600-777 Hornby St.
Vancouver, B.C.
V6Z 1S4

F: 604 558-3400
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Proudly Accredited by the Diagnostic Accreditation Program of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC

Concussion and Sleep

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or any other type of impact that causes the brain to shift inside the skull.
As a result, there can be temporary changes to consciousness, emotions and thought processing. These changes can be very subtle.

How common are sleep problems following a Brain Injury?

sleep_problems Many people who have brain injuries suffer from sleep disturbances. Not sleeping well can increase or worsen depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and one’s sense of well-being. It can also lead to poor work performance and traffic or workplace accidents. A review of sleep disorder studies and surveys suggest that sleep disorders are three times more common in brain injury patients than in the general population and that nearly 60% of people with a brain injury experience long-term difficulties with sleep. Women were more likely to be affected than men. Sleep problems are more likely to develop as the person ages.

Why we need Sleep

In general, sleep is necessary for the body and brain to recharge. After a brain injury, sleep is especially important because it helps the injured part of your body heal. However, because sleep disturbances can interfere with your ability to sleep, they can interfere with your brain’s healing process following your injury. In fact, several studies have shown that disrupted sleep impairs the rehabilitation process and has a negative impact on a patient’s quality of life.

Common Sleep Disorders
There are several common sleep disorders that concussion patients may experience, such as insomnia (difficulty falling and staying asleep), sleep apnea (interrupted breathing during sleep), and hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness). Other disorders include:

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome: mixed-up sleep patterns
  • Narcolepsy: falling asleep suddenly and uncontrollably during the day
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: urge to move the legs because they feel uncomfortable, especially at night or when lying down
  • Bruxism: grinding or clenching teeth
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: involuntary movement of the legs and arms during sleep
  • Sleepwalking: walking or performing other activites while sleeping and not being aware of it

It may seem obvious, but these types of sleep disturbances can be, well, tiring. Aside from the exhaustion, sleep disturbances can cause you to feel irritable, affect your brain’s functioning and ability to concentrate, and take a toll on your emotions.
In some cases, patients may experience a lot of anxiety following a brain injury, which can also be a sign of a sleep disturbance. Anxiety and other changes in mood present a sort of “chicken or the egg” dilemma—does the change in mood cause the sleep disturbance, or does the sleep disturbance cause the change in mood?

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders in Patients with Head Injuries

Unfortunately, brain injury patients’ sleep disorders often go undiagnosed, which means they might not be properly treated. One reason for the lack of diagnosis and treatment could be that several symptoms of sleep disturbances are similar to those you might experience after a brain injury; because it appears as though the brain injury is responsible for the symptoms, they go without specific treatment. Also, treating patients with sleep disturbances and brain injuries presents additional challenges. For example, the use of any medications to help with your sleep disturbance because certain drugs meant to help you sleep can weaken your brain’s ability to repair and recover following your injury. The reverse is also true. Medications to control pain, can affect your sleep as well.
If your sleep disturbance is recognized and treated early on, it’s possible you could have improved recovery outcomes.
For more information about testing for possible Sleep Apnea, click here or contact our office at 604-558-0055.