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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.

Swallowing/Appetite & Weight

Many people with traumatic injuries do not drink or eat for a period of time. As a result, they lose weight.

Once the person is fully awake and able to follow directions, swallowing can be evaluated. It is important to fully evaluate swallowing before the injured person drinks or eats.

The purpose of evaluating the person’s ability to swallow is to make sure that what he or she eats goes into the stomach, not into the lungs. When food or fluid slips into the lungs, it often results in pneumonia.

A speech or occupational therapist evaluates swallowing. This may be done in the person’s hospital room.

If not, the therapist may escort your family member to the x-ray department for a video fluoroscopy. Your family member will consume a barium-laced liquid or food that will light up on an x-ray. The x-ray helps the therapist to see precisely where it is going.

Once your service member/veteran is cleared to drink or eat, he or she may only be able to consume certain types of liquids and foods. Most people do best with medium consistencies, rather than thin fluid or very chewy, tough foods.

With practice, most people will return to a normal diet.

Appetite can be affected. Some people with TBI complain of a reduced appetite. Others gain weight due to boredom, memory problems, and an increased appetite.

Work with the health care team to learn how to help your service member/veteran have a healthy diet and a healthy weight.

What you might see:

  • Choking or coughing during meals
  • Pocketing of food inside the mouth and/or drooling
  • Decreased interest in eating
  • Weight loss, without trying to lose weight (possibly due to loss of taste and smell)
  • Overeating, resulting in weight gain
  • Memory problems: failure to remember when to eat or when last ate

How you can help:

  • Do not offer fluids or food until your service member/veteran has been cleared to drink and eat.
  • If on a special diet with restricted fluids and foods, work with the therapists and dietitians to learn what foods are allowed. Learn how to assist your family member to drink and eat if special strategies are needed (i.e., eat slowly, chin tuck during swallow, double swallow, follow every bite of food with fluid).
  • Short-term changes in appetite are common. Don’t worry about early weight loss. Most often, the weight is regained once the person is home.
  • Monitor your service member/veteran’s body weight and learn what his or her ideal weight range is from the dietitian.
  • Report appetite changes to the health care team. These may be a sign of depression, general emotional distress, medication problems, or other medical conditions.
  • Ask for a dietitian to review dietary intake and to learn more about meal preparation and a balanced diet.
  • It is common to have reduced taste and smell following TBI. Talk with the dietitian about how to use spices and flavorings to perk up the taste of food.
  • Weight gain following TBI is common. It is usually due to lack of physical activity. But sometimes it is due to boredom. Work with your service member/veteran to remain physically active and engaged in outside activities. Establish set meal times. Discourage overeating or too many snacks.
  • Encourage your service member/veteran to be involved, as able, in grocery shopping and meal planning/preparation.
  • Write meal times in the planner/memory book. Check off meals when finished.
Related Information:
Sleep Changes
Other Physical Effects
Glossary
Frequently Asked Questions
"I so wish that at the beginning I had had someone like the people I’ve met here at Fisher House, who are already two years post-injury. I wish I would have had some- body like that come up to me and just put their arms around me and say, You know what? Any question you need to ask, just ask it." -  Meredith H.

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