For Many Concussion Patients, Sleep Problems Can Persist for Months


A new study shows that concussions can cause long-term problems with sleep.

In the first days following a severe concussion, it is common to experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, an increased need for sleep, or difficulty sleeping, according to researchers at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.

“Most people fully recover from their problems after a short time, but some individuals suffer long-term problems that affect their quality of life, work, and school,” said Simen Berg Saksvik, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate in the university’s Department of Psychology.

Long-term symptoms can be especially detrimental to sleep, according to the new study, which was published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

The study included 378 patients who had sustained concussions and were treated at one of two emergency departments in Trondheim. They were tracked for one year following their injury.

The patients with concussions were compared with two control groups: Patients who had other types of injuries that did not involve the head and participants without any injuries, the researchers explained.

“We found that problems like an increased need for sleep, poor sleep quality, daytime drowsiness, and fatigue occurred much more often and lasted longer after concussions than after other types of injuries,” Berg Saksvik said.

In the study, 136 participants experienced a sleep or daytime problem two weeks after suffering a concussion. Of these, 72 patients, or 53 percent, had problems lasting three months or longer, according to the study’s findings.

The study is germane for a large group of patients, according to the researchers. It is important to understand how patients who suffer symptoms following a concussion differ from those who recover by themselves, they noted.

“Sleep problems are often associated with issues like poor memory, concentration difficulties, depression, and anxiety. Treating sleep problems as early possible as after a concussion may help slow down or prevent the development of such problems,” Berg Saksvik said.

The findings also indicate that factors that directly affect our brain health play a role in the development of sleep problems, the researchers added.

The scientists will continue with their research, next looking into the underlying mechanisms that can explain associations between sleep and brain health.

“Then we’ll be able to offer better and even more personalized follow-up and treatment,” said  Dr. Alexander Olsen, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Psychology, and a neuropsychologist in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic at St. Olavs Hospital.

Olsen said he found it interesting that sleep problems in particular are so common following a concussion and seem to last so long for many patients.

“More effective treatment methods for sleep problems have gradually been developed, but these haven’t been tested systematically to any degree in this patient group,” he said. “In other patient groups, research has shown that if we succeed in treating sleep problems, patients will get rid of other ailments at the same time, such as concentration difficulties, tiredness, anxiety and depression, although these aren’t the specific focus of the treatment.” 

The researchers say they are hopeful that this might also work for patients who have suffered concussions. The researchers are planning a new treatment study for patients with sleep disturbances in collaboration with the Sleep and Chronotherapy Group at St. Olavs Hospital and NTNU’s Department of Mental Health.

New insights could also help other patients struggling with sleep problems, including those with various types of mental and neurological disorders, the researchers added.

Recent research suggests that concussions and sleep problems may both be linked to inflammation of the brain and the rest of the body, the researchers said. Over time this can affect brain health.

“Now we’re planning to investigate biological explanatory models for sleep disturbances by using brain imaging and blood tests collected from these individuals,” Berg Saksvik said.

MRI images can show if there are any changes in the brain that are associated with sleep problems, he noted.

“One advantage is that we have MRI images taken at several points following injury. This allows us to investigate how these images develop over time,” he said.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Source: PsychCentral For Many Concussion Patients, Sleep Problems Can Persist for Months