The Resilient Brain

Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Are You Having Sleep Problems?

Restorative sleep is the number one factor for brain health and resilience

One of the chief complaints worldwide, regardless of age, is lack of sleep, let alone getting restorative sleep. However, for optimal brain function, your brain needs a specific number of hours of sleep to repair and maintain itself and optimize your neural connectivity. In addition to the hours of sleep needed, there is also precise sleep method that is necessary for repair. Picture your brain as a bridge connecting several roads. When a bridge is under repair, each night all traffic must stop to allow for the repair and maintenance. With your brain, restorative sleep allows for this repair and maintenance to occur.

So What is “Restorative Sleep?”

Restorative sleep consists of the completion of all five stages of sleep, and also the chemical changes that occur within a twenty-four-hour period that allow the brain and body systems to be repaired, heal, and grow. People follow a natural sequence of sleep called the circadian rhythm, which is the sleep/wake cycle within twenty-four hours. As the day wears on, we begin to desire rest and sleep. Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle by lowering the body temperature and inducing drowsiness. Melatonin affects a small nucleus, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, in the hypothalamus, or upper brain stem.

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During these five stages, there is dreaming, which is the integration period and the repair phase when the limbs are almost paralyzed. If you have a pet dog, restorative sleep is very obvious. When the dog is in the repair mode, the dog appears frozen in space and if you try to pick it up, it is dead weight. On the other hand, when the dog is in the integration period (rapid eye movement, called REM), this is when it is dreaming. This is why dreams are so important- they provide the integration of the repair work. Some of the most famous inventions and theories have come out of dreaming.   

What's Keeping Me From Getting Restorative Sleep?

Stress, poor sleep hygiene, fast foods, and foods with high sugar content can cause the dysregulation of brain activity and prevent restorative sleep. Injury to the brain, be it from a Concussion, Stroke, MS, or Parkinson’s Disease, all cause a dysregulation in the sleep cycle and interfere with restorative sleep. 

There are four types of sleep disturbances that are most common. The first, insomnia, is the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. It is the most common sleep problem among the world’s population, and has increased with the fast pace of today’s lifestyle. Insomnia often occurs immediately following a Concussion and, if not treated, may continue for years. Hypersomnia is the inability to become fully awake or the need for excessive quantities of sleep. This is a very common symptom after a Concussion, as in my own case, when I would sleep for nineteen hours a day. Sleep/wake cycle disturbance, or circadian rhythm disturbance, is an interference with one’s inner clock that regulates periods of sleep and wakefulness. This condition may predate a concussion but be worsened by the injury, or it may be caused by the injury itself. Finally, parasomnias are types of motor problem that includes night terrors, nightmares, periodic leg kicking, or the twitching of restless legs syndrome. Any disturbances in sleep can cause problems with memory and thinking, mood issues such as depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain.

In a future post, I will present my 5 Prong Approach which explains how I look at all symptoms, especially sleep issues and specific ways of helping you get restorative sleep!  

Here are some practical suggestions for dealing with sleep disturbances:

  • Stable wake and sleep times. It is important to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Reduction of or avoidance of caffeine and alcohol
  • Elimination of tobacco
  • Eating a higher protein diet while eliminating sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods
  • Phototherapy, or the careful use of and exposure to light
  • Environmental controls such as turning off lights and minimizing background noises
  • Regular exercise (however, do not work out within four hours of your bedtime)
  • Limiting time in bed by not watching TV in the bedroom

 

Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D., is a Neuropsychologist, Board Certified Health Psychologist, Board Certified Sports Psychologist, and Trauma Therapist with over 35 years experience.

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