Sleep & Traumatic Brain Injury

Today’s post is written by BIA-MA Ambassador Program Coordinator Kelly Buttiglieri. For more information about the Ambassador Program, please click here.

Sleep disturbances are very common after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The amount of sleep a person gets can have a major impact on his or her overall quality of life. A TBI can cause an interruption in both the biological and electrical sleep rhythm. The TBI patient may have problems falling asleep, experience a change in sleep patterns or feel the need to sleep for short or long times.

Sleep disorders can increase depression, fatigue, irritability or fatigue. Sleep problems are three times more common in TBI patients than in the general population. Sixty percent of TBI patients experience long-term sleep difficulties and women are more likely to experience this than men. Also, as a person ages, he/she is more likely to experience sleep problems.

Depending on the location and the severity of the injury, survivors can have different types of sleep disorders. These include: insomnia, the problem falling or staying asleep, and sleep that does not make one feel rested such as excessive daytime sleepiness, mixed-up sleep patterns or narcolepsy.

Sleep problems are caused by many different factors, including: medication, change in breathing control, physical and chemical changes, pain, depression, alcohol and drug use, caffeine and nicotine, daytime napping and physical inactivity.

Sleep is also very important for TBI survivors that have epilepsy as a result of their brain injury. Sleep disruption from any cause can be the reason for an increase in seizure frequency or severity.

During the daytime, one can improve sleep disruptions a variety of different ways: set an alarm to wake up at the same time, avoid napping more than 20 minutes each day, limit TV watching, try to exercise daily and eat a healthy diet.

At nighttime, one can gain better sleep by following these suggestions: try to go to sleep at the same time, follow a nighttime routine, avoid eating, drinking caffeine or smoking several hours before bedtime. Also, if you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed do something relaxing.

If the sleep disruption continues, talk to your doctor for other possible treatments. The doctor will evaluate the sleep problem by thoroughly examining the medical history, medications and review bedtime habits. The doctor will be able to recommend a treatment plan to help ensure a restful sleep.

Some source material is from Sleep and Traumatic Brain Injury, Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center with permission.

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