Everyone knows the benefits of a good night sleep mostly because we know how crappy we feel when we don’t get it. Getting enough sleep at the right time impacts mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. The consequences of sleep deficiency can be sudden, like a car crash. It is estimated that 100,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths occur on our highways annually due to sleep deprivation.
Man-made disasters such as Exxon Valdez oil spill, 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents and the Challenger explosion are all linked to mistakes caused by sleep deprivation. Chronic sleep deprivation can also result in obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
A recent study published in the journal Neurology revealed that those who have suffered a brain injury, from as minor as a concussion to as major as a brain bleed, slept more than healthy people and suffered more day time drowsiness than healthy people. Brain injured persons were studied at 18 months post injury and compared with healthy subjects. All wore “actigraphs”, a wrist watch like band that measured sleep. Brain injured folks slept 1 hour more than healthy people per night (8.1 vs. 7.1 hours).
Another test was done to determine how long a subject could stay awake while closing their eyes in a quiet environment. A healthy person should be able to stay awake for 20 minutes. If a subject were to fall asleep in 8 minutes or less, that person is deemed to suffer from excessive day time sleepiness. Sixty-seven (67%) of the brain injured folks fell asleep in less than 8 minutes compared to 19% of the healthy subjects. Interestingly, the brain injured people underestimated their level of day time drowsiness, not realizing the differences in their sleep patterns or drowsiness. The results were consistent for both mild and severe brain injury.
Brain injured people are also mothers, fathers, students, employees, etc. and life does not stop or shut down for them. They still have work to attend to, children to raise, homes to care for; as well as additional responsibilities. Therefore potential sleep deprivation and its consequent health issues is a serious concern for the brain injured.
Consider a teenage athlete who has suffered a concussion; the effect of a brain injury to the sleep needs of a teenager are potentially much greater than an adult. It is well understood that a teenager’s brain does not begin to shut down to allow sleep until a much later time, 11:00 pm or midnight. Teenagers require about 9 hours of sleep per night. During school, a teenager might have to arise for school by 6 am. So, many healthy teenagers are already chronically sleep deprived during the school year. If a teenager were to be brain injured, the brain’s call for sleep exponentially increases.
Since the study in Neurology revealed that brain injured victims themselves did not recognize the differences in their own sleep patterns or needs, it is important for family and medical practitioners caring for them to be aware of this potential side effect of a brain injury.
Tony Baratta is a trial attorney in Huntingdon Valley, PA who represents clients who have been seriously injured. Tony is the founding partner of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta and a member of the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association (BPIA). Tony is a Nationally Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. Tony is on the board for the Philadelphia VIP, a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for trial attorneys and voted one of Philadelphia’s Super Lawyers 2006, 2008-2016.