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A new study suggests people that have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may produce reduced amounts of melatonin — a hormone that regulates biological rhythms — which leads to sleep problems.

For the study, Australian researchers performed sleep experiments on 23 patients who had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury an average of 14 months earlier and compared the findings with 23 healthy people of the same age. They spent two nights in a sleep lab.

Study Results:

Healthy people were found to produce more of the chemical than people with brain injuries, during evening hours, when melatonin is supposed to increase to trigger sleep.

While people with a brain injury had different sleep patterns. They spent less time sleeping efficiently, spent more time awake after falling asleep and spent more time in non-REM sleep. They also had more symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“We’ve known that people often have problems with sleep after brain injury, but we haven’t known much about the exact causes of these problems,” says researcher Shantha Rajaratnam, PhD. “These findings suggest that the brain injury may disrupt the brain structures that regulate sleep, including production of melatonin.”

The study was published in the latest issue of Neurology.

Traumatic brain injury is more common than you might think. In the U.S., roughly 1.5 to 2 million people incurs TBI primarily in vehicle accidents, falls, acts of violence and sports accidents. 50,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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