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Concussions and Sleep Disorders Closely Linked

New research shows a close link between concussions and sleep disorders. A recent study by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) shows that sleep disturbances are common after a person sustains a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), commonly known as a concussion.

“Sleep disturbances are commonly associated with concussions and can range from severe to mild,” said Kathy Helmick, deputy director for DVBIC. “It is recommended that anyone who has been diagnosed with a concussion be examined by a doctor for the presence of a sleep disorder.”

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder experienced by people who get a concussion, with prevalence rates ranging between 20 and 90 percent. People who have suffered a concussion also have a hard time establishing a consistent pattern of sleep. Another issue may be frequent or loud snoring during sleep.

Helmick said people who experience such symptoms should avoid caffeinated food or drinks, such as chocolate, energy drinks and sodas for at least six hours before bedtime.

“Alcohol, nicotine use and large or heavy meals should also be avoided close to bedtime,” she said. “We call this good ‘sleep hygiene.’”

Other measures or “stimulus controls” include sleeping in a quiet, dark place that is cool and comfortable. Helmick also noted the importance of keeping a regular sleep schedule. “Go to bed at the same time every day, and get up at the same time, regardless of how much sleep you get.”

Taking a short-term sleep medication may also be necessary to reduce or eliminate these symptoms. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology smartphone apps like CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) Coach and interactive websites, such afterdeployment.org, provide educational tools to help patients manage symptoms.

Additional information on how to treat people who suffer from a sleep disorder can be found at DVBIC’s sleep disturbances management website.

“Our goal is to provide comprehensive, evidence-based care for patients with concussion to maximize functional status and overall quality of life,” said Helmick.