Brainstorming: How can I get a better night’s sleep?

Colleen Butler Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Colleen Butler, author of “Concussion Recovery: Rebuilding the Injured Brain,” is offering practical advice to help with the recovery from brain injury.1119biac

We hope you find this Q&A helpful, and we look forward to hearing from you. If you have a question or comment, we want to hear from you at colleen@brainnavigators.com.

I have had three concussions in the last eight years. I have not been able to leave the house or take any phone calls before noon, otherwise I am triggered to a near vegetative state. Motion seems to really bother me, even the traffic going over the speed bumps in front of our home bothers me. I sleep a lot and never feel really rested. I am at my wit’s end, do you have any ideas to help? — Eric

Dear Eric,

When you are triggered so easily, it is difficult to heal the brain as your brain is in constant stress and overload. I am not a doctor, but from experience, I can give you some tools that may help you cope with everyday living.

You may well be sleeping a lot as many people with a head injury seldom get into the deep fourth level of sleep, and the stimulus of their environment often triggers a reaction — whether it is from a light source, motion or sound.

When I was recovering, I became tired of being tired, but later I realized why I was always tired. I was easily triggered by the motion of traffic, from inside a building that was located near a busy intersection.

Our body and brain do communicate with us. It is up to us to learn how to read the messages they are sending us. When my head would become full and hurt, I would simple have a little cat nap, allowing the circuits in the brain to have a rest from the stimulation of my environment, kids running around, traffic, bathroom fans, microwaves, washing machines, etc.

An injured brain becomes almost hypersensitive to the environment we experience. The ideal situation is to reduce the stimulus. Limiting the stimulus allows the brain to run more smoothly and let all of the connections have a direct line to each other.

In the perfect world, going camping or going for a long extended trip to the beach where there is no TV, fans, hydro lines, cellphones, etc., is ideal. I am a strong believer from my experience that the closer we can get to nature — thus reducing the stimulation to our brains — the faster the recovery.

In the meantime, try to spend as much time walking in nature away from white noise and traffic. An alternative is to create a room in your home that is well insulated and gives you pleasure. This helps reduce the stimuli, allowing the brain to take a break and heal.

Another trick is the eye mask, not only does the eye mask help you sleep by darkening a room enhancing your melatonin production, it also can reduce the effects of the stimuli you experience in day-to-day living.

Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down that gives you peace and wear the eye mask for 10-15 minutes per hour. You will be the best judge of what you need. Every injury is different, and there is no cookie-cutter recipe that will work for every injury. As you are gaining more ability to function, stretch the time out by 10 minutes at a time until you come to the point of not needing the eye mask.

One supplements you may want to increase is cod liver oil. Cod liver oil helps to reduce the inflammation that occurs when we are stressed, and magnesium helps to calm our body system. Don’t forget to take a digestive enzyme so you are able to absorb the nutrients. I am a strong advocate for building a strong platform for the brain to recuperate, and nutrition is right at the top of the list for a faster recovery.

Try these little suggestions and observe how much easier your life becomes. Sleep, stress and proper nutrition are essential for rebuilding. Remember to be kind to your self and to your caregivers. Having a head injury is hard on the recipient and those who support us.

The Brain Navigator

Recently, I have been feeling the side effects of a concussion. Sleeping is difficult and I feel depressed, however I have never been knocked out? Can you clarify for me please? — Jessica

Hi Jessica,

Actually, people only lose consciousness in fewer than 10 percent of concussions or acquired brain injuries. Any significant impact to the brain — whether caused by a blow to the head, whiplash or other jarring — can cause damage to the brain regardless of whether the person is knocked unconscious.

A lot of athletes suffer from depression and sleep issues that are a result of a concussion and damage to the brain. The jarring of the brain does disrupt the function of the brain. The changes may be so subtle that the individual may not even be aware they have suffered an injury to the brain, as symptoms may reveal themselves immediately or over time.

Symptoms vary from

  • Physical motor skills
  • Emotional and behavioral issues
  • Cognitive (thinking)

The brain is the motherboard of our bodies, and all thoughts, feelings, smells, coordination and ability to make good decisions originate in the brain. The brain is our chemistry lab and creates chemicals called hormones that regulate our ability to learn (dopamine), mood swings (serotonin) and sleep (melatonin).

The brain is the most complicated organ in the body and the most forgiving organ we have. It has an incredible ability to rebuild itself, given the right environment and a commitment of the individual to help heal the brain.

Be kind to yourself, stress only retards the repairing of the brain.

The Brain Navigator

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