by Elise Morgan

Sleeping after a traumatic brain injury can be problematic. The American Academy of Neurology found as many as 40-65% of people with mild traumatic brain injury struggled with insomnia. Lack of sleep negatively impacts our cognition, mood, and energy levels; unsurprisingly, this can also adversely affect rehabilitation.

Why is Sleep Important?

Sleep plays a major role in physical healing. During active sleep, our brain stem secretes hormones that relax our muscles to prevent twitching. This can play a role in helping muscles to heal. What’s more, during slumber, various hormones and chemicals within our bodies are produced to enhance our immune system responses, repair tissue damage and generally restore our brains and bodies.

Our brain waves also change when we sleep – beginning with a deep slow wave that is accompanied by lowered heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature as well as relaxation of the muscles. This deep slow wave is then followed by REM sleep that involves faster and more active neocortical EEG waves, similar to those observed during waking. We cycle through these stages four or five times, a process that has been shown to improve brain plasticity – the ability to adapt to input.

Tips for getting better sleep this year

Whether you’re suffering from insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness or other sleep disturbances, the good news is that there are steps you can take to improve your sleep. Changes to your routine and environment often make a big difference.

During the day, get at least 20 minutes exercise. People who exercise have less difficulty sleeping as well as less day time sleepiness, including those with TBI. Working out in the morning can improve these benefits.

Wake up and get out of bed at the same time each day. It doesn’t matter if this is 6am or 10am, simply having a fixed wake up time will help to anchor your circadian rhythms and aid in sleeping better at night. Coupling this with 15 – 30 minutes of sunlight when you wake will reinforce your internal body clock and enhance wakefulness throughout the day. If you have dark winters that make it difficult to see the sun, consider using a light box.

Cut napping time to no more than 20 minutes a day. Daytime napping can make it more difficult to sleep at night and disrupt our natural sleep/wake cycles.

At night, try adding a relaxing practice to your bedtime routine. Mindful meditations, bedtime yoga stretches or simply having a mug of warm milk with these white night cookies while you read before bed can help. Certain foods contain natural compounds like tryptophan and melatonin that work to calm your body and help you sleep, while meditative practices have been shown to trigger a relaxation response in our bodies that make it easier to fall and stay asleep.

Keep your bedroom as calm and relaxing to avoid associating it with stress and restless nights. Don’t work or pay bills in your bedroom, keep the TV and electronics out, and minimize noise, extreme temperatures and light.

Sleeping is paramount to our health, and imperative for our healing processes. Making sure you get enough shut-eye can aid rehabilitation and overall wellbeing. A few changes are well worth the effort.

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