After sustaining a concussion and musculoskeletal injuries in a car accident 4 ½ years ago, I felt as if someone had climbed inside my brain, messed about with all the wiring and short-circuited everything so that it no longer worked properly. As a result of this, many of my existing daily structures and systems went out of the window. Parts of both my external and internal worlds seemed to have been disrupted by the concussion.
I spent the first few weeks after the injury not doing very much, experiencing a lot of disorientating symptoms and physical pain and hoping that within a few weeks, I’d be healed and back to normal. That didn’t happen, and although pain killers and physiotherapy helped the physical pain, the concussion effects and the knock-on consequences on my life started to become evident.
One of the things that happened with the concussion was that it had affected my executive functioning, which comes from the frontal lobe part of the brain. This affected my ability to organise my life, problem solve and make decisions, among other things. I found it hard to organise my home and keep it tidy, create and follow a timetable for my day and create structure for my life. I only had a basic structure to my day, and my life felt disorganised and chaotic. It was very bizarre and also very frustrating that my brain wasn’t working as it had done before.
Something that exacerbated this was problems I was having with intense fatigue during the day and difficulty sleeping at night. Often in the daytime, I found that the fatigue seemingly came out of nowhere and I would feel engulfed by it. I dreaded that feeling because I knew I was going to have to stop what I was doing or slow down and rest.
Then at night, I would fear going to bed because I knew that I was going to have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, which would then cause me to feel exhausted the next day and so on. At night, I would take forever to fall asleep and when I finally did, I would invariably wake up several times during the night. My brain felt as if it was in overdrive and I was conscious of my body being in pain. I would usually eventually drop off to sleep again but this all added to me feeling exhausted when it was time to get up and start the day. I would often find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. This cycle became a real problem for me. The longer it went on, the worse it got.
After struggling with this for quite a while, I did some research and learned that fatigue and difficulty sleeping are common problems for a lot of people after a brain injury. The reasons why vary from person to person but contributing factors can include pain, trauma, anxiety, emotional issues, inflammation in the brain after the injury, disruption to certain pathways and processes in your brain related to sleep, upset to the circadian rhythms and possibly hormonal issues.
I came to realise that I functioned much better after a good night’s sleep and, if I didn’t sleep well, then my symptoms would be much worse and more intense the next day. From my reading and research, something that came up from various sources was the importance and benefits of having a morning and evening routine. An evening routine helps with getting a good night’s sleep and the morning routine helps with feeling present, prepared for the day ahead and, as a result being better organised.
During sleep, a number of essential biological processes take place in the brain. These are necessary for good brain health. According to the website www.healthline.org ‘the brain stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste, nerve cells communicate and reorganise, which supports healthy brain function, [and] the body repairs cells, restores energy, and releases molecules like hormones and proteins.’ Various other processes also occur, including the formation and organisation of memories.
I came across a video on the importance of creating a morning routine from a world-renowned brain health coach, Jim Kwik. You can find articles, podcasts and YouTube videos on this and other topics on brain health online at www.jimkwik.com. Inspired by Jim, I created my own morning routine.
My morning routine helps me to bring some order and calm into my life at the beginning of my day. This helps me to start the day in a calm place and with more focus for the day ahead. It gives me time for myself before my husband and three children get up in the morning. I get up quite early, go down to my sitting room, which is cosy and relaxing, and I can gather my thoughts, have some peace and quiet and mentally prepare for the day. This enables me to cut through the noise and all the daily demands and helps to prevent my brain from feeling so scattered and disorganised.
My morning routine varies a bit, but it looks something like this. I don’t do everything every day, but I aim to do a few of the things on the list. And if I don’t fit them into my morning routine, then I usually try and fit as many things as possible somewhere into my day. Here’s my list:
- Drink a large glass of water
- Have a cup of herbal tea or mushroom coffee
- If I feel hungry, then I’ll eat some fruit, usually a banana
- Read a bit of an inspiring book
- Reflect/meditate/practise mindfulness
- Do some breathing exercises
- Do about 10 minutes of journaling
- Listen to some relaxing music
- Think of at least three things I’m grateful for
- Go outside for some sunlight
- Go for a walk
- Do a few minutes of light exercise and stretching
- Do a bit of light work
- Check my to-do list for the day
I decided to implement an evening routine too, to help me get to bed earlier and fall asleep more quickly.
Below, I share my evening routine (again, as with my morning routine, I don’t always do all of the things on my list, but I usually do some of them):
- Plan out and make a list of what I need to do the following day
- Don’t watch TV or use my laptop or mobile phone for at least an hour before I go to bed
- A little bit of stretching
- Drink a herbal tea like camomile or one of the special sleep blends
- Aim to get to bed by 10 pm
- Spray Tisserand’s herbal sleep spray on my pillow – it contains lavender and other essential oils that aid sleep
- Use an eye mask
- Listen to calming music or binaural beats
- Listen to a sleep meditation
- Read a book
- Think about what I’m going to wear the next day
I can put many of the struggles I have during the day down to not getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes I go to bed too late, or I read things on my phone just before going to bed. This always affects me the next day. So, my evening routine and going to bed at a good time is supercritical to me so that I can function well the next day.
Over time, having a morning and evening routine has helped me to get more organised during the day. I can focus better on what I want and need to achieve during the day. I have been able to implement simple systems and processes to help me to be more effective during the day. And I don’t feel so chaotic, helpless and out of control of my environment.
I don’t always follow my own advice, so sometimes I get out of the habit of doing my morning and evening routines. I can say that when I don’t do them for a while, my quality of life isn’t as good. It doesn’t take me long before I put them back in place again because I function so much better when I do them. And if I’m having problems sleeping, then I find that the more elements of my evening routine I use, the better night’s sleep I will have. Sometimes it can take a few days trying to figure out the steps I need.
Since COVID, I have once again found myself sometimes struggling with getting to sleep and staying asleep, so I have been making sure to intentionally implement my morning and evening routines. I find this helps a lot.
Everyone’s different so if you decide to create a morning and evening routine, if you don’t already have one, then make it pleasant and enjoyable for you, so it’s not a chore or something you don’t look forward to doing. Experiment and try out different things and go with what works for you. I have found that making small changes to my day - like putting these routines in place – makes a big difference to my quality of life over time. Trying to do too much at once can be overwhelming. So, keep it simple and I hope that if you decide to do this too, you will soon notice a difference in your energy levels and alertness during the day and to your quality of sleep at night.