By now, most people are aware that concussions can have a long-term impact on a person. In particular, it has been established that memory and cognitive problems can occur for years after a concussion. However, some more subtle issues are still being discovered.
A study recently published in the journal Neurology suggests sleep problems can plague a person for up to a year and a half after the injury. Even more, a large number of these people have no idea how seriously they have been affected.
For the study, researchers evaluated 31 patients who had experienced a serious head injury or concussion 18 months before, as well as 42 control participants with no history of brain injury.
Every participant was asked to track their sleeping habits and how well-rested they felt throughout the day. All participants also spent a night in a sleep lab having their brain activity, muscle and eye movements, and heart functioned monitored.
After ruling out medical conditions unrelated to TBI that might affect sleep, the team found that 67 percent of the study participants with TBI had problems with daytime sleepiness. In comparison, only 19 percent of the control group experienced similar issues. However, the TBI patients and healthy participants self-reported similar levels of daytime sleepiness, suggesting they were unaware of their chronic sleep issues.
The researchers also noted that patients with TBI slept longer overall than the control participants.
Past research has also suggested that daytime sleepiness is a chronic issue for people with severe TBI. Changes in their sleep-wake cycle, which affects cognition, memory, and executive function, are common.
While the rates of sleep disturbances among TBI patients is cause for concern and deserves further research, the biggest takeaway from the study is that a patient’s own reporting is not always a reliable method of assessing their recovery status. An editorial accompanying the study suggests making sleep lab evaluations part of standard concussion treatment protocol, however, the high costs of these tests could be prohibitive for many.