A new study examining 190 student-athletes indicates that sleep deprivation may increase concussion risk.
College life is hectic, as students must juggle academic tasks with time spent on family obligations, socializing with friends, and extracurricular activities. Student-athletes face unique demands. They must pass their subjects, regularly train to excel at their chosen sports, and perform well in competitions. Their schedules are challenging, and many are vulnerable to putting sleep lower on their list of priorities.
A recent study published in Sleep Medicine has found that sleep-deprived college athletes may face a higher risk of sports-related concussion. The researchers acknowledge that the results do not prove that sleep deprivation causes concussion risk, but shows that the two are linked in some way.
190 athletes from Division-1 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) of North America completed a set of surveys, including the Insomnia Sleep Index (ISI) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Sleep module. These have been considered as scientifically sound ways to measure sleep quality and insomnia severity. The researchers then monitored the student-athletes’ injury data throughout the following year.
Aside from the fact that concussion risk increases when participating in sports where concussions are common, moderate-to-severe insomnia more than tripled concussion risk for student-athletes. Excessive daytime sleepiness, just two or more times per month, doubled that risk. The frequency of sports-related concussions was higher for sleepy student-athletes, compared to those who were well rested.
Sports-related concussions have been highlighted as a significant safety issue for athletes. Meanwhile, inadequate or poor-quality sleep is associated with impaired athletic performance and increased injury risk in sports. Teenagers need eight to ten hours of sleep each night, while college-aged students should aim for at least seven hours. Most do not achieve this. Proper sleep also facilitates healthy brain development in adolescents. The findings may not only apply to youths, but also adults. Clinicians, coaches, and athletes are urged to become more aware of the relationship between sleep quality and concussion risk.
The researchers who authored the report hail from multiple disciplines at the University of Arizona, including the Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Lab, Department of Athletics, and the Sleep and Health Research Program. In the conclusion, they say, “Clinicians and athletes should be cognizant of this relationship and take proactive measures – including assessing and treating sleep-disordered breathing, limiting insomnia risk factors, improving sleep hygiene, and developing daytime sleepiness management strategies – to reduce sports-related concussion risk and support overall athletic performance.”
In addition, sleep is vital in helping young athletes recover from concussions. At last year’s 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition, researchers from the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children presented their analysis of 356 athletes younger than 19 who were diagnosed with a sport-related concussion between 2015 and 2017. Those who were able to get good sleep after their concussions were more likely to recover within two weeks. Those with poor-quality or little sleep took longer to recover, oftentimes more than one month, and reported twofold greater symptom severity during the initial clinic visit and threefold greater symptom severity at the 3-month follow-up.
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