Psy-Q: After a traumatic brain injury (TBI), can a sleep disorder show up years later? Yue Leng, MD, PhD, answers.

Yue Leng, MD, PhD

Yue Leng, MD, PhD

Answer: Yes, according to recent research, sleep disorders can appear years after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Additionally, a stronger association with sleep disorders was found in people with a mild TBI over a severe TBI. In a large longitudinal study, researchers looked at nearly 200,000 veterans over 14 years and found that veterans with TBI compared with those without were 41% more likely to develop a sleep disorder, which included sleep apnea, hypersomnia, insomnia, or sleep-related movement disorders. The authors adjusted for demographics, education, income, and medical and psychiatric conditions including PTSD.

Psycom Pro discussed these findings with lead author Yue Leng, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Population Brain Health, at the University of California, San Francisco.

The study’s results highlight the need for clinicians to ask patients about sleep habits if there is a history of falls, sports injuries, etc., that may have caused a mild TBI, which Dr. Leng says should “definitely” be investigated.

“At the very least, clinicians should pay more attention to the development of sleep disorders in TBI patients; in other words, early detection and early intervention of the problem is needed,” Dr. Leng says. “Long-term follow-up for the possibility of developing sleep disorders is also needed, given that the risk of sleep disorders was increased even years after TBI.”

To help patients with TBI who develop sleep disorders, Dr. Leng recommends nonpharmacological treatments. “Depending on the specific sleep disorders, different nonpharmacological interventions should be recommended,” she says. “For example, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) might be recommended for patients with insomnia, and CPAP for sleep apnea, etc.”


Last Updated: Apr 22, 2021