Can a traumatic brain injury intensify sleep problems?
22 April 2021
The University of California has recently conducted research finding sleeping disorders are more common amongst those living with traumatic brain injuries.
Individuals living with a traumatic brain injury are over 50% more likely to develop sleeping disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea than those who haven’t been injured. The significant study also found a link suggesting sleeping disorders were more apparent among those with a mild TBI rather than those living with a more severe case.
The University of California’s research team were able to test the risk of developing a sleeping disorder over a period of 14-years following a brain injury. Yue Leng, Assistant Professor from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the University of California, said: “Clinicians should be asking TBI patients about their sleep patterns.” Her team found evidence that there is a strong need for the impact of a traumatic brain injury to be assessed in the long term; to determine how patients are coping with their sleeping patterns.
While previous reports have suggested sleep is one key factor in the recovery of a traumatic brain injury, the new research suggests otherwise. TBI and sleep disorders are independently linked to neurodegeneration. However, research groups are beginning to investigate the effects of neurodegeneration and cognitive function with sleep quality in individuals with a mild brain injury.
Analysing data from over 98,000 patients - veterans all diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury - along with a group of individuals of the same age, all without the same diagnosis, the University found new answers.
Following up with the two groups of patients five years, and then fourteen years later, over 23% had developed a sleep disorder. All from the group with a TBI diagnosis. For those without, only 15% developed a sleeping disorder. Researchers found individuals were experiencing everything from insomnia, hypersomnia disorders, sleep-related breathing disorders and movement disorders, to name but a few. Yue Leng continued:
“Sleep disorders affect people’s quality of life - as well as their rehabilitation process. It is important to develop strategies to identify these disorders early, as well as prevent them from occurring to improve people’s overall health and quality of life."
Considering demographics including age, sex, race, education and income, those who suffered from a traumatic brain injury were 50% more likely to develop any sleep disorder - than those who hadn’t developed a TBI.
The research also found that the association between TBI and sleeping disorders was more robust for those with a mild TBI than those with moderate to severe TBI. However, this could be due to the differences in the injury.
Towards the end of the study, researchers couldn’t fully determine the trajectory of sleeping disorders, so they couldn’t conclude whether sleep problems became worse or did improve over time.