Traumatic Head Injury: Guide to Care Options – Part 5

Serious Injury News

The Importance of sleep after head injury

Our serious injury care options series details treatment and options available for individuals and their families who have experienced a traumatic head injury.

For further information please see our Serious Injury homepage.

Sleep after head injury icon 1

Disturbed sleep after head injury

People are far more likely to develop disturbed sleep after head injury, for many different reasons:


  • A brain injury can affect the part of the brain which sends us to sleep. A gland in the brain releases a hormone called melatonin, and if this gland is affected, the lack of hormone can result in a person staying awake.
  • Sleep after head injury may be disturbed due to medications that have been prescribed and are helpful for another symptom, but cause insomnia as a side-effect. If a person’s breathing has been affected, this too can have an impact. Irregular breathing can result in too little oxygen going into a person’s bloodstream, which can cause a person to wake up.
  • Many of the symptoms that are commonly experienced by people who have had a head injury can also contribute to insomnia. These include headaches, depression, confusion and disorientation.

Sleep after head injury icon 2Head Injury Insomnia

An overactive mind can keep an individual awake, with worry preventing sleep. As a result of head injury insomnia, some people may be able to get to sleep, but may wake up after a short space of time. This only serves to increase worry, hence starting the individual on a vicious, negative circle. Head injury insomnia can result in a person needing to sleep during the day, and mixed sleep patterns can also exacerbate problems sleeping at night.

Physical symptoms can also be present, such as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). In simple terms, this is an involuntary twitching of legs or arms. Even if a person manages to sleep after head injury, physical symptoms such as these can result in a person waking up exhausted.

Sleep after head injury icon 3Why is sleep after head injury important?

Sleeping after a head injury is especially important as it promotes healing in the body’s cells and muscles. When a person falls asleep, every part of the body relaxes. Something as minor as a pulled muscle will start to heal itself through sleep, and can get better through good sleep alone. But poor sleep can stop muscles relaxing and healing themselves, meaning a minor ailment can last for months. The same is true of cells in the brain, and more serious ailments that don’t get the opportunity to heal can thus have a huge impact on a person’s day-to-day happiness.

Head injury insomnia can result in a host of problems. The obvious outcome of tiredness can impair judgement and slow reaction time, meaning everyday tasks can become more difficult and prolonged. If a person is relearning everyday tasks, the problem can become even more difficult. Negative emotions such as worrying and being more prone to anger commonly come more to the fore when a person is feeling tired. Mood swings are more likely and if an individual has any specific conditions such as depression, tiredness can act as a trigger factor.

Such symptoms of lack of sleep are often common in individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, even when they have had sufficient sleep. Therefore, insufficient sleep will tend to exaggerate these symptoms even further.

Sleep after head injury icon 4How to deal with head injury insomnia

Everyone is different, and will have individual symptoms following a serious injury, so what works for one person may not work for another. For example, if worry is the main cause of keeping a person awake, counselling may be the answer. If the problem is more down to PLMD, counselling is unlikely to help.

Changing habits and setting in place a new pattern for sleep can help reduce symptoms of head injury insomnia. A big part of recovering from a traumatic head injury involves retraining the brain. Setting a specific sleep and wake time can contribute to this retraining. The first few days may prove difficult, but the brain often begins to pick up ‘habits’ over time. Taking exercise everyday can help if physical exercise is possible – exercise not only tires the body and mind but releases the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin, which can help reduce symptoms such as worry. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine can aid better sleep, as well as avoiding any ‘blue’ light – this is light from electrical sources such as mobile phones, laptops, and televisions. Ensuring your bedroom is free from clutter and distractions is important, as is lighting – blackout blinds can make all the difference.

If problems persist, it is well worth speaking to a healthcare professional. Medication may be prescribed to help sleep in the short-term. However, medication is unlikely to solve the problem in the long-term and may interfere with any existing medications. But a healthcare professional may be able to create an individual plan, tailored to an individual and their own specific needs. The sooner a problem is recognised, the easier it can be to deal with, and it is certainly possible that problems with sleeping after a head injury can improve over time.

Serious Injury in the North-East

TLW have a local heritage, providing specialist legal services to people for over 15 years in the region. With extensive specialist training and an external accreditation from Headway (The Brain Injury Association), our serious injury solicitors work alongside experienced care and rehabilitation specialists to ensure our clients receive the very best professional advice and are able to access the brain injury support they require.

TLW Solicitors are here to help. Fill in our enquiry form, email us at or call us today.