(Note: In this guest blog from Grace Griesbach, Ph.D., and CNS’ National Director of Clinical Research, she explains that proper sleep is a vital component in the rehabilitation of brain injury).
Historically, quotes referring to sleep have been associated with well-being. This is not without substance. The importance of sleep is appreciated when one considers that it is observed across the vast majority of animal species. In humans and other higher mammals, lack of sleep has been demonstrated to impact physical, cognitive and emotional functions negatively. Physical consequences of sleep deprivation include compromised immune responses, as well as hormonal and metabolic alterations that in turn will impact overall health. Sleep also promotes emotional and psychological well-being. As for cognitive functions, sleep has been shown to facilitate learning and memory.
Moreover, animal studies have shown that neural plasticity changes allow for better memory to occur during sleep. Sleep driven neural plasticity is also evident during brain development and during times when healing is necessary. Given the multiple functions of sleep, it is evident that sleep-related problems should not be ignored.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of sleep disorders following brain injury is notably higher compared to the general population. Many of those that have endured a traumatic brain injury or stroke have difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia) and fatigue are frequently reported complaints that are associated with insomnia. Apnea, a common breathing-related sleep disorder, is frequently observed during the chronic brain injury period. Apnea is defined as breathing cessation for fixed periods during sleep and contributes to arousals throughout the night; promoting fragmented sleep.
Sleep follows a particular overnight pattern consisting of repeated sleep cycles. Each cycle is comprised of one rapid eye movement (REM) stage and three non-REM stages. These stages are defined by different brain activity patterns that have been associated with particular physiological and neural plasticity processes.
Studies focused on proper sleep closely examine brain wave activity and body physiology throughout the various sleep stages. Some stages are particularly important for memory, emotional well-being, and cognitive function, and may be compromised by interrupted sleep. The golden standard of evaluating sleep is with an overnight polysomnography study performed by a certified sleep technologist. The technologist places electrodes on the scalp of the patient to record brain activity. Breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels, and limb movement are also recorded during sleep. Results from these recordings are sent to a board-certified sleep medicine physician, who creates a report on the diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Centre for Neuro Skills (CNS) offers a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation. This entails addressing key factors that impact recovery such as sleep. CNS has opened sleep laboratories within the residential buildings of our programs in Dallas, Texas and Bakersfield, California. All CNS facilities can arrange for a sleep evaluation at one of the labs, based on a patient’s needs and treatment plan. Sleep evaluations of CNS patients allow for the detection of sleep-related issues that are likely to hinder recovery. CNS sleep facilities also provide research opportunities to deepen understanding of sleep-related issues after brain injury. Findings from these studies will help improve treatment and develop new therapeutic strategies.