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A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a sudden jolt to your head that causes your brain to change the way it works. This could be the result of a blow to your head, a blast, a sudden movement of your head that bounces your brain inside your skull, or a bullet or fragment entering your brain. Falls, fights, sports, and motor vehicle accidents are other common causes.
TBI can cause many brain changes. Because everybody’s brain is different, your symptoms may be different from those of other people. Symptoms can include changes in the way you feel, act, think, and move. Having trouble sleeping is one symptom that affects many people with TBI. Studies show that about 60 percent of people with TBI have this problem.
Having a TBI may cause a sleep problem because it can disrupt your “internal clock.” This is the part of your brain that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. Other problems and some common TBI symptoms also can make sleep more difficult. These include:
Abuse of drugs and alcohol
Mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
Daytime sleepiness (because you may end up napping during the day)
Headache and other types of pain
If you are recovering from TBI, you may:
Have trouble falling asleep
Have trouble staying asleep
Wake up frequently and easily (you’re a “light sleeper”)
Not be able to fall back asleep
Have trouble getting enough oxygen while sleeping (called sleep apnea)
Your brain needs sleep to recover from a TBI. Not getting enough sleep can make many other TBI symptoms worse. These symptoms include:
Medications that help you sleep are rarely the answer for sleep problems that a TBI causes. Many sleep medications, including over-the-counter drugs, can make TBI worse. Do not take any sleep medications or aids before checking with your health care provider.
The best way to treat TBI-related sleep problems is with what is called good sleep hygiene. That means:
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
Getting some exercise and sunshine every day to help reset your internal clock
Resting during the day, but not napping for more than 20 minutes
Avoiding heavy exercise and heavy meals for several hours before bedtime
Keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature
Not watching TV or working on your computer while in bed
Not lying awake in bed; get up and do a relaxing activity for a short while
Sleep problems are common after a TBI. If good sleep hygiene is not solving your sleep problems, talk with your health care provider. You may need to learn some relaxation techniques or try talk therapy to help you through a mental health problem like depression or anxiety.
Sleeping well is one of the best ways to help your brain recover. Do everything you can to get the rest you need.