TBI and Sleep

Kirk Parsley
September 4, 2016

Traumatic brain injury here in the U.S. when it comes to our soldiers and veterans. According to DOD numbers, there more than are 347,000 in PTSD’s grip. 

For combat soldiers, exposure to explosives and other brain injury dangers are a hazardous part of the job. In addition to the myriad symptoms of TBI, from dizziness to chronic headaches to impaired memory, is a change in sleep patterns. Inability to wake from sleep is a flip-side that can also be a TBI symptom.  

One example might be something like this: A victim of TBI was able to sleep eight hours. Then it cuts to seven. Then six. Then less. 

The sleep deficit exacerbates the problem, of course, linked to changes of behavior and mood. At the Walter Reed NICoE center, their super-comprehensive program runs the gamut, including working with patients on nutrition and sleep. They do excellent work. The tough part is the cost: $165,000 per month for a single patient. Even if they had the capacity to treat all 347,000 afflicted soldiers, you’re looking at upwards of $56 billion to deal with the problem. 

Back in May I appeared on the STEM-Talk Podcast, a production of the IHMC. It’s my understanding they are looking into possible solutions where a scaled version of the NICoE treatment program could be put into a form that a soldier could use with his or her personal physician. 

As you can imagine, PTSD can easily be another severe link in this challenging situation. Studies indicate that sleep deprivation can lead to a slide into PTSD, so, for example, a combat soldier returning from the field with TBI, and struggling to get sleep, is at heavy risk.  

The literature suggests that the relationship between sleep debt and PTSD is because that the processing of day’s memories and emotions—aka ‘emotional categorization’—is stunted. This digestion of emotions is thought to be a critical function of REM sleep. 

TBI, chronic sleep deprivation, A potentially vicious cycle can destroy a person. Obviously, treating these cases requires a targeted treatment approach for the TBI and/or PTSD. As they understand at Walter Reed, the variable of sleep (as well as nutrition) are crucial to success. 

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