Sleep disturbances common after a concussion

by Americare Respiratory Services

Nearly 2 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), ranging from mild to severe.

A concussion is a type of mild TBI. A concussion happens whenever you suffer a blow to the head.  This can happen in contact sports like football and soccer (and in basketball, as we saw in the NBA finals recently), during a fight, motor vehicle accident, or bicycle wreck.

Post-traumatic sleep disturbances have been reported in up to 70% of people with TBIs. These people have poorer outcomes than those who do not have sleep disorders.

Typical symptoms of a sleep disorder include: trouble falling or staying asleep, sleeping longer than usual; restless leg syndrome; daytime sleepiness; narcolepsy; and more.  The post-traumatic stress can also add symptoms of depression or anxiety, which are worsened if you are sleep deprived.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most severe sleep disorders because your airway becomes blocked and you stop breathing without knowing it.  Multiple studies have reported approximately 30% of TBI patients suffer from OSA.  Treatment for sleep apnea depends on the severity, which can be mild, moderate, or severe.  In many cases, your doctor will prescribe CPAP therapy. 

CPAP therapy involves the use of a breathing machine while you sleep.  You wear a mask, which has a hose that connects to the machine and delivers pressurized air to keep your airway open all night long. It can take some time to get used to CPAP therapy, but in the end, you will be sleeping like a baby. 

Treatment for sleep apnea may provide some relief for people with concussions, but more research is needed.  Some extra effort to relax and develop healthy sleep habits can go a long way as well.