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Nutrition, Hydration and Sleep

Hydration, proper nutrition, and sleep are very important for all athletes, but for those that have sustained a head injury, having a well-balanced and regulated diet is crucial in the healing process.

Hydration

The brain sits inside the skull that is filled with a fluid called cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). With improved total body hydration, CSF can increase to higher levels. Having higher levels of CSF allows the brain to be more protected with more fluid, reducing the movement of the brain inside of the skull.

Blood flow to the brain may be reduced following a concussion, and dehydration can worsen that and delay recovery.

  • It is recommended to get about 48-64 ounces of water in one day and more if you are active and exercising.
  • Aim to drink 6-8 8 ounce glasses of water throughout the day if you have had a concussion to help minimize symptoms that can be associated with dehydration.

Nutrition

A healthy diet during the recovery from a brain injury is highly beneficial. Scientists know that deficiencies in certain nutrients and chemicals can cause disruptions in brain functioning and the ability to think clearly. The brain uses calories to function. When someone sustains a brain injury, it is necessary to eat enough nutritional calories to help the brain function efficiently.

Nutritional Tips for Head Injuries

  • Eat small meals every three to four hours.
  • Keep small baggies of healthy snacks with you during the day to boost your energy
    • Nuts/trail mix
    • Apples
    • Cheese
    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Energy bars
  • Balance small meals with a combination of protein, healthy fats and oils, and carbohydrates.
    • Proteins include fish, lean meats, nuts, and eggs.
    • Healthy fats and oils can be found in avocados, seeds, and nuts.
    • Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fresh fruits, and grains.
  • Eat moderately. Do not overeat as it can cause you to feel sleepy.
  • Try to eat around the same time every day. The body does best when it is on a routine schedule. Eat by the clock. If your brain/body signals are not working well, set a timer, watch alarm or a mobile phone to alert you that it's time to eat.

Sleep

Many people who have brain injuries suffer from sleep disturbances. Not sleeping well can increase or worsen depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and one's sense of well-being. It can also lead to poor work performance and impaired behaviors.

Common sleep disorders include

  • Insomnia: Difficulty with falling asleep or staying asleep; or sleep that does not make you feel rested.
    • Insomnia can worsen other problems resulting from brain injury, including behavioral and cognitive (thinking) difficulties
    • Makes it harder to learn new things
    • Typically worse directly after injury and often improves as time passes
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: Extreme drowsiness
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome: Mixed-up sleep patterns
  • Narcolepsy: Falling asleep suddenly and uncontrollably during the day

What can be done to improve sleep?

  • Changes in behavior and environment are the first line to treating sleep difficulties.

Daytime Suggestions

  • Set an alarm to try to wake up at the same time every day
  • Limit TV watching
  • Exercise as perscribed
  • Try to get outdoors for some sunlight during the day
  • Don't nap unless you need to, but no more than 20 minutes during the day

Nighttime Suggestions

  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night
  • Follow a bedtime routine. For example, put out your clothes for morning, brush your teeth and then read or listen to relaxing music for 10 minutes before turning out the light
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sugar for five hours before bedtime
  • Avoid eating prior to sleep
  • Do not exercise within two hours of bedtime but stretching or meditation may help with sleep
  • Do not eat, read or watch TV while in bed
  • Keep stress out of the bedroom
  • Create a restful atmosphere in the bedroom
  • If you don't fall asleep in 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing or boring until you feel sleepy

If your sleep problems persist, talk to your doctor to try other solutions. Evaluation of sleep problems should include a thorough history of such problems, medication review, an assessment of your bedtime routines, and a comprehensive medical evaluation.