Your Physical Health

If you don’t get adequate sleep, you are likely to be tired and irritable. You also may find it hard to concentrate. Research shows that people who do not get adequate sleep are less productive, tend to overeat, and are more likely to get into accidents.

Try these tips for getting a comfortable night’s sleep:

  • Establish a routine for when you go to bed and when you get up every day. This can reinforce your body’s sleep/wake cycle.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a bath, read a book, or find another activity that helps you shift from your busy daytime life to restful sleep.
  • Go to bed when you’re tired and turn out the lights. If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something else until you’re tired.
  • Avoid remaining in bed too long if you’re unable to sleep; you may be inadvertently teaching your brain that this is not a place for sleep. Instead, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity (for example, reading, meditating, light stretches) until tired again, and only then return to bed for sleep.
  • Do not rely on sleeping pills, alcohol, or other substances. Check with your provider before taking any sleep medications, even over-the-counter sleep medicines, as they can interact with other medications or a medical condition. You may have an underlying sleep disorder that requires treatment.
  • Don’t exercise close to bedtime. It may make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Limit use of alcohol and caffeine. Too much of either usually reduces the quality of sleep.
  • Have another person assist with the care duties of your family member during the night to give you a break.

Healthy Diet:
A healthy diet is one that is low in fat, sugar, and processed foods, but high in fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and also includes lean cuts of meat, poultry, eggs, and other protein sources. A healthy diet also helps you to maintain a healthy weight.

It can be tempting to overeat. Do not use food as a comfort or coping mechanism when you are stressed and sad. You may gain unwanted weight.

Exercise can relieve stress, reduce depression, make you feel better about yourself, help you maintain your weight, and give you some time alone.

It doesn’t have to be strenuous. A 30-minute walk on most days is usually enough to protect your health. You can break the 30 minutes into shorter 10-minute segments, if that’s all the time you have.

If you already have an exercise routine in place, try to stick with it. Doing things that were important to you before the family member’s TBI can help you cope.

If you are new to exercise, check with your healthcare provider and start out slowly. Remember to include stretching and strengthening exercises by building them into your routine.

There are many exercises that you can do at home. You don’t need to find the time or money to go to a gym.

Tobacco Use:
If you don’t use tobacco products, don’t start. Find other ways to cope with the stress.

If you use tobacco products, stress may increase your tobacco use. If you use tobacco products, it may be difficult to quit during periods of stress, such as when you are learning to care for someone with TBI.

Your goal right now may simply be not to increase the number of tobacco products you use each day. Later, you may want to start cutting down on the number of tobacco products and then quit altogether.

The nicotine in tobacco is addictive. Most smokers find it takes several attempts to quit before they are successful. Ask your provider about medications or programs that can help you quit.

Alcohol and Drugs:
When life is stressful, you may find it difficult to solve problems, make decisions, and take care of yourself.

Some people turn to alcohol or other drugs to help them relax. Alcohol tends to make problems worse.

Using alcohol or drugs to make you feel better in the short term can be unhealthy. You could become dependent on these substances, and this will ultimately interfere with your responsibilities to your family.

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (that is, one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men). Find other ways to relieve stress and to reward yourself for a job well done.

Routine Medical Care:
Remember, you can’t take care of someone else unless you are strong and healthy. This includes getting routine medical and dental care, such as preventive screenings (for example, mammograms, blood pressure checks, etc.) and regular attention to medical problems that you may have.

It’s okay to have the service member or veteran with TBI sit in the waiting room while you see the doctor, dentist, or other provider if they are able. Or make plans for care if they cannot be left alone.

If you become sick, worn down, or burned out, you will not be able to provide good care to your family member.