How Are Sleep Disorders Treated in Individuals with Neurological Impairments?

When individuals experience traumatic brain injury (TBI) or cognitive impairment, sleep disorders are often an issue. One study estimated 30-70% of individuals who experience even mild injuries also experience sleep disturbances. Sleep is a vital part of brain health and recovery. In a study published in the journal Neurology, a strong association was found between positive sleep-wake quality and consciousness and cognition improvement. At Nexus Health Systems, our comprehensive adult brain injury neurocontinuum includes this important aspect of recovery.

Many TBI patients sleep excessively in the acute stage of their injury, typically the first week or two, but insomnia and sleep-wake disturbances become the norm as the acute phase ends. That is when sleep disorder treatments enter the picture. For individuals with moderate to severe TBI who may or may not have recovered full consciousness and cognitive functioning, sleep cycles often occur in short bursts of only a few minutes at a time. These short bursts can happen during day and nighttime, and they are not long enough for the brain to enter deep levels of sleep.

Even among individuals who are not fully conscious, the brain does important healing and recovery work during sleep cycles. Longer, more condensed spans of sleep help recovering brains rebuild and recover. Sleep treatments are specific to the individual’s injury and symptoms, but medication is frequently the first line of treatment. Medications can help individuals fall asleep which extends their sleep and assists with recovery until they achieve a balanced sleep-wake cycle.

The use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and similar devices is another common treatment method. Depending on the injury, TBI can cause either obstructive or central sleep apnea, and in some cases both. Sleep apnea restricts breathing and causes the individual to wake up frequently during the night, and they are often not aware of waking up. Adaptive servo ventilation, an airway pressure therapy similar to CPAP, may be used to regulate ventilation if the individual has central sleep apnea. By ensuring the individual has proper ventilation while sleeping, longer sleep cycles can be achieved and the brain increases recovery time.

Sleep disturbances are only one aspect of healing following a traumatic or acquired brain injury. Our neurological rehabilitation and treatment programs are fully customized to meet the unique needs of each individual. From intensive care settings to community-based assisted living facilities, our tiered methodology and multiple care settings meet the needs of a patient or resident’s evolving needs. From critical care to preparing for the return home, our team helps patients and residents navigate the many facets of recovery they’ll face on their recovery journey, including finding a balance in their sleep-wake cycle.  

To learn more about our comprehensive brain injury neurocontinuum, contact us and find out how our programs are mending minds.