A new nationwide study is being instituted to see if wearable sleep sensors can be as accurate as  sleep lab tests for sleep apnea. The study focuses on an at-risk population for sleep apnea that may not know they have elevated risk: traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients.

Because sleep apnea can make it harder for people with TBI to recover, the hope is that this simple adjunctive tool will improve diagnosis and help TBI victims get the care they need.

man in bed with eyes opened sufferin

Sleep Helps the Brain Recover

Dr. Kathleen Bell at the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Center, one of the lead centers in the study, explained why the study was important: “Optimizing sleep is essential for neurorecovery after TBI.” Her group had recently published a study showing that about 50% of people admitted with TBI had or developed sleep apnea. With about 3 million TBI occurring each year in the US, this is a huge group of people who are at elevated risk for sleep apnea.

We’ve talked about how sleep apnea can interfere with recovery after a stroke. It causes similar effects for people trying to recover from the brain damage caused by a traumatic injury.

Modifying Wearable Tech

For this study, researchers are utilizing actigraphs–activity trackers similar to a Fitbit or Jawbone. But as we’ve already said, this type of technology isn’t really accurate for diagnosing sleep apnea. They can detect sleep disturbances, but can’t give information like oxygen saturation, respiration, and others. Researchers are modifying these devices to increase their ability to measure vital information during sleep.

The side benefit to this could be that the actigraphs, if worn all day, will give a more comprehensive picture of activity levels during the recovery period, which can lead to better data on optimal recovery patterns and may lead to more customized recommendations for individuals.

The Next Challenge Is Treatment

Finding a good method for diagnosing TBI victims with sleep apnea is an important first step in helping them get treatment for their sleep apnea that they will take advantage of. Treating sleep apnea in people with TBI is complicated because there may be other sleep disorders involved as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which decreases CPAP compliance. Simply prescribing CPAP isn’t always a good treatment decision. For many brain injury patients, an oral appliance is a viable treatment alternative–one that may be more popular and may increase the effectiveness of treatment.

If you are looking for an effective treatment alternative for your sleep apnea in Omaha, please call (402) 493-4175 today for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.