Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) may cause sleep problems that may last long after the patient has first suffered the incident, a new study has found.

More specifically, patients may experience sleep impairments one and a half year after TBI. What more, there is a possibility that these people are not aware about the extent of their sleep disturbance.

TBI affects about 1.7 million individuals in the United States every year. Evidence also shows that cases of TBI are increasing all around the world.

"This is the longest prospective and most comprehensive study about sleep quality and TBI to date," says study author Dr. Lukas Imbach from the University Hospital Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland.

Investigating Sleep Problems On TBI Patients

The research team examined 140 patients who suffered from varied-level of acute brain injury for the first time. They also included 60 patients for follow-up testings and excluded those who had previously suffered from other brain disease, drug abuse or psychiatric conditions.

After 18 months, the team conducted an in-depth sleep test in 31 subjects. For control, the scientists included healthy participants who did not have previous brain trauma matched for sex, age and sleep fullness.

In the experiment, the researchers asked the patients to report their sleep behavior and daytime sleepiness. They also made the participants wear wrist devices to track body movement and spend a night at a sleep video laboratory to look for brain activity, muscle activity, eye movements and heart rhythm. Finally, the team conducted an excessive daytime sleepiness test, which looks into how rapidly people fall asleep in a hushed location during the day.

The results show that TBI patients have more excessive daytime sleepiness than healthy participants, with a 67 percent and 19 percent rate respectively.

TBI patients, however, did not report feelings of daytime sleepiness more than the healthy individuals.

During the night, TBI patients sleep longer durations than healthy people, with an average of eight hours and seven hours respectively.

Sleep problems in both mild and severe TBI sufferers were the same, and the team did not identify any other medical conditions that could have led to the sleep impairments.

Close Monitoring Is Essential

Imbach says being excessively sleepy during the day may lead to public health dangers such as car accidents. This should signal the need for patients and their doctors to monitor their sleep problems.

Another point for concern is that TBI patients with sleep problems are not able to assess their own condition. As self-reporting is essential in examining sleep quality, this is something that needs to be addressed.

In the end, the researchers say that their work may indicate a silent epidemic of sleep problem post TBI. The results suggest that there may be a need to refer TBI patients for sleep studies, but additional investigations are needed to make any recommendations or changes in current guidelines.

The study was published in the journal Neurology on April 27.

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