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Sleep disorders after a brain injury

Information Services


Sleep disorders after a brain injury

Disruptions to sleep are very common after a brain injury.


Problems can include imsomnia, sleeping too much, sleep apnea, teeth grinding and restless leg syndrome. 


Apart from the brain injury itself, changes in sleep routines may be due to stress, worry, work, living situation, family illness or injury, or changes in your physical health.


Good sleep patterns are important so that you have enough energy for all your daily activities (work, home, driving, having a social life). Lack of sleep can affect alertness, concentration and mood. Here are some simple strategies that you can use to improve the quality of your sleep.


Get into a good sleep routine

Go to bed only when you feel sleepy at night-time. Try to get to sleep at about the same time every day. No matter how poor your sleep at night, get up at the same time every day - use an alarm clock. Don't oversleep because of a poor night's sleep.


Sleep only at night time

Sleep during the day will affect your sleep at night so try to avoid more than a short nap during the day. Early on after an injury, people may find they need to have day-time rest or sleep to manage fatigue, but try to keep the naps short and don't nap after mid-afternoon. If you get tired, try to just have a rest on the couch. Don't rest on your bed.


Wind down before bedtime

Don't watch exciting movies just before bedtime. Do some relaxation exercises or listen to some relaxing music. Start preparing for bed at least 30 minutes before bed e.g. lock the house, have a shower, put on pyjamas, brush your teeth, turn down the lights. Try a warm drink such as milk.


Spend time in bed sleeping

Don't do other activities in bed e.g. reading, watching television, or eating. Keep the bed only for sleeping. If you are awake for a long time, get out of bed. Do an activity until you are sleepy (make sure it is something boring). Go back to bed and repeat the above steps if needed.



Avoid caffeine after lunch as this may affect your sleep at night-time. Caffeine is in coffee, tea, chocolate or cola drinks so be sure to avoid all of these after midday. Try decaffeinated tea or coffee as an alternative.


Alcohol, drugs, and medication

Avoid drinking alcohol, especially at night time. Alcohol changes the kind of sleep you have, and can make sleep restless. If you smoke cigarettes, nicotine levels may also affect your sleep so try to cut down.

Some prescription and recreational drugs can change your sleep patterns, so ask for information from your pharmacist or doctor. Over-the-counter medications such as pseudoephedrine can also change your sleep patterns, so ask for information about all your medications.



Get some gentle exercise regularly  as this will help with your sleep. Don't overdo it if you haven't been getting exercise for a while. Talk to your doctor or a physiotherapist about the kind of exercise you can do. Avoid exercising at least four hours before bed-time.


Time outside

Spend some time in the sunshine during the day, because this may help with your sleep patterns e.g. sit outside with a book or magazine or the newspaper (remember sunscreen and a hat). Go for a short walk or do an activity outside in the fresh air e.g. gardening, walking the dog.


Sleep environment

Make your bedroom and bed as comfortable and pleasant as possible. Remove clutter and get rid of any noise or distractions e.g. use ear-plugs to cut down on noise. Use curtains to block out light and noise and dim the lights. Make sure your pillow and bed are comfortable. Make sure the bedroom is the right temperature for the weather. Essential oils like lavender also can be relaxing, so a couple of drops in your bath water, or on your pillow may help create a relaxing feeling.


Be patient

It can take time to re-settle sleep patterns, so don't expect changes to happen overnight. Keep using the new ideas and you should start to see changes gradually. If you need further advice, talk to your GP or a psychologist.

References and further information

This article is reprinted with the permission of ABIOS (Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Service), a specialist community-based rehabilitation service assisting people with ABI in Queensland, their families and carers. Visit for more of their fact sheets


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