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Learning to sleep better after a head injury

Bang! Whether in a fall or car accident, thousands of Quebecers suffer head trauma each year. And many will develop sleep problems. There is now a solution: Marie-Christine Ouellet, researcher at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration (CIRRIS), and her colleagues at Université Laval and the Centre de liaison sur l’intervention et la prévention psychosociale have developed an evaluation and intervention manual to treat insomnia and fatigue stemming from a brain injury.

Few non-drug therapies are effective for people suffering from brain injuries.

During rehabilitation and even in the years following the injury, approximately one third of people who suffered from head trauma experience insomnia—a rate that is three times higher than in the general population. The vast majority of patients also complain of persistent fatigue. Because it alters the sleep-wake cycle, brain damage is often to blame, along with medication, pain, stress and anxiety leading to decreased physical and intellectual performance, irritability and difficulty resuming one’s activities.

While there are options to treat insomnia and fatigue, few non-drug therapies are effective for people suffering from brain injuries. Marie-Christine Ouellet and her team worked to compile the most efficient tools and adapt them to their reality. For example, clinical interviews and questionnaires may need to be shortened, simplified or modified to include visual elements since patients tire more easily and may have attention and memory deficits.

The practical guide, which outlines proven cognitive-behavioural evaluation and intervention methods, was distributed in Québec rehabilitation centres at no cost. The manual is also available online for clinicians to download. An English version should be released soon. The research was carried out in Montréal, Québec and Montérégie and in several regions across the province.