There’s no doubt that a concussion alters your child’s sleep. Changes in sleep rank among the most common symptoms after a concussion. Many children sleep more, while others have trouble sleeping. And about 30-70% of children with concussions develop a sleep disorder like insomnia.
Changes in sleep habits are worrisome under any circumstance. After a concussion, many parents also worry about whether it’s safe to let their child sleep or what to do about insomnia. The best way to put your mind at ease is to meet with the team at THINK Neurology for Kids.
Children should always have a thorough assessment after a concussion. Even though a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), it still causes temporary changes, damaging nerves and affecting neurotransmitter production.
The team needs to determine the extent of your child’s trauma. Then they can give you recommendations for helping your child recover, including explaining sleep.
Sleep symptoms after a concussion
After a concussion (no matter how mild), your child’s brain must rest to heal. As a result, most kids sleep more than usual. It’s also common for them to feel extremely sleepy during the day, a condition called hypersomnolence. As long as your child has been evaluated, it’s safe to let them sleep as much as they need.
In most cases, children should stay home from school, not only because they need to sleep but also because resting their brain limits all their cognitive and physical activities. You can reintroduce activities gradually as they feel better, but rushing the process hinders brain healing.
Despite needing rest, some children have difficulty sleeping after a concussion, often developing insomnia. Children with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep or can’t sleep through the night. They often wake early and then can’t get back to sleep.
Insomnia could develop due to stress or anxiety over brain injury. However, it may also occur due to chemical and structural changes in the brain that affect the production of melatonin, the sleep-regulating hormone. Disrupting melatonin affects their natural sleep-wake cycle.
Sleep disorders caused by a concussion
Sleep disorders (other than excessive sleepiness and insomnia) aren’t common after a concussion, but can occur.
Several brain areas work together to regulate sleep, and any of them may become injured during a concussion. The region that’s damaged determines the change in your child’s sleep and the type of disorder they may develop.
The sleep disorders occasionally diagnosed after a concussion include:
Parasomnias are unusual behaviors that occur while your child sleeps, such as:
- Sleepwalking (children may seem to be awake but aren’t)
- Sleep talking (ranges from saying a few words to having a conversation while sleeping)
- Sleep terrors (children express extreme fear or panic and can’t wake up)
- REM behavior disorder (children move while sleeping and may act out their dreams)
Sometimes children appear to wake up, but they’re disoriented, unresponsive, or confused. This problem, confusional arousal, occurs because they’re not awake.
Sleep apnea occurs when your child temporarily stops breathing while they sleep. Every time they stop breathing, their brain nudges them awake just enough to start breathing. Though they don’t wake up, the process disrupts their sleep.
You may notice loud snoring, restless sleep (tossing and turning), irritability, hyperactivity, and bedwetting.
Some children may develop periodic leg movement disorder (PLMD) or restless legs syndrome (RLS). PLMD causes repetitive, uncontrollable leg movement while sleeping.
RLS also causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, but it occurs while trying to fall asleep and causes uncomfortable and unusual sensations in your legs. Both conditions disrupt sleep and cause insomnia or daytime sleepiness.
If you have questions about your child’s concussion (or if you’re wondering whether they have a concussion), call THINK Neurology for Kids or request an appointment online today.