Study: Lack of sleep can lead to poor ImPACT scores

July 24, 2013

Topic: injury prevention

Sleep problems connected to orthopaedic trauma

Injury prevention awareness in sports is crucial to keeping athletes of all ages and competition levels safe. Researchers are constantly trying to find ways to reduce the risk of traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, as they have the chance of causing long-term complications. 

Assessing mental ability
A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine revealed some insight on how sleep can affect the results of Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, which is known as ImPACT. 

ImPACT is a computerized concussion evaluation system that assesses neurocognitive functions, such as an individual's reaction time, working memory and attention span. It is initially performed when a person is injury free so that if he or she suffers a suspected head injury, the test can be performed to see how his or her mental abilities have changed. For instance, a concussion patient would have a significant decrease in score between his or her baseline test and a test given post-injury.

Sleep and the brain
Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., looked at around 3,600 individuals who were either in high school or college and previously had ImPACT. The subjects were split into three groups based on whether they received fewer than seven hours, seven to nine hours or more than nine hours of sleep the night before undergoing subsequent testing. 

The study's investigators discovered the participants in the group that got the least amount of sleep had the worst responses to mental ability compared to the other two. In particular, there were significant changes in subjects' scores for reaction time, visual memory and verbal memory. This suggests that sleep duration can affect concussion-testing results. 

"Understanding factors which modify baseline testing, potentially including sleep, will continue to help lead to more accurate concussion testing, which ultimately equips clinicians with the best judgment to avoid returning athletes to competition earlier than necessary," researcher Jake McClure, M.D., said in a society news release.

In general, concussion awareness is important in both the medical and sports communities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 173,000 traumatic brain injuries occur every year as a result of engagement in sports or recreation activities among individuals between the ages of zero and 19. 

ImPACT is an important tool for doctors when it comes to determining whether an athlete should return to play after suffering a concussion. 

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