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HOLIDAYS CAN REALLY DECK YOUR HEAD

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By the 12th day of Christmas, the holidays brought to me: 12 last-minute errands; 11 chocolate bonbons; 10 squabbling relatives; nine perfume samples; eight cups of coffee; seven strings of blinking tree lights; six ounces of red wine; five hours of sleep; four walnut cheese balls; three whining youngsters; two smoke-filled rooms - and a headache you wouldn't believe.

Dr. Seymour Diamond would believe it. As executive director of the National Headache Foundation, he knows the stress and altered lifestyle patterns of the holidays are prime causes of severe headaches.Diamond recommends shopping early. Failing that, he said: "Practicing relaxation and stretching techniques - such as neck rolls and slow deep breaths - is a good way to release built-up tension."

Altered sleep patterns also play a role in headaches. Late-night parties can mean too little sleep, while time off can woo people into sleeping late - which contributes to headache-causing carbon dioxide buildup in the blood.

For migraine sufferers, the holidays are really a minefield.