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10 Tips for Better Sleep After Brain Injury

Service member sleeps on bed
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. R.J. Biermann

Does it really matter if you get enough sleep? Yes! It may matter even more if you’re recovering from a brain injury as sleep disturbances are common. This makes it harder for those with a TBI to get the quantity and quality of sleep they need.

Any brain injury — mild to severe — can lead to changes in sleep. These changes can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. Deepening depression and anxiety, increased irritability, lack of energy, problems remembering things and a drop in one’s sense of well-being are some effects of troubled sleep.

Making simple changes to your behavior and environment — sleep schedule, bedtime habits, daily lifestyle choices — can resolve some sleep problems. Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center’s tip sheet, “TBI Symptom Management: Healthy Sleep,” offers these practical tips:

1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine prior to bedtime – Having these stimulants too close to bedtime may keep you awake at night. So, avoid them within three hours of turning in.

2. Keep a regular sleep schedule – Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Try to stick to this routine even on the weekends. Eventually, your body will get into a rhythm and expect to awake and sleep at certain times.

3. Exercise early – Exercising regularly has a variety of health benefits, including promoting better quality sleep. Avoid vigorous exercise three hours before bed.

4. Follow a relaxing bedtime routine – Do you have a bedtime ritual? You may find it easier to fall asleep if you make an effort to relax and unwind before bed. For example, take a warm bath or shower, practice relaxation exercises like meditation or yoga, listen to calming music or do some light reading.

5. Make your bedroom a comfortable place to rest – Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Remove distractions, loud noise and bright lighting. Keep your room cool, and play soft music if that helps you to sleep. Also, if your mattress and pillows aren’t comfortable, it may be time to purchase new bedding.

6. Use the bed to sleep, not work – Your bed may be a comfortable place to eat, watch TV and work, but try to find other areas outside your bedroom for these activities. By using your bed only for sleep, you’re strengthening the connection between your bed and sleeping.

7. Go to bed only when you’re sleepy – You don’t want to stay in bed for long periods of time while awake. If you don’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired enough to sleep.

8. Avoid naps – While napping is often a great way to recharge, afternoon napping may make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you’re tired during the day, go for a walk or do some gentle exercise. If you can’t help it, take a nap but keep it short.

9. Take prescribed sleep medications as instructed and at the same time every night.

10. Don’t take over-the-counter medications or supplements without first talking to your doctor.

Try the tips in the “TBI Symptom Management: Healthy Sleep” fact sheet for good first steps toward better sleep. But, if your sleep problems continue or get worse, talk with your doctor. Got a healthy sleep tip of your own you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments.

Earlier this month, we shared tips to improve your memory. Check it out.

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