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Why Do Brain Injuries Lead To Sleep Disorders?

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

Sleeping Disorder

Sleep is crucial for a healthy lifestyle - it can affect the neural systems, cognition, mood, energy levels and appetite. For people suffering from brain injury, sleep disorders can be a common phenomenon. The American Academy of Neurology reported that as many as 40 to 65 percents of people with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) complain of insomnia.

Other than that, it is said that many people have faced difficulties sleeping at night which prolongs the recovery period. For people suffering from brain injuries, detecting such sleep disorders can be particularly hard because of having fatigue disorders.

Now, researchers are studying the cognitive impact on sleep disorders for brain injury patients and why ensuring proper sleep is needed for a quick recovery.

So, why is sleeping so important?

Importance of Sleep

Sleep is an important part of our life, and it helps to recharge our brain and body. During sleep, our body follows a regular and predictable rhythm (known as the circadian rhythm) while repairing and reviving itself. Sleeping can help set down memories and refresh various neural connections which allow the brain to work.

According to the Healthline, quality sleep can improve concentration and productivity while helping us to be fit in all aspects: mentally, physically and emotionally. Healthy sleep can also enable faster thinking, better overall performances and high energy levels during the day leading to higher productivity.

Brain Injury

Why Do Brain Injury Patients Suffer From Sleep Disorders?

Sleep disorders are common for people suffering from brain injury - but why is that so?

After a brain injury, many people find it very difficult to sleep and are very easily awakened. In addition to this, most of them can’t sleep before 3 am, even if they are desperately tired. Such disorders occur mainly because of:

Physical And Chemical changes

The brain’s normal functionality includes regular sleep, and it is hardwired to adapt to changing sleeping patterns. Once it’s damaged, the brain is unable to function properly and can’t connect to the body instructing when to fall asleep or when to wake up.

Research also suggests that a major cause of such sleep disorder is mainly due to a disruption to the normal release of certain neurotransmitters.

Whenever such neurotransmitters are reduced, the patient suffers from a condition referred to as ‘post-traumatic hypersomnia,' and this might result in a state where the person sleeps more than normal yet be tired all day.

Headache And Pain

Brain injuries can lead to severe headaches, neck pains and/or back pains. This makes it hard for patients suffering from brain injury to fall asleep. They also tend to sleep less, and wake up several hours before dawn. Anxiety and inability to handle stress can alleviate such a situation to a greater extent.

Changes In The Breathing Control

Brain damages can seriously affect the brain of the patients. Post-TBI patients can suffer from apnea, which is a state where the patient’s body automatically stops breathing during sleeping. This can get very severe - blood oxygen levels can drop drastically and can also cause death!

During sleep apnea, the patient wakes up to breathe heavily and regain some of the blood oxygen levels. This is another reason why the patients suffering from brain injuries (especially TBI) often have irregular and short spans of sleep.

Common Types Of Sleep Disorders

Patients with brain injury can suffer from four main types of sleep disorders which affect their day-to-day life. These include:

Insomnia: The person faces difficulty in falling asleep and the sleep cycles are not that long. This results in fatigue and affects the behavioral and cognitive abilities.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome: Where the patient can’t sleep at night and has a total mixed-up sleeping pattern.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: The person faces extreme drowsiness during the day, and can’t get over the fatigue even after long sleeping hours.

Narcolepsy: It is when the person falls asleep suddenly and uncontrollably all throughout the day.

What Can Be Done?

For people suffering from brain injuries, getting a healthy sleep can be quite tough. However, by tweaking some of the behavioral patterns and surrounding environment can help the patients to slowly improve sleep.

Let’s dive deeper into what kind of patterns you can tweak to improve sleeping patterns.

During The Day

● Setting an alarm and not snoozing it

● Addition of meaningful activities during the day

● Limiting time spent watching TV

● Exercising regularly

● Exposing the body to sunlight

● Ensuring no naps during the day

● Spending time on productive work and/or reading

During The Night

● Going to bed in the same time and waking at the same time everyday

● Having a bedtime routine and strictly maintaining the routine

● Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sugar for five hours before sleeping

● Eating at least 3 hours before sleeping

● Not exercising within 2 hours of sleep

● Do not read, eat or watch TV while you’re in bed

● Avoiding stress before sleep

● Eliminating distractions, noise, light and other aspects which might disturb you

Following Medical Recommendations

Whenever you're suffering from a persistent sleep disorder, you must consult with a doctor immediately to find a safe and effective solution to your disorder. Doing so will ensure that you get a solution to your problem that takes into account your bedtime routines, medication and health factors.

For most occasions, doctors recommend getting a polysomnographic evaluation (sleep lab) which enables a deeper insight into the sleeping patterns. The results from this evaluation can help detect personalized treatment plans that can help you achieve an effective sleeping pattern.


Sleep disorders can be quite common for people suffering from brain injuries. Although there are many instances of sleep curing brain injuries, most patients suffering from brain injuries can have serious sleep disorders. This prolongs the time taken for healing brain injuries.

Such sleep disorders can lead to cognitive deficits and poor overall functioning, as stated in the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s article on "Sleep disruption and the sequelae associated with traumatic brain injury."

Most brain injury patients suffer from sleep disorders mainly because of changes in the breathing control, headache and pain and physical and chemical changes within the body.

To solve such sleep disorders, a person must observe proper daytime and nighttime routines and maintain a proper guideline throughout the day. Doing so will ensure slow, but gradual enhancement of the sleep cycles.

Sleep can have a serious impact on all aspects of life: mental, physical and emotional. For brain injury patients, it can help retaliate the injury. This is done during rehabilitation periods.

Companies like Sport Outreach helps people suffering from brain injury to recover using a scientifically proven rehabilitation programme. Read more about us here.

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