Fatigue and Sleep
Fatigue is the normal way our minds or bodies tell us to take a break after doing something tiring. It is very common to experience fatigue after a brain injury.
Most people feel tired or can’t sleep sometimes. But the fatigue that some people experience after a brain injury can be different. It may not improve with rest and can last over some time.
However, there are things you can do to help manage your fatigue. In this booklet, we include some general tips and some ideas to help you sleep well.
“ I never wanted to admit to myself I was always exhausted. I eventually gave in and started taking a nap after lunch. I still get tired but the naps help. I only wish I had started earlier.”
– Michael from Kildare
We don’t fully understand all the causes of fatigue. One reason is that your brain now has to work harder to do things like thinking, taking in information, talking and coordinating your body.
Other causes of fatigue after a brain injury include:
We’ll look at some of these reasons and give you suggestions for tackling them. As you recover, you may feel less fatigued. But, as time goes on, fatigue could be something you may need help with managing.
Fatigue can affect how you think, how you feel and what you do.
In the first few weeks after your injury, you may feel very tired. This is normal. Your brain needs lots of rest to help it recover. At this stage, sleep as much as you need to, when you need to.
In the first few months if you feel less tired, just take naps when you need them. Short naps are best, because if you sleep too much during the day, you might not be able to sleep properly at night.
If your tiredness continues, and the suggestions in this book are not helping, talk to your GP.
Cut down on coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and smoking. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can affect your sleep. Try drinks such as water, juice, decaffeinated coffee or herbal teas instead.
Alcohol can prevent you from having a good, restful sleep. It can also make you fall asleep earlier than you want to and so disrupt your sleep pattern. Try some non-alcoholic drinks instead.
Pace yourself – plan ahead
Try to spread out the activities you need to do over the week. This way you don’t use up all your energy at once.
Just do the things that have to be done. Leave everything else, or ask someone to give a hand.
Do things in stages
Do a bit each day. Remember, things that used to be easy might take a lot more out of you now. Doing a little and often is more effective than trying to do too much at one time.
Notice the signs of getting over-tired
These might be: forgetting words, blurred vision, getting very irritated or becoming tearful. After a brain injury, feeling over-tired can come on very quickly. If this happens, stop what you are doing and have a rest.
Build in regular rest periods or quiet times in the day, even if you don’t lie down. This will help you keep going for longer. Try to rest before you get exhausted.
Try to notice what tires you out the most
It could be going on the computer, having visitors, driving or going shopping. Do these when you are fresh. Then have a rest.
Getting enough sleep at night, and having a good routine to fall asleep, are really important in tackling fatigue. These habits can help you increase your chances of a good night’s sleep:
Try not to put on the main lights during the night. This is because bright light tells your brain that it is time to wake up. Try plug-in night lights instead.
If none of the tips listed here are working for you, talk to your GP to see what else might help.
It is important not to ignore difficulties if they continue. Your GP can give you advice and go through the possible reasons for your sleep difficulties. They may also want to make sure you don’t have an underlying medical condition or a sleep disorder that are affecting you.
Your GP may also suggest you keep a sleep diary to help them understand your sleeping patterns more clearly. A sleep diary is a worksheet on which you record the hours and times that you sleep and wake up.
“Sometimes I wake up and I know I’ve slept for eight hours but I feel like I haven’t slept at all.” – Anne from Limerick