Traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, are known to cause a variety of problems. TBI has been indicated in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, which a majority of professional football players have been found to have. A traumatic brain injury can also leave a person with muscle weakness or numbness, depression, anxiety and even PTSD. New research shows that head injuries can also have a profound effect on sleep cycles.
According to a study published in the April 27, 2016, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, TBI can cause sleep disturbances well after the initial injury. In addition, many people who have had an injury to the head don’t realize how much their sleep has been disturbed, and may not fully realize how tired they are and how much they are affected. It’s not just football players either. Every year in the United States, 1.7 million people experience a TBI and there is evidence that the rate of TBI is rising worldwide. Lukas Imbach, MD, of the University Hospital Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland was the lead author on a study that looked at patients who had experienced a TBI and stated, “This is the longest prospective and most comprehensive study about sleep quality and TBI to date. We found that the majority of those with TBI, no matter how severe, had long-term sleep disturbances, yet didn’t know.”
The team in Zurich followed 31 people who had suffered a first time TBI for 18 months. The participants had a range of injury from mild to severe. This group of patients was then compared to a group of healthy individuals. In both groups, participants were asked to report how much sleep they got and how tired they felt during the day. They also wore a fitness bracelet that measured body movement for two weeks. A night in sleep lab was also included in the study, where video and other monitors captured how much they moved during sleep as well as eye movement, muscle activity and heart rate. Patients were also screened for daytime sleepiness.
The results showed that just about 2/3, or 67%, of the TBI patients experienced excessive daytime sleepiness compared to the control group where less than 20% had trouble with daytime sleepiness. However, when both groups were asked how tired or sleepy they felt during the day, there was almost no difference in what both groups self-reported. The researchers stressed that daytime sleepiness, especially when a person does not realize they are tired is associated with a higher risk of accidents and poses a public safety hazard.
The study did not find significant differences in daytime sleepiness or sleep disturbances between those who had suffered a severe head injury and those who had suffered a mild one. Regardless of the severity of the TBI, sleep and daytime tiredness were still problematic in both groups. The study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the University of Zurich. Check out the video below to learn more about TBI and how it can affect sleep.
Sources: American Academy of Neurology Newsweek