When a traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs, you might assume the worst disruptions to your life happen when you’re awake. However, TBIs often cause major sleep-related issues that last many months following the injury. Scientists are still working to determine what creates these problems. Answers are emerging, and admittedly, some of them are disturbing.
Here’s everything you need to know about how head trauma can affect sleep and your best options for treatment.
Sleeping More, But Resting Less
A study suggests TBI sufferers slept on average an hour longer than healthy individuals. While that might sound ideal for recovery, that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. Volunteers in the study slept longer, but also complained of daytime sleepiness.
Unfortunately, sleep problems of some kind are common for 30 to 70 percent of TBI patients. The most routinely reported issues are insomnia, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness. Less common complaints include narcolepsy, sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, and parasomnias.
Both Severe And Mild Trauma May Affect Sleep
There’s a chance that the greater the brain injury, the worse it will directly affect your ability to sleep. Researchers found that some trauma has the potential to cause severe disruption to circuits deep inside the brain.
But what happens with mild injuries? Apparently, sleep issues can occur even without these deep disruptions. So there seems to be a connection between head trauma and sleep problems, regardless of the level of injury.
A Combination Of Factors
It’s true that your TBI might be to blame for your sleepless nights. But it’s also possible for TBIs to create other issues that ultimately lead to poor sleep patterns. For example, post-TBI patients often suffer from depression, anxiety, and pain. Over time, any one of these factors will negatively affect how well you sleep. Regardless of the combination of factors, the result is the same: a lack of proper bedrest over a lengthy period of time.
So what can you do?
Treatment Options For Post-TBI Sleep Disorders
If you experience poor sleep due to TBI, you should talk to your doctor about it immediately. By doing so, you may be able to treat the problem through medication or behavioral therapy. Treatment options are ultimately specific to the type of disorder.
You might also be able to combat sleep-related problems by improving your overall sleep hygiene. That is, developing nightly habits and conditions that make it possible to experience optimal sleep. Some suggestions include getting under your blankets at a decent hour, avoiding caffeinated beverages before bedtime, and limiting your exposure to blue LED lights at night. For sleep apnea sufferers, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are an ideal form of treatment.
Even if you’ve taken every available step to understand and treat sleep-related issues, it might not be enough. Researchers have found that not all post-TBI sleep disorders are treatable. As the research is still new, scientists are still attempting to figure out why certain conditions aren’t responsive to treatment and how to change this.
In the meantime, it’s still strongly recommended that you work closely with your doctor. Try to make as many adjustments as you can to improve your overall quality of sleep.
This article was written by Sarah Johnson of Tuck. For more information you can visit them at Tuck
Tuck is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NBC News, NPR, Lifehacker, and Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.