BSN, and director of Health Services at Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA, for tips on treating and preventing headaches before they prevent you from dancing.

Common Cause #1: Dehydration

If you start to feel a headache develop around the middle of rehearsal, check your water bottle to see how much (or how little) you’ve been drinking. “Dehydration headaches are very common,” says Gendreau, and frequently occur during rigorous workouts when you don’t replace the fluids you’re sweating out.

Solution: Simply rehydrating your body can help relieve the headache. But don’t overcompensate—

drinking too much water can cause cramping, especially if you start dancing immediately.

Common Cause #2: Erratic Eating Patterns

Headaches are often directly related to diet. If you didn’t have enough time to eat a solid meal before an intense evening of rehearsal, your body is running on empty. “Your blood-glucose levels dip and spike as a result,” Gendreau says. If the first thing you eat is something sugary, your body will use the sugars quickly, and you’ll end up crashing.

Solution: Make sure to keep some healthy snacks—like almonds, string cheese, baby carrots and hummus, or a banana and peanut butter—handy, and drink lots of water.

Common Cause #3: Lack of Sleep

“The National Sleep Foundation recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night for teenagers,” Gendreau says. “In addition to causing headaches, sleep deprivation can cause mood swings, difficulty concentrating and decreased coordination.”

Solution: “Make an effort to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day,” Gendreau says. “1 to 2 hours before bedtime, limit your screen time so your brain can settle, and reach for a book, not your phone, if you’re having trouble falling asleep.”

Common Cause #4: Stress

Between school and dance, you’ve probably got a lot on your plate. But, according to Gendreau, “worrying about too many things at once can trigger a headache, especially in the temples. These are known as tension headaches.”

Solution: Try to relax! “Take a walk, listen to music or meditate,” Gendreau suggests.

Pro Tip:
Migraines are a specific kind of severe headache that are often triggered by something external. They require a diagnosis and medical attention. If you experience one-sided headaches (meaning that the pressure is only on one side of your head) accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise, it’s best to see a doctor.