Something a lot of those with brain injuries find, is that they have trouble getting to sleep. I don’t mean the impromptu power naps, I mean when you go to bed expecting to recharge your batteries but it feels like you can’t find the “off” switch.
Why is sleep so important for those who have a brain injury?
When you are tired everything can feel so much more difficult. It can affect your memory, speed of processing and higher cognitive functions, such as decision making just to name a few. Most of these things are challenging enough when you have a brain injury, so a lack of sleep can feel devastating. But perhaps more importantly, the sleep process is even more crucial when your brain is trying to heal.
So we know some quality ZZZZZ’s are good for you, but what can you do to improve your sleep?
- Get into a routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. This should also include weekends where possible, at least initially. You need to retrain your brain and body what shift they are on.
- Have some exercise in the day. Most people want the kids or pets to burn off some energy so they are more restful later, and the same works for all of us. Even if you just go for an afternoon stroll. But avoid the evening or close to bedtime as the adrenaline needs time to wear off.
- Limit your intake of caffeine and sugar. We all know it helps us get going in the morning, but if you have it to late in the evening it stop you from winding down. 4 hours before bed stop having it, or switch to a decaf alternative.
- No alcohol 2 hours before bed. Alcohol is know to disrupt sleep even though we might find we feel sleepier. It can stop us from failing into a deep restful sleep. So keep it to a minimum and if you are going to have a glass it’s best to have it at dinner time.
- Don’t watch TV or eat in bed. Your brain and body have to be trained that the bed is only exclusively for two things, sleep and sex. Once they have accepted this you will find it much easier to wind down when your head hits the pillow.
- Once you’re in bed taking a few minutes to do some mindfulness meditation helps to calm the mind. You can have a guided session on your mp3 player using head phones, or if you are more experienced just meditate in your usual fashion.
- Stop checking your phone when you’re in bed! As well as trying to train yourself that this is when you should be asleep, the blue light emitted from most phones actually over stimulates our brains and puts them into “wake up” mode.
- Avoid checking the time in the night. All that you do is worry more about how much sleep you are or you’re not getting, it doesn’t change anything by knowing the time. It can make you more anxious and stop you from sleeping well.
- If you are struggling to sleep get up. Don’t just lie there getting frustrated as that’s counter intuitive. Go and do something but don’t look at any screens. That means the TV, computer and your phone are out of the question. You can do some tidying up or read a book. Paper is the best but an e-reader that isn’t back lit will suffice. Avoiding the back lit versions reduces the blue light screens emit, but using a regular reading lamp in fine.
- Even if you have got up in the night because you were struggling to sleep still get up at the planned time. Yes you’ll be tired but you have to go through this part. The brain will always find a way to get as much sleep as it needs when it is deprived so you have to be cruel to be kind. It’s tough I know.
- Limit naps. If you nap too much in the day your brain will struggle to switch off at bed time. Naps are important for those with fatigue, but try to limit them to 20 minutes at a time. It’s enough to give you a needed boost without disrupting the routine you’re building.
This is a process a Neuro Psychologist put me through and it worked for me.
She warned me that I would have lapses where I might check the time or get my phone out, but not to beat myself up about it too much. She made me keep a sleep diary where I put down what times I got to bed and got up, as well as estimated periods of being awake. Estimated because I wasn’t allowed to check the time.
And there were times I broke the rules, but the sleep diary proved that the nights where I didn’t follow all the instructions, I slept worse. So that gave me the motivation to follow through properly and I rediscovered a more healthy sleeping pattern.
Since writing this I carried on experimenting, and I found another trick to help me go to sleep which you can read in Fall asleep faster. Tips to give brain injury cold-shoulder.
Sleep in really important, but fatigue isn’t connected to just the lack of it. Read more in Fatigue. Wicked exhaustion backlash after brain injury.