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Sleepy athletes may face higher concussion risk

(Reuters Health) – College athletes may face a higher risk for sport-related concussions if they have insomnia or even if they’re just chronically sleepy, a new study suggests.

Among 190 NCAA Division-1 athletes who completed surveys for the study, the chance of getting a sports-related concussion during the next year was 14.6 times higher for those with both insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness than for those who were well rested.

For the study, researchers had the athletes complete an assortment of questionnaires that have been scientifically proven to accurately measure respondents’ sleep quality and insomnia severity. They also collected the athletes’ demographic information (including age, sex, sport and self-reported sports-related concussion history) and their injury data for at least a year after the survey, as extracted from medical records.

Overall, 19 of the athletes sustained head injuries during the study period.

Not surprisingly, participating in a sport where concussions were common was linked with a higher risk for a concussion.

But on its own, moderate-to-severe insomnia more than tripled the athletes’ risk of concussion, and excessive daytime sleepiness – even just a few days a month – more than doubled it.

And the relative frequency of sports-related concussions was higher for those with more severe insomnia or more frequent daytime sleepiness, or both, than for those without either problem, the study authors reported in the journal Sleep Medicine.

Inadequate sleep can cause grogginess and mental fatigue, which can translate to poor or risky decisions and lapses of attention on-field, the researchers say.

Still, they acknowledge, the study can’t prove that poor sleep causes a higher concussion risk. It can only show that the two are linked.

Concussions are a major health and safety issue for athletes, said senior study author Michael Grandner, director of the sleep and health research program at University of Arizona in Tucson.

“If there is something we can do to minimize concussions, it might have a profound beneficial impact on the developing brains of these kids,” Grandner told Reuters Health via email.

“There is a critical need to identify modifiable risk factors for concussion in order to reduce their incidence,” lead author Adam Raikes said.

“Sleep is a modifiable factor that we hypothesized would be associated with concussion risk, given the multidomain impairments associated with poor and insufficient sleep,” Raikes added.

“Clearly a lot more research into this bi-directional relationship into sleep and concussions needs to occur,” said David Stevens, a researcher at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep health at Flinders University, adding that the study was a good first step because it suggests a relationship between the two.

SOURCE: Sleep Medicine, online March 25, 2019.

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