How To Overcome Insomnia After TBI

insomniaInsomnia – the dreaded sleep disorder. Anyone who has ever experienced difficulty falling asleep for weeks could be diagnosed with Insomnia.  Unfortunately, this is yet another possible side effect of a traumatic brain injury.  If you have had a head injury, chances are you are feeling the effects of fatigue, sleepiness, or Insomnia, along with many other symptoms like dizziness and struggle to focus.




Insomnia is a serious disorder that should be addressed quickly because sleep is crucial to recovering.  It’s the body’s way of relaxing and recuperating, and that is integral to a positive recovery process.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia typically involves difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. If you have insomnia, you might be waking up often during the night and then having trouble falling back asleep.  Overall, the issue that remains is that you never feel well-rested.

images (1)Anyone can get Insomnia – it isn’t just limited to people with head injuries. You might have it with another factor associated, such as anxiety, chronic illness, lack of exercise, or even due to certain types of medication.  A qualified health practitioner should be ruling out any underlying causes prior to treating Insomnia. For example, if you have anxiety and struggle to fall or stay asleep, this condition should be looked at first.  The doctor should identify and treat this underlying cause – in the case of anxiety, behavior therapy might be a valid form of treatment.  Consider all of the issues you currently face instead of viewing the one. Perhaps you aren’t exercising enough, or you are feeling depressed.  Talk about this carefully with your doctor so that he or she may prescribe the best treatment for you. For this article, solutions will be much relevant to victims of TBI.


Solutions To Overcome Insomnia

Treatment for Insomnia can vary greatly depending on what will work for you and what approach you want to take.  There are general solutions such as improving your current sleeping habits or using sleeping pills, though they are definitely not recommended due to popular side effects.

How successful a solution will be for you will depend on you personally. Everyone is different.  What works for someone may or may not work for you, but you can most certainly try given that it is safe for you to do so.


Essential Oils

Canva - Aromatic Scent SticksAt first, you may be puzzled by this treatment, but many studies and people with TBI have shown to improve with their mood and sleep simply by incorporating essential oils into their life.  Essential Oils come in many different forms, but the ones that are recommended for sleep include lavender, valerian, clary sage, bergamot, Roman chamomile, and sweet marjoram.  Now you might be wondering how exactly you use it. Essential oils can be applied in 3 main ways – on the skin, inhaled, or ingested. However, they work great with a diffuser, which you can place in your bedroom or home somewhere. This lets you inhale the oil.

When you inhale the essential oil, the airborne molecules are interacting with your olfactory organs. Almost immediately, they also interact with your brain. These odor molecules also affect the emotional part of the brain, positively impacting your mood and perhaps your sleep. You can read more about it in this article.

There are many reasonably priced ones found online and in stores. You simply fill it with water and add a few drops of the essential oil to get started. As it wafts throughout the room, feel it calming your mind and body and let it help you drift off to sleep.


Acupuncture Treatments


There have been various studies demonstrating the success of Acupuncture as an effective treatment for insomnia.  Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese “alternative medicine.” Thin needles are inserted into the body in particular points, and while it may sound terrifying, it is extremely beneficial for the mind and body.  Through this treatment, one may experience reduced anxiety, reduced sleep disruption, promotion of melatonin production, and even induced sleep onset. Combined, these can help to increase the amount of sleep you get at night (or whenever you sleep).




Chamomile Tea

chamomile-829487_960_720Who doesn’t love a nice soothing cup of chamomile tea? It’s one of the most popular ways people help themselves to relax. Herbalist also use it to help treat anxiety and insomnia. A recent study showed that Chamomile has anxiety-reducing properties for people with generalized anxiety disorder. The warming and soothing properties of chamomile tea promote sleep, which is pretty much the best medicine for many other problems beside traumatic brain injury induced insomnia. One study showed that it can reduce levels of a stress hormone in the brain and another study showed that chamomile may have anti-seizure properties as well. Drink a cup or two of chamomile tea during the day for relaxation or have some at night to promote better sleep.



Magnesium L-Threonate

Canva - Melting Yellow Tablet in the Filled Drinking GlassIf you are already taking magnesium, chances are you are taking one of the more common forms like magnesium citrate.  While magnesium in general is important for your overall health and your brain, there are several reasons why I recommend Magnesium L-Theronate specifically.

Magnesium L-Threonate is the form of magnesium that is best able to cross the blood brain barrier. Once in the brain, it reduces the effects of stress hormones, helping to promote better sleep, clearer thinking processes, and better focus [20].

My second reason is a personal one. For the first two years after my  TBI  I would routinely go days without sleeping. It was horrible for everyone and there was no way my brain could heal or function effectively with little to no sleep, especially if I had therapy the next day.  My family tried EVERYTHING. Nothing seemed to help until I started taking Magnesium L-Threonate supplement (even other forms of magnesium did nothing for him).



Benadryl/Prescribed Medication

benedrylBenadryl (Diphenhydramine) is an antihistamine. Typically, it is used to treat allergies, but many people also use it for their insomnia and other common ailments, like nausea.  However, using Benadryl as a long-term sleep aid is not recommended and has no long-term benefit.  Certain prescribed medications by your doctor can also assist with your sleep. Still, these should be considered carefully and discussed with your doctor about possible side effects of long-term use.


Avoiding Stimulation

video gamesWhen you stimulate your mind and body right before attempting to fall asleep, your mind and body are still alert and awake. This, of course, makes it much more difficult to sleep.  An example includes using the computer or phone within two hours or so of going to bed. The brightness of the screen, combined with your mind working, is not a good way to set yourself up for sleep.  Another example is stressful, stimulating activities such as doing some work, arguing with someone, or playing hype video games.  Instead, try something that relaxes and calms the mind. This could be reading an easy book, listening to soft, soothing music, or even taking a nice relaxing bath right before bed.

These methods set the mood and atmosphere of sleeping, which should be calm and relaxed. If you don’t feel sleepy, do something that is not overly stimulating until you begin to feel tired or sleepy.

It’s also smart to create the perfect sleep-inducing environment by making your bedroom dark and quiet. Use some heavy curtains, keep the temperature comfortable, and do anything else that makes it feel like a worthy place to sleep.



Incorporating a good amount of physical workout or physical activity into your life can also significantly impact your sleep quality.  People who have experienced a traumatic brain injury noted that when they got busy during the day with exercise or physical activity, it contributed to them feeling much more tired and exhausted by the evening.  This, therefore, encouraged a more welcomed and deeper sleep. The benefits of exercise come in many forms, but if you have Insomnia, you should consider how much exercise you do on a daily basis and how this might be affecting your sleep.


Binaural Beats

Binaural beat therapy is a form of sound wave therapy and has shown to help TBI victims with Insomnia. The tones are at frequencies lower than 1,000 hertz, in which the brain detects the binaural beat.  This perceived beat is the frequency difference between the waves entering the left and right ear. The right and left ear each receive a unique frequency tone that is different from one another, yet the brain perceives and synchronizes them as one tone.  Binaural beat therapy utilizes this fact as its treatment for insomnia. In particular, “delta” beats have shown to help calm the mind for sleep.  These beats operate at a frequency of 0.5-4 hertz. There was even a study where people who received this frequency during sleep entered an even deeper stage of sleep.   It’s definitely worth a try – you can find many binaural beat tracks on YouTube and other platforms.

White Noise

White noise, in the simplest terms, refers to sounds that essentially “mask” other sounds that might also occur naturally in the environment or surroundings.  White noise comes in a variety of forms, including the ocean, which is something many people enjoy listening to. Other examples include streams, rain, machinery, the wind in the trees, or even footsteps on leaves.  White noise contains “all frequencies,” and is thus used to mask other sounds frequently. You can also find some white noise tracks on YouTube and the internet.



ASMR is the acronym for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.” If you type this into YouTube, you can find hundreds of videos related to this topic.  What they do is focus on a relaxing, sedative sensation that gives you a “tingling” effect. This might be replicating a scalp massage or satisfying sounds close to the microphone. The sensation typically begins on your scalp and moves down your body, otherwise called a “brain massage.”  The sensation is triggered by these satisfying sounds or placid sights – whispers, crackles, tapping, clicking, and more.

Many people, including TBI sufferers, who have watched these videos when trying to fall asleep have found them successful as they provide an ultimately calming experience.



People with TBI have also used CBD (cannabidiol) cream on their more affected sides of the brain to help encourage a relaxed state and to promote fewer convulsions and trembling which are typical causes of waking up during the night.  CBD has shown to improve anxiety, cognition, pain, and even movement disorders – but the benefits don’t stop there depending on what you use it for.  CBD is a completely safe drug and can be purchased in different types of forms, such as oils, tablets, and creams. You can try various methods of CBD for sleeping to see what works for you.



Canva - Blueberries in a BowlYou might also find that certain foods cause a spike in your energy levels. Caffeine, alcohol, sugary processed foods, and other stimulating foods should be avoided as much as possible (particularly before bedtime). If you are a smoker, you should also avoid nicotine before bed.  If you are feeling hungry at night, opt for foods that won’t disturb your sleep, such as dairy foods, or perhaps even a soothing herbal tea.  It can be very difficult to find the right balance in your life and to determine what will work best to help you get that deep, undisturbed sleep you need.

To Sum it Up

This list is a good starting point. Try working through the different solutions to find something that works best for you, exclusively. You can also discuss with your doctor or therapist different methods that promote better sleep.

Before implementing any of these recommendations, you should always take your personal situation into consideration, and what will be safe and most beneficial to your recovery process.


6 Tips for Better Sleep

There was a period of my recover in which I was continuously tired. It seemed like no matter how many hours of sleep I got, when morning came, I would have to drag my poor groggy self out of bed. I longed to spring out of bed feeling refreshed and well rested, but it just wasn’t happening. And what’s more, that fatigued, foggy headed feeling of not getting a good night’s sleep was starting to cut into my productivity at therapy.

I decided to implement a strict routine. I had tried this in the past, but had been slack on weekends and given it up quickly when I didn’t see immediate results. This time, I decided I would adhere to a schedule every day, including weekends, for a full 30 days.

It helped tremendously! I began sleeping better and feeling more awake and refreshed during the day.

As a good night’s sleep is so crucial for a healthy brain, I thought I would share my routine with you. If you plan to try it out, I would suggest doing so for the full thirty days as your brain needs time to adjust to new sleeping patterns. You can implement this routine in addition to any other changes you have already made.

Here’s how to do it:


Set Your Goal

1. Choose the time you are going to go to bed and wake up each day

Be serious about the times you pick. In order for you to get the most benefit out of this routine, you need to strictly adhere to the times you pick. So make sure it is a commitment you can keep for the next 30 days.

Choose times that allow for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Numerous studies have shown 7 to 8 hours to be optimum, even documenting increased life expectancy for people who consistently achieve 7 to 8 hours a night [1].


Waking Up

2. No more snooze button

I use to be a serial snoozer. I would set my alarm 30 to 45 minutes before I needed to get up and then hit snooze over and over again. Almost always, I felt worse after hitting snooze than I did the first time my alarm went off.

For the next 30 days, try getting up the first time your alarm goes off and see if you don’t start feeling better.

Placing your phone or alarm clock out of arms reach will help reduce the temptation to hit snooze.

3. Treat yourself

One thing I look forward to every morning is a nice, hot cup of caffeine. I have this either in the form of strong, black coffee or espresso.

I suggest finding special that you can enjoy each morning, something that will make it just a little easier to get out of bed. It can literally be anything: fancy coffee creamer, journaling, a few minutes of mediation.

4. Get 10-15 minutes of morning sunlight

Find a way to get 10-15 minutes of sunlight within the first hour you are awake. This was easy for me since one of the first things I do every morning is walk my dog. If you don’t have a dog, you could eat breakfast on your patio or take a short walk around your block.

Sunlight influences our circadian rhythm by impacting melatonin and serotonin levels in the blood. Exposure to sunlight in the morning boosts melatonin production at night which translates to being able to fall asleep faster once your head hits the pillow [2].


Prepare to Sleep Great

5. No caffeine after 3:00 p.m.

Caffeine is a stimulant and numerous studies have documented its potential to disrupt sleep. Caffeine consumption in the evening can can throw off your circadian rhythm making it harder to fall asleep [3]. Even consuming coffee up to six hours before bed has been shown to decrease total sleep time by close to one hour per night [4].

You may need to be stricter with the time, depending on your sensitivity to caffeine. I personally stop drinking coffee after 11:00 a.m. and caffeinated teas after 3:00 p.m. You would be best to avoid even decaffeinated coffee after 3:00. Though substantially less caffeine than regular coffee, decaffeinated coffee can contain up to 14 mg of caffeine (compared to 95 mg in the average up of regular coffee).

6. Turn off electronics

Research shows that blue light from computer and phone screens disrupts our circadian rhythm and makes it harder to fall asleep [5].

For me turning off electronics an hour before bed was a must for better sleep. It allowed me to exchange screen time for something more relaxing.  Once I was ready to go to sleep, I found that my mind was quieter and that I was able to fall asleep much faster.


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