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Sleeping Patterns

Sleeping Patterns

Julie
Sam deals with migraines right now on a daily basis, and I think that stress is a big part of it. He can’t deal with too much at any one time. He gets overwhelmed. It really helps when we can persuade him to take a nap.

Carl
Julie’s right. I think his stress level is the key. And it really seems to help if he gets a good night’s sleep. 

Tracy
So how is Sam sleeping?

Julie
Well at first he hardly slept at all, and when he did it was during the day, when we were trying to meet with the doctors and communicate with family. Then, he’d stay awake all night. And we felt that we should be awake, too, so Carl and I weren’t getting any sleep either.

Tracy
Altered sleep patterns are... they’re very common after TBI. It can be hard to fall asleep, or to stay asleep. And some people sleep much more than usual, and then others sleep very little. So the first several weeks to months even after the injury are usually the worst. Initially the sleep patterns can be totally off, but try to stay hopeful. Most people with TBI usually resume a more normal sleep routine, similar to the one that they had before the injury. Now I know you are probably really tired of hearing this, but it just takes some time.

Carl
You’re right Tracy. Sam’s sleeping definitely improved, but it took awhile. Those first couple of months were rough, for all of us…

Tracy
It does get better over time. I know everyone is at a different phase in their recovery, so some of the strategies may not apply.  Now if your loved one is in the hospital or in a rehab facility, work with the health care team to establish healthy sleeping patterns. And once you transition home you’ll have to determine what works best for your daily schedule considering appointments, therapy, that sort of thing.

Napping may be an issue, so if it seems like your loved one is napping on and off all day they may suggest that you limit daytime naps.  That will promote better sleeping at night. If your loved one becomes agitated or frustrated, it may be that a nap is needed during the daily routine. Other recommendations for better sleep are to avoid caffeine, energy drinks of course, exercise, video games, fluids too close to bedtime.

And establishing a consistent routine also helps. So have your loved one wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Time, patience, creative problem solving… that’s all going to really help.

Carl
One of the therapists suggested making some changes in Sam’s room, like turning the clock away from the bed, using room-darkening shades, keeping the bedroom cool. So far these have helped, but sometimes Sam just can’t sleep no matter what.

Tracy
Well, if Sam simply can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, maybe you could have him get out of bed, watch TV, read, if he’s able to, you know until he feels really tired and can just sleep naturally.

You can also talk with a member of the team about temporarily using a sleep medication or some kind of alternative therapy to establish that sleep schedule.

Carl
We’ve tried most of those things at one time or another. Some things work better than others. It just seems to depend on the day, and how Sam’s feeling. Like I said before, it does get better, so don’t get discouraged.

Bladder/Bowel Changes

Even bowel and bladder functions are controlled by the brain. For many people with TBI, bowel and bladder functions are impaired in the early days to weeks following injury. Health care providers expect this and are prepared to help. Urinary catheters and use of diapers or pads may be needed. Bowel and bladder retraining are part of the rehabilitation process. Fortunately, with time and practice, most people with TBI regain control of these body functions.

What you might see:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control 
  • Increased urgency to urinate 
  • Incomplete bladder or bowel emptying 
  • Increased bladder infections 
  • Constipation
  • Memory and cognitive problems such that the person does not recognize the need to urinate/defecate or recall when he or she last did so
  • Skin problems due to incontinence

How you can help:

  • Indwelling urinary catheters followed by the use of pads or diapers are common early on. Reassure your service member/veteran that these are nearly always temporary.
  • The rehabilitation nurse will teach bladder “training” which often includes a specific fluid schedule, limiting fluids in the evening, and timed attempts to empty the bladder. Help your service member/veteran adhere to the recommended schedule and interventions.
  • Bowel “training” often includes scheduled attempts, a high fiber diet, adequate fluids, physical activity, eating meals at regular times, and possible use of medications, including suppositories. Help your service member/veteran to adhere to the recommended schedule and interventions.
  • Monitor for skin breakdown and report it to health care providers.
Related Information:
Sleep Changes
Other Physical Effects
Glossary
Frequently Asked Questions
"It had been 15 months and he had slowly improved. But he couldn’t talk. He’d kind of start trying to mouth words, but he just couldn’t talk. And so, on October 21st, 2005, I’ll never forget that morning. I came in to the bedroom and I said, Fred, how are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Fine.’ Okay. I think he just talked to me. So I just turned around and went back into the kitchen, got his breakfast, came back in and thought, okay, let me try this again. I said, ‘Fred, how are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Fine.’ It wasn’t a lot at first, but he could talk." -  Denise G.

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